Fury as SBC knocks back sandbags plea

Bonchester floods, January 26
Bonchester floods, January 26

Scottish Borders Council has come under fire over its refusal to supply sandbags to householders in Bonchester Bridge.

The local authority turned down a request from Hobkirk Community Council for sandbags on the grounds that the village hasn’t signed up to SBC’s Resilient Communities initiative. That decision has been branded “absolutely incredible” and the council’s attitude has been slammed as “crass”.

But in an apparent U-turn this week, SBC has now pledged to provide sandbags if a community that is not part of the initiative is flooded.

Local ward councillor Stuart Marshall commented: “It’s absolutely incredible to think that with the fifth storm of the winter upon us, that Bonchester didn’t receive sandbags because they’re not part of an official resilient plan.

“It’s communities like Bonchester that are most at risk of being isolated by extreme weather, so surely that’s the clue in making sure that we, as a council, give them the help they require – and in my mind sandbags should be a first step.”

Councillor Watson McAteer, also a Hawick and Denholm member, added: “While I appreciate the value of the resilience scheme this cannot be a determining factor in whether a community is provided protection or not.”

Hobkirk vice-chairman Peter Dyson told the Hawick News his neighbour has been flooded twice since the first week in December, and it wasn’t the river, but the run-off from the fields at the back. “A couple of dozen sandbags would have done it,” he said.

He added: “But what has really got up people’s noses is the council’s crass attitude: ‘We’ll have another meeting and educate you [the local community] in how to be resilient.’ And, of course, the council saying that we couldn’t have the sandbags.

Mr Dyson also said that Hobkirk’s bid to build up their own flood defences was further scuppered when, last Wednesday, the day after the latest floods, the fire station at Wilton Hill had run out of sandbags. He added: “There’s only one wooden shed, so it’s not their fault.”

An SBC spokesperson said: “Any community which joins the Resilient Communities initiative . . . will be given basic equipment, appropriate insurance cover, general training and first aid training.

“The council is willing to assist any Borders community which wishes to join the initiative, but cannot provide sandbags stores to those outwith Resilient Communities scheme. However, if a community not involved in the initiative does suffer flooding, the council will of course react and will provide sandbags.”

Councillors Marshall and McAteer have organised a site visit in Bonchester for today (Friday) along with flood protection officers to see how best they can help villagers.