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Perth residents plead with council to accept blame for floodgates fiasco

Bell's Sports Centre is also facing a £2M repair bill as questions mount over the failure to close the North Inch floodgates

Perth flooding
Perth flooding in October. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson

Perth and Kinross Council has been urged to admit it was in the wrong when the North Inch floodgates were left open during last month’s torrential rain.

Residents say they need the authority to accept liability for the flood defence failure, so they can get on with rebuilding their lives.

The plea came at a special meeting, called to review the response to the devastating flooding which hit Perth on the weekend of October 7-8.

Councillors and officials were also told the bill for repairing the flood-hit Bell’s Sports Centre is likely to top £2 million.

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

It was one of dozens properties around the North Inch which were deluged when the River Tay burst its banks.

The council has apologised and said a delay in closing the floodgates may have been a factor.

Blain Ross, whose rented properties in Rose Terrace were among those affected, said there had been a “catastrophic failure”.

“I want two things to come out of this,” he said.

“I want an admission from Perth and Kinross Council that not closing the floodgates was negligent. Therefore, we can get on with agreeing a legal settlement and compensation.

“And I really want to make sure that this cannot happen again.

Blain Ross
Blain Ross said he had no confidence in Perth and Kinross Council after the floodgates were left open.

“My faith in Perth and Kinross Council officers is non-existent right now,” he added.

Residents lay blame for floodgates failure at Perth and Kinross Council doors

Victims were given a chance to address councillors and officials ahead of Wednesday’s talks.

Members of the scrutiny and performance committee also received written statements from residents.

They included a message from a wheelchair user, who suffers from cancer and diabetes.

She said repeated attempts to raise the alarm and get help to evacuate her Commercial Street home were ignored.

By the time someone dropped off sandbags, sewage-contaminated water was pouring in through her drains and doors.

Fire crews pumping out water from Rose Terrace, Perth following the flooding
Firefighters pumping out water from Rose Terrace, Perth. Image: Roben Antoniewicz.

Friends eventually helped her to wade through the floodwater on crutches while they carried her chair.

The woman spent a month in a hotel, and is now in alternative accommodation, having lost many of her personal belongings.

In her letter, which was read out the committee, she said: “The emotional impact has been immense.

“It has left me feeling vulnerable and in fear of it happening again… and all because someone made the decision not to shut a gate early enough and not to pump water away from our homes.”

Perth neighbours’ anxiety after floodgates failure

Barossa Place resident Annabel Windsor spoke on behalf of her neighbours, saying they had been left feeling “anxious, distressed and emotionally drained”.

Crowd of people on Perth bridge watching rising River Tay.
The rising river levels attracted crowds of onlookers. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson

They said their warnings that the water was “cascading” across the North Inch towards their properties, were ignored.

And help, when it did come, was too little too late.

Residents have been told they may be out of their homes for another year.

Speaking after the talks, Barossa Place resident Lorna McGovern said she and her neighbours were more interested in action.

“It feels like all this talk of drainage and water levels and tide levels is just to obscure what actually happened,” she said.

“The basic fact is that if the floodgate had been shut we wouldn’t have been flooded.”

Fire fighters on street and in flooded basement area next to North Inch, Perth
Flooding in the North Inch area of Perth. Image: Supplied

She added: “We bought our property in 2001, because we had confidence that the flood barriers were in place.

“We haven’t been flooded since then. And if the floodgates had been closed we would not have been flooded this time.”

Emergency response to be reviewed

Councillors agreed to all of the recommendations in the report

They include a commitment to review staffing levels and the system for answering calls in an emergency.

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

Workers installing floodgates on the Queens Bridge in Perth.
Work to prevent previous flooding in Perth. Image: Stuart Cowper

There was no time to close the gates before high tide on the Saturday night (October 7) after Sepa advised the river levels had reached a critical level.

Instead a decision was taken to wait until the following morning. And by the time one of the depleted squads was sent to the North Inch, the water was deemed too high to close the gates.

Complaints have also been made about the out-of-hours response.

Aberdeen City Council’s contact centre, which provides a call-handling service for a number of local authorities, received 615 calls from Perth and Kinross during the flooding and answered only 257.

Barbara Renton, executive director of communities, was in charge of the flood response that weekend.

Barbara Renton.

She said the council was still trying to determine why the water levels rose so high and so fast between October 7-8.

Discussions are taking place with partners, including the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) and SSE Renewables, which manages the hydro dams further upriver.

“Something happened overnight, which we have yet to understand,” she said.