Flood Bill to be Strengthened

The Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Bill Stage 1 debate occurred yesterday in the Scottish Parliament with all party support. A video of the debate is available on the Scottish Parliament website, but be warned it last for about two hours! Likewise, a transcript of the debate is available from TheyWorkForYou.com.

The debate was opened by Richard Lochhead  MSP, Cabinet Secretary for the Minister of the Environment, with an interesting statement:

“This Bill represents the most comprehensive modernisation of flood risk management in Scotland for over 40 years. It is a co-ordinated approach which will deliver flood management at a catchment scale, allowing local authorities and others to take the best possible approach to managing flooding in their area.”

A very good summary up of what is needed by way of betterment in dealing with flood risk management and prevention and protection. 

Some interesting snippets from the Scottish Government press release:

The Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on September 30, 2008. It will streamline and speed up the development and implementation of flood risk management measures, introduce a more sustainable and modern approach to flood risk management and create a more joined up and co-ordinated process to flood risk management throughout Scotland.

Specific measures in the Bill include:

  • A framework for coordination and cooperation between all organisations involved in flood risk management
  • Assessment of flood risk and preparation of flood risk management plans
  • New responsibilities for SEPA, Scottish Water and local authority functions for flood risk management
  • A revised, streamlined process for flood risk management measures
  • New methods to enable stakeholders and the public to contribute to managing flood risk

The first and last bullet points are of great interest to flood affected communities as it enshrines in law the involvement of all stakeholders when look at flooding issues. In the past many flood victims and affected communities have felt disenfranchised from the processes and systems that deliver flood management improvements. The community of Freuchie has already been working on the approach suggested in the Bill with the setting up of Freuchie Flood Action Group (FFAG) that cooperates closely with Freuchie Community Council. Additionally, we are currently exploring ways to improve communications and relationships with Fife Council in the spirit of the Bill. FFAG also has many specialist advisors onboard to provide information and advice related to the flooding of Freuchie and flood prevention and protection. Least we forget, even top politicians have been engaged so that our experience can be fed back to government; we’re looking forward to Mike Russell MSP, Minister for the Environment, coming to see us.

Roseanna Cunningham MSP, Convenor of the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee, pointed out that there appeared to be a culture of hard solutions amongst existing professionals. The new Bill makes it a requirements that natural sustainable flood management techniques are considered for all flood alleviation schemes. However, local authorities are still able to pass over natural sustainable solutions in favour of hard engineer where it is shown to be appropriate. Freuchie appears to be a good case for a hybrid approach, utilising the best of the natural sustainable approach and hard engineering to protect the community.

Liam McArthur MSP, reflected on evidence given by Jim Moodie to the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee on the 10th December 2008:

“Jim Moodie from Fife Council, who made quite an impression on the committee, as I recall, referring to the lack of interim arrangements suggested that this was quote,

‘A concern because there is nothing in the Bill to say that councils have to do anything until the management plans are in place.’

I accept that it would be a foolish, if not to say a short lived council administration that would sit on its hands and do nothing in the face of a demonstrable flood risk in its area. Never the less, I hope the Minister will accept the need to clarify the position regarding interim arrangements.”

Credit should be given to Mr Moodie for identifying and highlighting potential issues with the Bill at a stage when the deficiency can be corrected.

He went on to touch upon funding, returning again to quote from Mr Moodie’s evidence,

“The lack of a clear funding mechanism will mean that many schemes will not be delivered at all because funding will be allocated to what councils consider to be other priorities. He added, rather courageously perhaps, that our budgets are defined by accountants and asset management people who are not directly affected by flood prevention measures or functions. Mr Moodie doubtless had his work cut out in making his peace with colleagues once back across the bridge that afternoon, but his candor did suggest that assurances from Ministers about flood funding may still fall upon deaf ears.”

Bravo to Mr Moodie for fighting the flood funding corner. It is vital to ensure funds for flooding don’t end up being spent on other more populist priorities by local authorities. There looks to be a case for the accountants and asset managers to be independently briefed on flooding and the long term effects it has on communities. They would certainly benefit from a presentation by Paul Hendy of the Scottish Flood Forum.

Mr Moodie’s oral evidence can be viewed online – it is approximately 33 minutes in on this video recorded at the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee Flood Bill evidence session on the 10th Dec 2008.

Further details and Stage 1 reports are available from the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Bill committee webpage. The response by the ABI is particularly encouraging. More videos are available to view from the other evidence sessions for stage 1 of the Bill.

The Scottish Government appear to be driving flooding in the right direction and should be praised for such an enlightened and world leading approach. A significant step is the suggested addition of the word “sustainable” on the face of the bill in stage 2, which demonstrates the focus on a sustainable flood management approach.

A final alarming statistic from the press release:

According to MET Office records, going back to 1914, the summers of 2007 and 2008 were the wettest consecutive summers on record for the East and West of Scotland.

Let’s hope 2009 sees this alarming news being turned around in our favour. Jim Mullen, Vice Chairman of FFAG, presented similar findings to a public meeting a few months back based on SEPA rainfall data.

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