Councillor Watson McAteer has expressed his extreme disappointment that Scottish Borders Council has ruled out removing gravel from riverbeds.
Councillor McAteer lamented the local authority’s decision during a meeting of Teviot and Liddesdale Area Forum in the lesser town hall, and he asked if townsfolk would now have to suffer large amounts of gravel being left in situ in the Teviot.
Following the winter storms, concern has been growing over the levels of gravel on riverbeds in and around Hawick, particularly at the Cauld and Mansfield, but Hawick flood protection scheme manager Ewan Doyle told the meeting that analysis showed that removing areas of gravel did not reduce flood risk to any great extent.
He continued: “The decision was no gravel removal. There has always been gravel deposited through the length of the Teviot historically. It’s just a natural journey of the watercourse.
“As soon as gravel is there and removed, it will be replaced. It’s just the dynamics of the water.
“If we were to take out half-a- metre over the full length of the Teviot through Hawick, about 3½km, it would only make 11cm of difference in flooding. And also the gravel would be deposited again very, very quickly.
“Through the engineering and science that we’ve got, we’ve got a high level of certainty and a high level of information through the model which we’re using, and we cannot put forward gravel removal as we cannot demonstrate that it adds value or reduces the flood risk.”
Councillor McAteer said: “I am extremely, extremely disappointed.”
Hawick Community Council member French Wight then raised his concerns over the fish ladder at the Cauld which he said was “effectively blocked and should be cleared”.
Mr Doyle: “The council has a responsibility to reduce flood risk, andthat’s what we’ve been here dealing with tonight. But I take the environmental point in terms of the fish ladder etc.”
He added that other bodies could remove dry gravel from the water if they did it in an organised way and got the relevant permissions from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.
Councillor Stuart Marshall said he was very disappointed that there were so many key players from the council and agency at the meeting, but just four or five members of the public.
He said he could have filled the hall twice over with affected residents had he known these senior officers would be in attendance.
Councillor Ron Smith returned to the issue of gravel removal and highlighted “large islands” near the Lawson Bridge and beside the Burgh Cottages in Mansfield, which he said had vegetated and were anchored.
They were a big problem and he asked what could be done to devegetate them.
Colin Ovens, the council’s infrastructure manager, told Councillor Smith that if these areas were deemed to cause a risk to flooding, then it would be up to the local authority to promote works and seek licences from the agency in order to do that.
Councillor McAteer said Mr Smith had made a pertinent point and alluded to river maintenance which had, in the past, been carried out systematically over many years.
Building companies and farmers used to dredge the river regularly, he said, adding: “During a long period of time the river has been maintained in different ways, but none of that happens now.”
Community councillor Wight added that the biggest problem on the Teviot was the bank-side vegetation which he said was “horrendous, and a bigger flood risk than the gravel”.
Mr Ovens: “That’s not the opinion of the council or the expertise available to us. The removal of these banks will make very, very little difference to the flood risk within the town itself, and that’s why were promoting more the short-term measures, protections around the Common Haugh, the kerbing, because we feel that would give better flood risk protection.”