After almost a decade of effort and many delays, the Stonehaven Flood Protection Scheme will be “pretty much finished” by next summer, a top council engineer has said.
Rachel Kennedy, Aberdeenshire Council’s principal engineer for infrastructure services, was appointed to build flood defences around the River Carron in 2013 after disastrous flooding from the waterway in 2012.
And now, after almost 10 years of taking the scheme from the concept stages all the way through to nearly the end of construction, Rachel is confident it will finally be finished by summer 2023.
There is no doubt the project has caused significant disruption in the lives of residents, but Rachel believes it will have all been for the greater good in the end.
“We’re really pleased to have delivered something that is from my point of view quite outstanding, I think both in an aesthetic way, but also from a safety point of view for the community,” she said.
We took a walk around Stonehaven with Rachel to see for ourselves the scale of all of the work that’s been done and find out if it really will be complete by next summer.
The Bridge(s) on the River Carron
As you stroll along the River Carron today, you’ll see a great deal of the protection scheme is practically finished.
Although there have indeed been setbacks along the way, Rachel is proud of how much progress has been made so far, and highlighted the dedication of the teams who worked on the project throughout most of the pandemic.
As she took us through a set of metal flood gates at the end of Arbuthnott Street, we entered onto a path along the south side of the Carron.
The extensive new walls, Rachel explained, go far further underground than you may expect, and also incorporate sections of strengthened glass.
The engineer says the project was designed to not only be functional, but aesthetically pleasing as well.
You can be the judge of that, but we can report the local duck population has given it their quack of approval.
But perhaps the most obvious differences since work began are the bridges.
The former red and green bridges upriver have been removed and replaced to allow pedestrians and cyclists across the Carron.
Importantly, they’ve kept the same colourful paint jobs which made them landmarks for Stoney residents for years.
And down at the river’s mouth, the beach bridge has been raised and widened.
Behind the screens on Bridgefield Bridge looking upriver from the Carron fish and chip shop, construction is still very much ongoing, as you can see from the council’s webcam.
However, what is most conspicuously absent for residents is the river’s more than 140-year-old white bridge.
The C-listed, cast-iron structure was removed for refurbishment in 2019, and has been sorely missed by locals ever since.
In fact, over Christmas, it was reported someone put up a sign near where it used to be saying “I’m dreaming of a white bridge”.
So, when is the white bridge coming back to Stonehaven?
Rachel expects the grand return of the white bridge to its original place will be at some point in summer 2023.
Once it is officially lowered back to its old spot, linking Arbuthnott Street and Cameron Street, Rachel says it will be the “key milestone” marking the end of the major flood protection works on the Carron.
“I think the public really wants the white bridge back because it’s a very well-used link over to St James’ Church and that side of Stonehaven,” she said.
“There was a lot of work done to refurbish the white bridge, and so when we took it away we stripped all the old paint off.”
Rachel said the bridge was in such a poor state of repair that on certain parts of the structure you could “put your hand through it”
She continued: “Once the paint was off, we worked very closely with Historic Environment Scotland to record the historic bits of the bridge, cut out the rotten bits and replace them, and we’ve put a whole new paint treatment on it.”
Once the new and improved white bridge is returned to its former spot and former glory, Rachel is hopeful for an opening ceremony to celebrate the completion of the flood protection scheme.
Council apologises for disruption and delays
As we strolled along the length of the Carron where Rachel and her team have been focusing their efforts, a disgruntled woman out walking her dog stopped to ask us if we were “taking photos of that shambles”.
There is no doubt that the ongoing works over the years have caused disruption for Stonehaven residents.
Some residents have had their gardens temporarily taken up by construction works, traffic restrictions have been imposed, and footpaths have been shut.
The project has also faced all manner of delays.
Work was previously planned for completion by late Spring 2021.
“There are frustrations, and for that we can only apologise,” Rachel said.
“There’s one certain area that’s in the middle that has been held up by two years.
“People are weary and tired of the scheme.
“They understand the greater good and that the end is in sight, but it has been a struggle for those residents, and for that, Aberdeenshire Council apologises.”
Will the project actually work?
Every time there’s heavy rainfall, Rachel says you can feel a sense of worry in Stoney.
“It is very anxiety-driven because several people in the scheme have been out of their houses multiple times with flooding, they had metre-high floods in their houses.
“So their blue flood gates go out as soon as there’s a warning.”
Major flooding events have been recorded in Stonehaven in 1988, 1995, 2001, 2002, 2007, 2009 and 2012, all of which caused damage to local properties and businesses and resulted in residents being evacuated.
But Rachel is confident the new scheme will be able to handle flooding “three to four times the magnitude” of even the most severe flooding previously experienced.
“This would withstand all of that”, she said.
She explained the major floods in 2009 and 2012 were considered one-in-50 year and one-in-75 year events.
But the new scheme is “designed to a one-in-200 year event level, plus an allowance for climate change”.
But what does this actually mean?
“One-in-200 doesn’t mean it happens once and won’t happen again for another 200 years,” Rachel explained.
“It means there’s half a percent chance of anything that big happening in any one year.”
The scheme is designed to protect a total of 376 properties.
How much is all of this going to cost?
The initial tender for the flood protection scheme was £15.8 million.
But the end result is estimated to be much higher.
Earlier this year, figures revealed through parliamentary questions showed cost overrun estimations for flood defence projects across Scotland.
Those figures say the initial cost was £19.9m, and the estimated final cost will be £27.5m.
We asked Aberdeenshire Council for more details but were told it would “not be appropriate” to comment further at this time.
A spokesman said: “The original submitted tender value for the project was £15.8m.
“Of course, in a project as complex as this one, there is potential for issues to arise or changes to pre-tender assumptions to be made, which can have impacts on the outturn cost.
“The contract has appropriate mechanisms to allow these to be notified by the contractor or the council and the impact of those to be assessed.
“While the contract is ongoing it would not be appropriate for further comment to be made due to commercial sensitivity and contractual requirements.”
So, will it actually be done by summer 2023?
Although there, of course, could be all sorts of further hiccups, Rachel is confident the scheme will indeed be essentially finished by next summer.
At that point, any further work will be finishing touches like planting greenery.
She said: “We’re saying summer 2023.
“One of the last big things to go in is the white bridge, so that will be the key milestone.
“There may still be bits of snagging, depending on what time of year will change how much of the plants we can reinstate and things like that.
“But I’d like to say that by summer 2023, we’ll be pretty much finished.”
After dedicating almost a decade of her life to the scheme, Rachel is proud of what she and the team have achieved.
She said: “The feedback we generally seem to be getting from the public is that it’s quite nice.
“When you say you’re going to build walls that are a metre and a half high, you think ‘Gosh that’s going to be horrendous… it’s going to be concrete everywhere, it’s going to be sterile and clinical’.
“And I think it’s anything but.
“There’s been so much investment in putting granite facing and sandstone copes on the wall, even the stainless steel railings — there’s been a lot of nice aesthetics gone into this project.”
We asked Rachel if the opening ceremony would involve smashing a bottle of bubbly off the long-missed white bridge.
“Champagne is too good to waste”, Rachel laughed.
You can watch a drone flyover of the scheme by Aberdeenshire council, comparing how it looked in November 2021 with March 2020:
You may also like to read:
- Stonehaven and Highland flood defence scheme costs spiral
- Vandals cause £10,000 damage to Stonehaven flood barrier
- The council’s official page for the scheme