More coordinated approach to flooding urged for Scotland

Members of Scotland’s Parliament have come out strongly against hard engineering to counter flood risks, and have heard evidence that there is serious lack of information on the risks of urban flash flooding.

Pilot studies should be carried to assess the contribution natural flood management measures can make, a Scottish select committee has recommended in a report.1 The Scottish environment and rural affairs committee investigated flood management in Scotland, as part of work the Scottish Government is carrying out to implement the EU floods Directive and update its own flooding legislation which dates from 1961.

The MSPs believe that new legislation should create a presumption in favour of techniques which minimise hard engineering, such as creating flood basins and slowing the flow of water.

This would mean specific justification will be needed for any decision not to include such ‘soft’ techniques in catchment plans.

The committee endorsed a river catchment-approach to flood management. This is not widespread in Scotland due to differences between local authority boundaries and catchment boundaries. Existing legislation does not allow catchment-based planning.

Bodies who would deliver catchment plans should be identified in statute and have a duty to collaborate on the plans, the committee suggested. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) should take the lead at a national level.

The committee also wants the Scottish government to ensure it has the power to require changes to land use for flood management purposes. Landowners would have to be compensated if their land was used in this way, it points out.

Individual property vendors should have to provide information on previous floods affecting the site, the committee suggested. Developers should be required to provide flood-risk assessments for new developments to potential buyers, it added.

Around 2.9 per cent of properties in Scotland are at risk of a one-in-200 years river flood, according to SEPA. The figure for coastal flooding stands at 1%. The number of properties at risk of local flash floods from heavy rain is not known.

The committee recommended that the government should place significantly greater emphasis on reducing local flood risks from intense rainfall in setting future objectives for water and sewerage company Scottish Water.

Scottish Water told the committee’s inquiry there is no timetable for mapping risk of this kind of urban flooding because no-one has started work on it. "There is no lead authority and no funding available for such work. The expertise to do it may or may not exist. But we are at the stage where everyone is agreed that we need [maps]," the company said in its evidence.

Work is under way to commission flood mapping, the government told the committee. The committee urged it to set out the steps and funding it believes necessary to protect towns and cities from surface water flooding. The MSPs suggest three levels of funding to improve flood management:

  • A "relatively modest" amount for overarching projects at a national level such as flood warning technology.
  • A centrally controlled fund for major projects that are too expensive for individual local authorities.
  • Money for local authorities for the preparation and delivery of smaller schemes.

The Scottish Government is expected to introduce a flooding bill in September.