RISING sea levels are threatening up to 100,000 homes around Scotland’s coastline, according to disturbing new research which warns house prices in at-risk areas could plummet.
The problem is set to increase this August when Scotland is at particular risk of coastal flooding because of exceptionally high tides, according to a study by the Scottish Executive.
Experts believe the recent storms and floods will lead to property prices in flood areas plummeting by up to 40%.
The warning has come in the wake of storms which wreaked havoc across Scotland in early January and cost the lives of five people in the Western Isles.
A study will begin in the Outer Hebrides this week amid concerns that the storms may have eroded so much of the coastline that houses are now 50 metres nearer the Atlantic than they were last month.
The 94,000 Scottish homes are deemed to be at risk because they are less than 5 metres above sea level, a benchmark set because of concerns about rising sea levels.
Under new planning rules, the properties would be unlikely to receive planning permission unless developers could show that special circumstances, for example geological factors, lessened the danger of flooding.
Residential areas identified as being at risk include parts of northern Edinburgh and Leith, Helensburgh, Leven, Dumbarton, Saltcoats, Elgin, Monifieth and Gourock.
Other places identified by the study include the Longannet power station, Grangemouth oil refinery and parts of the famous Old Course at St Andrews. The report stresses that variables such as wind and tidal conditions on the day will lead to huge variations in which areas will actually flood, and that even in a flood-prone area only a proportion of properties would be inundated.
This summer will see Scotland affected by unusually high tides on August 23 because of the alignment of the sun and the moon. Tides around some parts of Scotland will be as high as 4.4 metres, compared to a typical high tide of 2.5 metres above mean sea level.
And the floods and storms of recent years mean buyers are increasingly wary of houses near rivers and coasts, potentially hitting prices hard.
Graeme Hartley, the director of the Royal Incorporation of Chartered Surveyors Scotland said: "The severe storms and floods of recent years have made people a lot more aware of the risk of damage and whether they should be living around flood-prone areas."
But he added that buyers would be torn between the risk to their properties and the attraction of living near to the water. He said: "The very thing that makes a location prone to flooding makes it very attractive to a great many people.
"Many people like living near to a riverside or the sea - and that’s their dilemma. The house will sell. It will find a price. It’s just that it will be lower than it might have been in the past."
In Uist, where five people perished in the storms, some parts of the islands have been literally swept away. It is believed the storms may have torn away chunks of coastline as much as 50 metres wide, exposing still more homes to the wrath of the North Atlantic.
Tom Dawson, a coastal archaeologist from St Andrews University, will travel to the Western Isles tomorrow to examine the coastline. He said: "We are very concerned about what might have happened and the possible impact on archaeological sites.
"This kind of soil, the ‘machair’ as it is called, is just a thin layer of earth on top of the sand. It is susceptible to damage. Once the soil is broken away the wind just blows the sand away and the whole coastline has shifted."
Planners believe the storms of recent weeks mean that they must now impose a veto on developments near coasts, and even move some communities further inland.
John Laing, the chairman of the Highland Council’s environment committee for Skye, which deals with coastal protection for the island, has gloomily admitted some communities might become unviable because of coastal erosion.
Skye was severely battered by the recent storms, with few houses escaping damage. But much of the focus is now on the storm-battered Uist, where the lives were lost.
Laing said: "I live on a croft near Dunvegan which runs right to the sea, and I can see how it is shrinking, with bits just dropping off the end. We are going to have to start saying that some houses near the coast can’t go ahead. Some roads can’t be protected from erosion and will have to be re-routed, and maybe some communities and villages can’t carry on where they are right now."
Environmental campaigners said the number of properties at risk showed how pollution was hurting society.
A Scottish Green party spokesman said: "We must invest to protect people from the climate changes we have already caused, and act to avert changes of the future which will give us more problems.
"The Scottish Executive is failing to take decisive action to protect the environment. They are not investing in public transport, they are building more roads, and they are not investing in renewable energy."