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5 key points from council’s report on Perth flood defence fiasco

Perth and Kinross Council's first step in reviewing the saga was an apology for the flooding devastation.

Flooding in the North Inch area of Perth. Image: Supplied
Flooding in the North Inch area of Perth. Image: Supplied

Perth and Kinross Council is examining its handling of the flood defence fiasco last month.

The local authority’s first step in reviewing the saga came on Friday with an apology for the flooding devastation suffered after it failed to close a North Inch floodgate in time.

Properties were flooded while Perth’s Bell’s Sports Centre was also engulfed by water.

The council’s admission of failings in an initial report comes more than a month after it tried to shift the blame on to Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) regarding the wild weather response.

Morag Lindsay, The Courier’s Perth area editor, assesses the key points from the report.

1 – Too few staff available to close floodgates

The council’s own manual states that 12 workers are required to close the floodgates – and that it should take them four hours and 45 minutes to finish the job.

But the October school holidays meant only seven employees were available on the weekend of the floods.

And by the time the council received the nod from Sepa that it was time to close the gates on the Saturday night (October 7), high tide was just an hour and a half away.

Bosses decided to keep an eye on water levels and seek another update from Sepa at 6am.

When it became clear that the water levels were still rising on the Sunday morning, bosses hatched a plan to make the best use of the limited resources available to them.

One squad of four was sent to the flood gates at Perth Harbour and the second squad of three to Commercial Street/Bridgend Court.

A report to Wednesday’s meeting of the scrutiny committee says: “These two locations were prioritised to focus on protecting the most vulnerable residents and business premises.”

The North Inch flooded.
Flooding at the North Inch after a gate was left open. Image: Roben Antoniewicz

The flooding at the North Inch occurred after workers arrived at 9.40am. By that point the force of water was too strong for them to stand up in and the padlocks were submerged.

A gate at the rear of Charlotte Street had also been breached. It was eventually closed at around 10.55am.

The report to Wednesday’s meeting recommends officers put in place new minimum staffing/standby-levels to ensure there are enough bodies in the future.

It says: “Based on the information collected during the review, it is evident from the level of resources available that there were insufficient staff resources available to effectively deploy the range of necessary measures, at speed, during a significant weather event.”

2 – Out of hours calls unanswered

Since 2010, Perth and Kinross Council’s out of hours call handling arrangements have been provided by Aberdeen City Council.

During the flooding, from October 7-8, the Aberdeen contact centre received 615 calls from Perth and Kinross. Far fewer than half (257) were answered.

The report says: “A significant volume of calls were made to Aberdeen during that weekend, with a significant number of these calls not answered.

“However, it is not clear how many of these were repeat callers who did get through when redialling.”

Bell's Sports Centre in flood water.
Bell’s Sports Centre was flooded when the River Tay burst its banks. Image: Roben Antoniewicz

Perth and Kinross Council “stood up” its own customer service centre from 5pm to 10.20pm on the Sunday evening, when all but one of the calls made were answered.

The report says: “It can be concluded that the current arrangements are not effective when having to deal with a situation similar to that which incurred during 7-8 October 2023.

“Following criticism received at the Perth residents’ meeting about some of the responses individuals experienced from the Out of Hours contact centre, a review of how these calls were handled will be incorporated within the wider review of out of hours customer contact arrangements.”

3 – Residents ‘frustrated, angry and upset’

Officials and councillors held a meeting with around 30 people whose properties were affected by flooding last Wednesday.

They included seven addresses in Barossa Place, 15 in Rose Terrace, two in Charlotte Street, two in Charlotte Place and one in Atholl Place. Bell’s Sports Centre and North Inch Bowling Club were also hit.

The report states: “Understandably, residents and business owners were frustrated, upset and angry about recent events.”

Locals asked questions about the timing and decision-making for floodgate closures and the planning for weather events.

Sarah Swan, one of the locals impacted, outside her apartments in Barossa Place, Perth. Image: Phil Hannah.

Issues around insurance and liability were also raised.

And comments were made about the visibility, support, and effectiveness of the council’s officers during the flooding and since.

Residents have been asked to come together to agree on how they would like to present any deputations at the committee on Wednesday.

The Civic Hall will also be made available for residents to watch the meeting remotely if there is not enough room for them in the Council Chamber.

4 – Faulty floodgate identified week earlier

The annual trial closure of the Perth flood gates took place just the week before the drama.

This test – an annual training exercise for officers – went ahead on September 29-October 1.

It established that one of the gates, at Mill Wynd, was not closing properly, although it could still be closed with the assistance of a vehicle.

The problem was not been fixed before the flood hit the following weekend.

Dog carried through floods in Perth in October. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson

Instead, around 30 sandbags were sent to the site.

The council report states: “While water did build up on the road during flood event of 8 October, there was no threat to any properties.”

An external contractor also inspected all of the flood gates in the weeks prior to the flooding.

Some minor repairs were identified and are on-going.

5 – Famous Friday night ‘news dump’

The Friday night “news dump” is the stuff of legend in the world of public relations and crisis management.

Organisations with a desire to “bury bad news” may choose to do so on a Friday night when news rooms shrink down to a skeleton staff, the following day’s papers are close to full and great swathes of the great British public have better things to do with their time than check for breaking news updates.

Perth and Kinross Council issued its statement on the recent floods on Friday evening.

Sources at the local authority stressed the timing was based on when the report was given final approval, rather than any attempt to downplay its content.

However, it is regrettable the apology which so many people waited so long for may not have reach the audience it deserved.