Water, water everywhere, but not a drop of money to spend on completing Edinburgh's flood defence network?

THE idyllic village of Pennan in Aberdeenshire is perhaps best known as the backdrop for Bill Forsyth's classic film Local Hero. But it hit the headlines again this week after residents were put on alert that a 25-metre crack had appeared in the nearby cliffs following heavy rain.

Edinburgh's Union Canal flooded in 2002In the terminology of those who study them, these "adverse weather events" are set to become more and more common across Scotland as climate change increasingly affects our weather.

Edinburgh is not immune from such events, as anyone who experienced the major floods of April 2000 will remember.

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The 36-hour downpour caused Edinburgh's worst flooding for 80 years.

On that occasion 600 homes and offices were affected and around 25 million worth of damage was caused.

Three walls along the Water of Leith collapsed, at Stockbridge, Bonnington and Canonmills, while other badly affected areas included Roseburn and Murrayfield.

The Braid Burn also flooded during the downpour, hitting areas such as Liberton, Peffermill and Duddingston.

After the flood came the fightback, and plans were drawn up for an ambitious defence scheme along the Water of Leith to protect the city during future downpours.

The cost of the project was originally estimated at 9.5m in 2001, but it had more than doubled to 20.1m by 2003 and again to 47m by 2007, when ministers endorsed the plan.

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The price once again climbed to 53.9m by April last year and went up a further 1.4m to 55.3m earlier this year.

However, a report due to go before the council's transport and environment committee will next week set out how the work must now be phased in gradually due to a 22.7m funding shortfall.

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Despite being allocated 126m by the Scottish Government for flood prevention measures across the city, the funding gap resulted from a year's worth of extra work on the Water of Leith, in the light of design changes brought in after a 2004 public inquiry.

Council officials had initially looked at saving money by building lower flood defences, but the idea is set to be ruled out in favour of simply carrying out the work piece by piece, with the most exposed areas of the city tackled first.

However, the piecemeal approach will end up costing the city even more in the long run due to an anticipated increase in construction costs.

It is expected that work will begin in the most at-risk areas first, namely those affected in 2000, with a series of defences built.

Edinburgh North and Leith MSP Malcolm Chisholm says gradually phasing in the scheme is "completely unsatisfactory" and "unacceptable".

"The Scottish Government had agreed to provide 80 per cent of the funding for this scheme," he says.

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"The money has to be found because the effects of climate change are making this sort of work an increasing priority. We've just seen Leith lose out on regeneration money to other areas of the country – we don't want the same thing happening with the Water of Leith's flood defences."

Construction – to be split into several phases under new contracts – is expected to start in the autumn of next year. Under the original timetable, the whole scheme should have been finished in 2012.

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The only work still going ahead in the interim will be at two reservoirs that feed into the Water of Leith, to increase their storage capacity so flooding is reduced downstream.

Phase one is likely to be limited to Bonnington, St Mark's Park/Warriston Road, Stockbridge Colonies and nearby Veitch's Square, with phase two covering Roseburn and Murrayfield, and phase three the remaining works from Balgreen to Longstone.

Councillor Gordon Mackenzie, convener of the council's environment committee, will next week meet environment minister Roseanna Cunningham to push for more Scottish Government cash and assurances that those living next to the Water of Leith will still be able to get insurance in light of the prevention work not being carried out immediately.

However, he admits to not holding out much hope of squeezing any more money out of his Holyrood counterparts.

"We've got to give that option a try, but I'm fully aware of the pressure on the public finances at the moment," he says.

"For the public purse, it would have been a far better deal to do all this work all at once – it's a missed opportunity."

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He adds that pressures on public spending mean the council cannot provide firm dates on when the work will be completed.

The Scottish Government says it has made record levels of funding available to local authorities for flood risk management, increasing the amount of money available for prevention measures to 42m in 2007/8.

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However, it says changes to funding arrangements have now left it up to individual local authorities "how best to spend the money in line with local priorities".

That will provide little comfort for council bosses in the Capital currently struggling to balance the books, never mind to the residents of hundreds of homes across the city at risk of flooding.