Whitesands Project Given Go Ahead By Full Council

A special meeting of Dumfries and Galloway Council was held to discuss the Whitesands project.

The meeting was called as a result of a motion being submitted by 25% of the Council, understanding order 18, the decisions of the Economy, Environment and Infrastructure Committee on 19 December under Item 3 – the Whitesands Project. The decision of the Committee was to publish the Whitesands Project in early January. Obviously a recall motion entitles the signatories to have a decision reconsidered if it meets the terms of Standing order 18. (This does not allow them to automatically overturn a decision of a committee).

The Council Leader told the committee today that he took the decision to call an early meeting of Full Council to consider the matter rather than delay it.

Following a debate at the committee, the decision was made to progress with the Whitesands Project. It will now be formally published in January in accordance with the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009.

Speaking at the full council meeting, Council Leader Ronnie Nicholson, made the following statement:

“We’re meeting today almost a year since the Whitesands and much of the region was hit firstly by Storm Desmond and then Storm Frank. It left homes and businesses devastated as Dumfries continued the shameful record as the largest town in Scotland that continues to floods on a regular basis.

“It’s also just over a year since this council unanimously agreed to the proposals for the Whitesands Project. Since then, as the design has been fully developed, the scheme has actually been improved yet further with more parking added and the height of the defences have been reduced. The scheme is significantly different from the early drafts that included a large embankment rather than the current raised walkway. That’s in no small part due to the input from the public in what has been several years of extensive consultation.

“Having voted unanimously to proceed with the scheme a year ago and to delegate to officers’ authority to develop the scheme at considerable cost to a position whereby it is ready to be published under the relevant flood risk management, it really would beggar belief if we suddenly said- we’ve changed our mind. Frankly it would bring this council into disrepute and throw away a once in a generation opportunity to tackle the flooding problem that has played our regional capital for longer than anyone in this room can remember.

“The issue of funding has been raised as a reason to put this project on hold- but that is a red heron. When members agreed the scheme in November 2015, the figures being quoted of between £15m and £18m were not only in 2016 prices but were specifically for construction costs. It was made clear it did not include for example designs costs. The updated estimate of just below £21 million not only covers the design costs but takes account of construction inflation, design work and the improvements made to the scheme as a direct result of the public consultation.

“The requisition makes mention of the two other options involving a rising barrier that were unanimously rejected by members in November 2015.

“Leaving aside the fact that there were a number of reasons over and above the cost of the schemes for members rejecting those alternatives, the estimates for construction ALONE for those alternative schemes were between £19m and £23m for one scheme and £22m and £26m for the other. Again both these estimates were in 2016 prices, excluded design costs, construction inflation and any risk pot which when added would obviously continue to make them far more expensive than the preferred option- as officers made absolutely clear at the meeting on 19 December. Notwithstanding the fact that the Committee agreed to include the updated detailed costings for all three schemes in a future capital report, to pretend that somehow those two alternatives are not more expensive than the preferred option is not being honest with the public.

“However, as I have said the issue around cost is a red heron. The decision members took on 19 December was to publish the proposals to allow the public to have their say on the detailed design. Councillors agreed NOT to award any additional funding because the agreed council contribution already covers more than 20% of the projected costs. Should any further funding be needed over and above this to cover any contingencies- and that is still very much a big if- that would have to come before both the EEI Committee and Policy and Resources Committee. It was also noted at the Committee that until we have the tenders for the work and a start date for that work to begin, we obviously won’t have a final cost- which is exactly the position with every single capital project.

“However, you can’t invite tenders until you have the necessary planning permission and you won’t get the necessary planning permission unless we publish the actual scheme. If we do not agree with the Committee’s decision this won’t just delaying a decision for a month or so. If Councillors suddenly decided they wanted to go with one of the two alternatives previously rejected, we face over a year of delays until that alternative is fully designed to allow it to be published.

“The more we delay this decision- even by a month or two- the more costs will increase and the higher the risk is of the Government simply taking their funding elsewhere. I’m not prepared to see that happen. I would therefore formally move that we continue with the decisions taken by the Committee on 19 December.”

Also speaking at the committee, Depute Leader Ted Thompson, made the following statement:

“We agreed the preferred scheme more than a year ago after a considerable amount of debate and rejected the alternative rising barrier options for good reason. Frankly, what the Committee agreed on 19 December- to publish the scheme- is the pretty routine next stage in taking that decision forward. There will be a lot more decisions to make before we see work beginning on the ground. In fact, there is every possibility that the planning process could result in further refinements to the scheme depending on the feedback.

“As we’ve heard today some people believe that the recent cost estimates mean we should put the whole project on hold until we revisit the two schemes previously rejected. However, officers have made clear that the work they carried out updating costs for the preferred option shows that any increase in costs to take account of construction inflation and to include design costs is relevant for ALL the options. If anything the risks associated with the rising barrier options- in particular the option that would involve basically constructing the scheme within the river itself- would be even higher than the preferred option. But in case any member is in any doubt which option is the cheapest, the figures for all three schemes will be included in the Committee’s next capital report. We should put all this in context. The Elgin Flood protection scheme- which was published nearly a decade ago- cost £86million. The Selkirk scheme completed last month cost over £31m. The Hawick scheme currently out for public consultation is estimated to cost over £36m. I’m not sure why some people think that Dumfries should have a flood protection scheme built on the cheap.”

At the meeting today councillors were also provided with a detailed breakdown of the costs for the preferred scheme and an updated cost for the previously rejected rising barrier scheme. The estimated cost for a rising barrier scheme situated 5 metres from the riverside was £26.3m