Working in Partnership to Reduce Flood Risk Across Scotland
David's speech in the Scottish Parliament debate

22 November 2017

This has been an excellent debate with thoughtful and insightful contributions from across the chamber. With considerable foresight, the business managers have scheduled a debate on flooding for a day when we have flooding.

They deserve accolades for that.

As I learned from SEPA’s floodline service this morning, there have been two flood alerts in Scotland, no flood warnings and no severe flood warnings.

I signed up to the floodline alert service today; I recommend that all members advertise this excellent service to their constituents.

Climate change is inevitable. Even if all emissions stopped tomorrow, the greenhouse gases that are already in the atmosphere would continue to cause damage for years to come.

Because of that, future generations face the possibility of severe weather incidents including floods, with their misery and destruction, unless we act now with adaptations and mitigations.

Our communities, especially coastal and riverside communities, are already susceptible to flooding, and during the past few years, they have faced its increased frequency and prolonged effects.

As we learned from Lewis Macdonald earlier, the poorer people in our society who do not have flood insurance suffer more of the terrible effects of flooding.

The effects are not limited to our rural communities.

Urban buildings that were designed to withstand the weather of the past cannot cope with the conditions of the future.

It is therefore vital that we protect our homes, buildings and communities from the effects of flooding. What we can do to mitigate and prevent flooding must be at the forefront of our thinking.

For example, the Royal Society of Edinburgh recently looked at research that said that a 10 per cent increase in precipitation could result in halving of the flood-return period at Pacific Quay on the Clyde: the likelihood of flooding once in 100 years would halve to once in 50 years.

That means that the standards of flood defences would fall.

A key step must be taken in respect of planning permission, so that when planning applications for new homes are submitted, SEPA is asked for advice and to check for risk to the environment and to the future homes.

However, SEPA’s advice against building on flood plains has been repeatedly ignored, as we have heard from several members in the debate.

If planning permission is granted, building on flood plains takes place, and homes, lives, businesses and schools are turned upside down because of the flood water.

The Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee took evidence from members of the adaptation sub-committee of the UKCCC, who told us that not all local authorities carry out strategic flood risk assessments when dealing with local development plans.

Not to look properly at future flood risk seems to me to be inherently reckless.

In Scotland, where there is increasing pressure to build on flood plains, it is important that all developers carry out flood risk assessments.

On top of the planning issues, which Mark Ruskell referred to, 90 per cent of at-risk properties are not protected by flood defences.

There is a responsibility on developers, local authorities, Government and Parliament to ensure that we do the utmost to protect communities from the tragic consequences of flooding.

When she is winding up, perhaps the cabinet secretary could refer to flood warning systems and responses to flood events.

In session 3, a report from the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee, on which I was an occasional substitute and which was then convened by the cabinet secretary, made strong recommendations about the establishment of 100 per cent high-resolution radar coverage throughout Scotland, and about the lack of pluvial flooding warning systems in Scotland.

I would welcome comments from the cabinet secretary on those points.

It is important to summarise some of the points that have been made by members in the debate: I apologise to the members whom I cannot mention.

The cabinet secretary made some excellent points about the good example of flood protection schemes in Elgin, which, as the regional member, I endorse.

I also agree with Edward Mountain’s good points about the crucial issues of measures to slow down water transfer and the unfortunate combination of flash floods and high tides.

They were good points.

Claudia Beamish made relevant points about climate change being a shared international threat, about the crucial importance of increasing research and development and about having reliable and consistent funding for SEPA and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

Graeme Dey made the useful point about Flood Re, the insurance scheme that will run for 20 years to provide flood cover for those who are most in need of it.

Gillian Martin brought the human element to the debate by talking about the flooding in her constituency and giving vivid examples of the long-term aftermath of flooding, including people being out of their homes for more than a year.

From Lewis Macdonald, we heard other examples of flooding in Aberdeen.

He also made the very important point that 100,000 properties are at risk in Scotland.

Mark Ruskell made the point that although there are 40 flood prevention projects, 90 per cent of those properties are not covered.

Flooding causes misery, destruction, death and injury. It is crucial that all agencies, including SEPA and Scottish Water, work together to reduce flood risk, take a strategic approach to climate change, and develop sustainable management of flood risk.

As Gilbert White, the leading American geographer of the 20th century, said,

“Floods are an act of God, but flood losses are largely an act of man.”

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