by Colin Campbell
WHEN the last severe flooding hit Dingwall 13 years ago I was struck by the candour of the maintenance manager there at the time, and wrote an article in the paper I was working on accordingly. Ignoring any attempts to put any kind of positive/defensive spin on the situation – the usual local authority style bilge which pours out in any such situation, he said he simply didn’t have the manpower to cope.
And his comments didn’t relate just to that one particular situation – it was a bald, bold statement that there weren’t enough boots on the ground to do the hard graft and respond to the situation or anything like it.
The chiefs and Indians argument applied here, in spades. It was revealed several years later that over 1,000 council staff were earning more than £30,000 a year, a stunningly high number, even if it did include teachers and others the public would generally consider worthy of good salaries.
But it’s a fair bet that none of that 1,000 were the men who drove the lorries and did the heavy lifting.
Too many officials and not enough workers at the sharp end to actually do the work required – and have things changed for the better? Or have they got even worse?
Tracey Urry, Highland Council’s Head of Roads and Transport said of the Wednesday flooding:
“Since the last severe flooding in Dingwall in 2006, The Highland Council has invested considerably in flood defence measures including the installation of video monitoring and trigger alarms for flooding. The culvert and associated screen, when last inspected on Monday and again yesterday morning was clear of all debris.
“The sheer volume of rainfall last night, over a very short period, caused large amounts of debris, including plastic pipes, to be washed down stream contributed to the flooding. This extreme volume of water combined with a very high tide at 7:30pm last night were factors in the flooding.”
Video monitoring and trigger alarms are fine – an impressive and no doubt quite costly technological advance.
But are there sufficient workers to respond to the alarms and the videos – or to carry out the physical labour needed to try and prevent these local disasters happening in the first place?
And a dreadful, personal disaster it was for many people.
Our Ross-shire correspondent has sent us the following account of a conversation he had with just one of the people affected.
He writes: “The ground floor of a Dingwall man’s home was badly affected by Wednesday night’s severe flooding in the town. Desperately distressed by the trauma of the water ingress and although troubled by the prospect of his insurance premiums going through the roof as a result of any claim he might make he contacted his insurers. He assumed the care he took with all household matters meant he was covered for all possible eventualities. He described a lengthy telephone conversation with his an insurance company representative who wasn’t particularly interested in the damage done to his home but wanted to clearly understand where the water had come from.
“The initial assumption made by the insurance representative was that the water was the result of a burst of some kind within the house. However, when it was made clear the flood had been caused by rainwater the insurance agent strongly advised him to make contact with his local authority as ultimately they were responsible for ensuring rainwater didn’t affect his property. The man explained his home was insured for everything but it seems flooding caused by external water ingress wasn’t. He observed that he obviously required to review his house insurance completely and seek urgent advice from independent experts about how to progress appropriate cover.
He said: “My major concern is that insurance companies will give very serious consideration to the possibility of flooding in the future and that would mean my premiums going through the roof. There’s another more frightening possibility. Insurance companies may consider the risk of flooding being too high to offer any insurance at all.”
What a nightmare for those involved. There is no understating it.
People in Dingwall were assured in 2006 that it would never happen again. Well it has happened again. And any emphasis on the freakish nature of the weather on the night will come as no consolation whatsoever to them.
And after the town being swamped by water how utterly pathetic it must seem to people in Dingwall and elsewhere at a time like this that here in Inverness arguments are raging over the spending of hundreds of thousands on “artwork” on the banks of the River Ness.
The Dingwall disaster puts things in stark perspective. And it’s little wonder in these circumstances that many people in towns and communities outside the Highland capital believe that Inverness gets the money and is way ahead on the priority list – while they pick up the crumbs.