Musselburgh’s controversial flood protection scheme gets green light to go on

Wednesday January 24th 2024

Musselburgh Flood Defences

Artist's impression shows walls and embankments which will be built as part of the Musselburgh Flood Protection Scheme.

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

A controversial flood protection scheme which has seen costs soar in the last 10 years has been given the go ahead to move to the next stage after a council leader warned future flooding was ‘almost guaranteed”.

East Lothian Council leader Norman Hampshire warned fellow elected members future generations would suffer unless they took action now to approve the outline design for the £53m Musselburgh scheme.

And he accused Conservative colleagues who had called for a pause on the project of ‘selective hearing’ during and eight hour special meeting of councillors to debate the issue.

The Musselburgh Flood Protection Scheme (MFPS) has sparked controversy in the town after costs soared from the original £8.9m in 2016 to a current estimate of £53.9million.

A report to councillors yesterday asked them to approve outline design for the scheme which, members were told needed to be submitted to Scottish Government by March 31st if it is to qualify for 80 per cent funding in a current cycle of grants.

The report revealed that the current estimate for the scheme is now £53.9million with two new additional projects covering repairing and maintaining a sea wall at the town’s ash lagoons which the council has ownership of and Musselburgh Active Toun adding a further £78.6million onto the overall work planned for the town.

Opponents of the MFPS, which includes the introduction of high walls through the town centre, wanted it paused claiming not enough work has been carried out to find ‘natural solutions’ instead of walls. They claimed less than a tenth of the outline design for the scheme uses natural options.

The Musselburgh project aims to protect the town from flooding from the coast and the River Esk which runs through its centre. Current plans include 4.7km of flood walls with 1.7km made up of “flood embankments and hybrid structures”.

New design proposals for the scheme show much of the flood walls proposed for areas around the River Esk have been reduced in height to one-metre to address concerns over their impact.

A petition calling for the project to be paused was considered by councillors along side the report calling for the outline design to be approved.

Conservative group leader Councillor George McGuire moved a motion supporting the petition calls telling the meeting he was concerned the council would be writing a ‘blank cheque’ for the project.

He said: “I have to express deep concern at the ongoing rising costs of this project. Without answers to the financial questions we are threatening the financial future of our council and the services we provide to people in East Lothian.

“If we approve this scheme we risk handing over a blank cheque which could result in East Lothian’s own financial disaster akin to the Scottish Parliament or Edinburgh Trams.”

However council leader Mr Hampshire said: “It is almost guaranteed some time in the near future Musselburgh is going to suffer a flood event.”

And he urged fellow councillors to act now for future generations, saying current weather storms should serve as a warning about the dangers.

He said: “We were just lucky, Storm Babet that hit Brechin could have easily come in a bit further down the coast and hit Musselburgh and that community would have flooded.

“Storms are going to get more severe, we are going to get heavier rainfall.

“They talk about sea levels rising at the end of the century, which seems a long time off but that is in the lifetime of my grandson who is two years old. He will be around when that happens.

“There are a lot of people living in these communities will be around when that happens and they will look back at this time when we had an opportunity to protect Musselburgh and we never took it.”

Earlier Scottish Greens councillor Shona McIntosh had asked about the environmental impact of the scheme and was told it was estimated it would create around 38,000 tonnes of CO2.

She raised concerns about the lack of a full environmental impact assessment report being available to the meeting before taking the decision, adding that the amount of CO2 expected was ‘huge.’.

She said, while she did not support the Conservative amendment she could not approve the current plans.

Councillor McIntosh said: “I am uneasy that we are being asked to make a decision without the full environmental impact assessment. 38,000 tonnes of is huge and I don’t think we should be going into that lightly.”

The council approved the outline design moving forward to the next stage of development by 15 votes to five, with the Conservative amendment failing by 4 votes to 16.

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