Nigel’s notes - We have all been affected

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Hogmanay has been dominated by the weather.

With seemingly unrelenting rainfall we have all been affected one way or another.

Yet again homes and businesses are disrupted, and in some cases ruined. Yet again we note that this happens more often than it used to. Yet again we say something must be done.

Before considering the way forward I must take the opportunity to thank those who do turn out on our behalf on these occasions; the emergency services, the many local authority employees who are responsible for roads, drains etc and the engineers who reconnect the power and telephone lines.

All of this is done of course in the very circumstances and weather which created the problems in the first place.

How do we prevent flooding and the damage which it causes? Let’s be careful to separate the issues. Flooding is going to occur because the streams and rivers which take rainfall back to the sea have sized themselves over the years to carry the normal, albeit fluctuating, volumes of water.

That is why we can identify flood plains, they are at the natural pinch points of our rivers, and if we stop these from taking the excess when necessary then we will simply move the problem somewhere else.

It would help if we learned to stop building on flood plains. Where we have already done so, and the low lying area of Brechin is a good example, then we can protect that area with a wall and force the excess to the fields the other side.

When there is nowhere else to go then we just have to build walls high enough, and this is the situation for the lower Carron in Stonehaven, though arguments remain about how high and what else might be moved lower down.

Even where these defences exist we are discovering they may not be adequate. The Brechin design will need to be reconsidered before it is even complete. And defences across the rest of the UK have been tested and found wanting in recent weeks. Designers now need to rethink the relevant criteria; 1 in 200 clearly no longer means once every two centuries!

Lastly we will need to rethink flood insurance as it may no longer be available from normal household insurers. Unless we are prepared to abandon any property at risk of flood damage we need to work out as a society how the costs of that damage are met. This is a big issue and one which cannot just be ignored.

So 2016 opens with some very obvious challenges. Falling public sector budgets mean that there are no spare resources to divert, and the question which confronts us is how we as a society generally and as local communities in particular are prepared to respond in our collective interest.

With very best wishes for a happy and successful 2016.