FEARS have been raised that flood protection works on the Water of Leith will again spiral over budget in the wake of a huge overspend in the first phase.
The scaled-back second section of a major flood defence overhaul is set to go ahead against a backdrop of delays and soaring costs during initial works which cost £30 million – a £12m hike on what was allocated.
The major overspend safeguarding the most at-risk communities along the river from Bonnington to Veitch’s Square jeopardised the remaining stages of the project, but phase two – beefing up banks at five locations between Damside and Murrayfield – is now set to begin despite facing a £5m shortfall.
Environment chiefs insist the money will be found from other departments, but the cash crisis has forced phase three – between Balgreen and Longstone – to be shelved after it was admitted there was currently no money available.
Today, critics cast doubt the project would remain in budget and pressed the city to ensure contracts were watertight to stave off protracted disputes with construction firms.
Nigel Bagshaw, the Edinburgh Greens environment spokesman, predicted that history would repeat itself during the second phase of the project. He said: “In all likelihood it’s going to cost way over £25m. I can’t for the life of me see this coming in even on the forecast budget and it looks like we are likely to go through exactly the same mistakes as phase one.
“The only comfort I have is that we are going to look at the design properly this time with less heavy engineering and there will be a working group to monitor what’s going on.”
He added: “I do hope the lessons from phase one are genuinely learned and I appreciate the need for a different approach. But it is worrying to have a project where we have to find another £5m down the back of the proverbial council sofa.
“I have great concerns about the cost being adhered to. We need a tight contract that ensures the council doesn’t bear full liability for any unforeseen circumstances, which has happened in the past.
“We have to look very carefully at the contract to make sure the city doesn’t have to carry the can for any changes.”
The News reported yesterday how major flood defences are set to be downgraded to sandbags in parts of west Edinburgh due to a huge funding shortfall.
A review into the Water of Leith Prevention Scheme completed this month indicates a low level of confidence that phase two will be able to avoid “slippage and contractual issues”.
In a report to the transport and environment committee, director of services for communities Mark Turley wrote that the troubled project demanded a “different approach” and said it was “no longer possible to provide in full the defences” that had previously been ascribed ten years ago.
The bulk of defence work would be concentrated at the areas of Murrayfield and Roseburn worst hit by April 2000 floods, with Damside, Belton Bridge, Edinburgh Sports Club and Coltbridge also receiving some protection.
Around 478 properties in Roseburn and Murrayfield – including the rugby stadium – will be protected against serious flooding through robust walled deterrents.
The shelved third phase sought to defend more low-risk properties from Balgreen to Longstone, which have occasionally been threatened by rising waters over the years.
Joanna Mowat, environment spokesperson for the city’s Conservatives, said “abandoning” these works was “hugely disappointing” but said new funding streams could be explored to bankroll the defences.
She said: “As a council we have to strive to get more funding to complete those works but need to be making sure we are making best use of the funding.”
Lothian MSP Sarah Boyack said the legacy of the previous council administration had created a “tough situation to fix”.
“Huge problems about previous delays and a lack of funding have compounded the problems along this route,” she said.
Some residents living in the phase three area appear unconcerned about flood defence works being put on ice, claiming it was a low priority problem at that stretch of the river.
Bob Gardener, of Longstone Community Council, said flooding in his neighbourhood was “very rare”.
He said: “We do as a community tend to miss out on a lot of things, but at the part of the Water of Leith we are at flooding is not really a major issue, although there have been occasional problems.”
Councillor Lesley Hinds, environment convener, moved to reassure residents and businesses that she was “committed to delivering this final phase as and when funding can be found for it”.
She said: “We’ve already got a design for phase three which can be revisited and made shovel-ready in a short period of time, should the funding be identified.
“We will continue discussions with the Scottish Government and Cosla with a view to securing the funding we need to complete the Water of Leith Flood Prevention Scheme.”