Fears flood defence costs will leave city high and dry

FEARS were voiced today that vital flood protection measures in Edinburgh could be under threat after the Scottish Government warned funding for such projects was "tighter than it has ever been".

In a letter to all MSPs, Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead and deputy Roseanna Cunningham also said the public were "an equal partner in providing protection".

Work is due to start in the spring on anti-flood measures along the Water of Leith, where serious flooding a decade ago caused widespread damage.

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Edinburgh Central Labour MSP Sarah Boyack said: "This letter is a clear message from the Scottish Government that they are trying to dampen people's expectations about getting flood works done."

The letter said: "We know the state of public finances means availability of funding for large- scale capital projects is much tighter than it has ever been."

It asked MSPs to inform constituents of "the important role they have to play in protecting themselves, their families and properties from flooding".

It said: "This more sustainable approach to managing flood risk is strengthened by the pressures on public finances."

In 2000, around 600 homes and businesses in the city suffered an estimated 25 million worth of damage when both the Water of Leith and the Braid Burn burst their banks.

Flood defences on the Braid Burn were completed last month but work on the Water of Leith has yet to begin.

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

A change in the rules after the SNP came to power in 2007 ended the system where the Scottish Government paid 80 per cent of the cost of approved flood prevention schemes. Instead, councils were told to find the necessary cash from within their overall budget.

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The city council had to split up the proposed Water of Leith scheme into two separate tenders, causing further delay. The cost has now reached 56m with a further 24m worth of work needed in the future.

Ms Boyack said: "As winter approaches, people in flood risk areas will be anxious about the months ahead and this is the last thing they want to hear."

City environment convener Gordon Mackenzie said he was looking forward to pressing ahead with the works and offering residents peace of mind.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Funding for flood risk management is included in the capital grants provided for local government. This gives authorities the flexibility to allocate resources according to local need."