I am very grateful for the opportunity to update Parliament on the exceptional weather Scotland experienced last week as a consequence of Storm Babet.
I would like to begin by expressing condolences to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives due to the extreme conditions caused by the storm. I also want to express my sympathy for those whose homes and businesses have been damaged by the extensive flooding.
I would like to thank and pay tribute to the local and national authorities, volunteers, the emergency services and members of the public themselves for all of their hard work and efforts in these extremely challenging conditions.
I would also like to highlight the very impressive community response to offer support to all those affected by the floods. Angus Council received hundreds of offers of alternative accommodation for those who were forced to evacuate their homes. This is a testament to the strong community networks in Scotland, who are there to support one another.
On Thursday 19th October, the Met Office took the serious step of issuing a red weather warning of threat to life. The Met Office issue these warnings when dangerous weather is expected, with substantial disruption and the possibility of widespread damage to property and infrastructure. Red weather warnings are extremely rare and extremely serious.
The Met Office’s National Climate Information Centre has calculated that 19th October 2023 was provisionally the wettest day for the county of Angus in a series from 1891, and 7th October 2023 was the sixth wettest day in that series. So these have been exceptional rainfall amounts across the Angus area.
Serious impacts were felt across Scotland but were felt most keenly along the North and South Esk, including Brechin, where the flood protection scheme unfortunately overtopped and was subsequently breached. Nonetheless, the flood protection scheme still delayed the impact and provided valuable time to prepare for evacuation.
Nearly 350 properties in Brechin were evacuated on Thursday afternoon. Angus Council and SEPA are assessing the extent of the damage to the Brechin flood protection scheme.
But we know that the flooding has also had an impact on communities in parts of Aberdeenshire, Tayside and Dundee.
The process of assessing the full amount of damage caused by Storm Babet will take time. There will be a long road to recovery, but Scottish Government will support our partners to ensure communities can recover as quickly as possible.
The Minister for Community Wealth and Public Finance agreed the activation of the Bellwin scheme on Tuesday 24th October. The Bellwin Scheme exists to give special financial assistance to councils who face an undue financial burden as a result of large-scale emergencies. To date, three local authorities have notified the Scottish Government of a potential claim relating to the storm. The Scottish Government stands ready to support local authorities to carry out the immediate work required.
We also recognise that communities and homeowners will be seeking to make vital repairs to secure their homes. Crisis grants are available through the Scottish Welfare Fund to families and people in Scotland who are on low incomes and have been hit by a crisis such as a flood and people can apply for a grant through their local authorities.
The Scottish Government has funded the Scottish Flood Forum since 2009 to work with communities to build flood resilience and support those affected by flooding. This Forum, who offer free advice and information on issues such as recovering from flooding, is working with communities that were affected by Storm Babet.
We are facing a climate crisis, and although no single storm event can be solely attributed to climate change, events like Storm Babet are becoming more frequent, more intense and more destructive due to the changing climate. Storm Babet reinforces the need to think strategically about Scotland’s future and what we need to do to adapt to our changing climate.
The Scottish Government supports Local Authorities to deliver actions that protect our communities and businesses. We have committed an additional £150 million over the course of this Parliament, on top of the £42 million provided annually to councils to increase flood resilience through the general capital grant.
Flood protection schemes are one important tool to help our communities become more flood-resilient, and this year three new flood protection schemes have been completed in Caol and Lochyside, Arbroath and Stonehaven. This infrastructure is a crucial part of our flood resilience approach, but it is not the only tool available to us.
We are taking action across agriculture, transport, forestry, water, industry and planning sectors, integrating flood resilience measures into policies to deliver multiple benefits.
The Agri-Environment Climate Scheme promotes land management practices which protect and enhance Scotland’s natural heritage, manage flood risk and adapt to climate change. To date, £285 million has been committed to over 3000 businesses.
Transport Scotland are spending more than £2 million a year on drainage improvement schemes and a watercourse realignment scheme to enhance the flood resilience of Scotland’s road network.
Forestry Scotland estimate that the capacity of woodlands to store water and slow down run-off to downstream communities is worth almost £100 million a year to the Scottish economy. Their new Woodland for Riparian Benefits Forestry Grant Scheme opened in July 2023, offering grant support for woodland creation near rivers.
Around 175,000 hectares of land have been identified for woodland planting, all with the potential to slow the flow of flooding, among numerous other benefits.
To future-proof our developments against climate change, the National Planning Framework 4 aims to strengthen flood resilience by making it much harder to build in areas at risk of flooding, by supporting the protection and management of our important natural assets in a sustainable, regenerative way, and by promoting the use of natural flood management and blue-green infrastructure.
However, despite all the good work to date by Scottish Government and responsible authorities, our changing climate means that flooding impacts are still on the increase, and we recognise that our current approach to delivering flood management actions is not keeping pace with this.
Indeed, events at the weekend are a reminder that Climate Change is not a far-off distant threat - it is a crisis that is here and now.
We also know our climate will continue to change for many years to come. The decisions we make today have to stand the test of time.
So, in January we will start consulting on a new National Adaptation Plan. We have a lot to gain by understanding Scotland is well-positioned to continue thriving in the face of a changing global climate. This plan will set out the tools available to ensure lives and livelihoods are adapting well to the impacts of climate change.
Fundamental to our approach to climate adaptation is responding to the increasing impacts of flooding - Scotland’s biggest climate adaptation challenge and one that is set to become more difficult in the years to come.
Meeting this challenge will require a Team Scotland approach involving a broad range of delivery partners to ensure our places and communities can continue to thrive in the face of the climate emergency.
Our new National Flood Resilience Strategy will form an integral part of shaping a climate-resilient Scotland.
The Strategy will look ahead through to 2045 and beyond and capture the big issues that need to be addressed if we are to transition towards a sustainable level of flood resilience in our changing climate.
The impacts in Brechin, despite having flood protection built to a high standard, illustrate that we cannot always protect our communities from all flood impacts 100% of the time and that we should be considering all actions that can be implemented to increase flood resilience.
This has been, Presiding Officer, an exceptionally challenging few days. We should not underestimate the impact severe weather events have on our families and communities. It is critical that we take action to mitigate the impact of future events, and Scottish Government will continue to do so.
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