Esk River Improvement Group Meeting Minutes – 10am, Monday 14th March 2022, Microsoft Teams
Attendance: Ben Sutherland, Colin Beattie MSP, Jenny Gray, Roger Crofts (Esk Valley Trust), Katrina Wilson (SEPA), Chris Gall (SEPA), Peter Finnie (SEPA), Pauline Crerar (Fisherrow Harbour Group), Shona Grant (East Lothian Council), Conor Price (Musselburgh Flood Protection Scheme), Claire Tochel (Fisherrow Harbour & Seafront Association), Steven Boon (Scottish Water), Denni Kinnear (Scottish Water), Edel Ryan (Midlothian Council), Ann Stewart-Kmicha (Dalkeith & District Community Council), Anne Hyatt (Roslin and Bilston Community Council), Joy Godfrey (Eskbank and Newbattle Community Council), Philip Duncan (Musselburgh Racecourse), Tom Mills (Coal Authority).
Apologies: Edith Cameron (Rosewell & District Community Council).
CB welcomes the meeting and previous minutes were approved.
Scottish Water – Steven Boon and Denni Kinnear
SB notes they haven’t received any call outs for the majority of their assets, so not much to update the group on.
Lord Ancrum Wood: a bit of debris picking was undertaken a few months ago after some storms. SB mentions he is attending a value management session later in the afternoon in which they will assess a number of projects for Lord Ancrum Wood and look at which might be best value for customer money. SB explains there is also the option of doing nothing, meaning if the operational activities and the proactive cleaning have shown enough of an impact to keep on top of the situation then this might be the most viable option. SB hopes to provide a further update on this at the next meeting.
Works near Newbattle Abbey Crescent: SB shares an image of the surrounding area to provide details of the works. SB explains there are two areas of development, at one of the locations a drainage impact assessment has been carried out and the developers are doing works to install some pipework which includes online storm storage. At the second development a drainage impact assessment has been carried out and their initial proposal was to connect it down to the network at the bottom end of the development. However, the model showed this wasn’t possible and they have now been asked to install a pumping station to take it up to the top end network. SB notes Scottish Water are doing a strategic assessment to make sure there is no detrimental impact further downstream. There will also be private SUDS and private SUDS pipework installed at those developments to remove surface water. SB mentions it is for the developer, not Scottish Water, to provide communications to the local community regarding the work they are doing. However, if there are any actions that come back from the strategic studies then Scottish Water would do communications about any work that would be required to the network. SB further reports there will not be a sewage or an emergency overflow connection to the Pittendreich Burn, the only connection which might be installed is a SUDS connection for surface water.
CG clarifies to the group that when SB is referring to a downstream impact assessment, this is in relation to downstream sewer impacts and not downstream river impacts. SB agrees.
PC asks for explanation on how online storm storage works.
SB explains that sewers for the size of the development can be relatively small, but if the study shows that heavy rainfall would require more flow to go through the network, they can install bigger pipes to provide greater online storage. Alternatively, a bigger sewer can be installed at points where pipes are smaller, either with a bigger pipe or an offline storage tank. It essentially provides a backup and some additional storage capacity.
ER notes the local authority have had requests from local residents in relation to at least one of the developments. ER understands their planners are currently looking into this and they may come back to Scottish Water if there is any further information required.
Kilburn: SB confirms issue was caused by a choke in the network and not as a result of the pumping station breaking down. There was also some discoloured water in the Kilburn but that came from a David Wilson housing development which wasn’t from their network. SB notes when these issues arise, they would pick this up with the developers and make sure these issues are fixed, and on this occasion Scottish Water cleared the rubble causing a blockage in the manholes on their behalf. SB explains there was an issue at end of December and a subsequent one at beginning of January in which both were resolved on same day. They have been doing some proactive cleaning and could do targeted communications through letter drops to local residents. SB further reports there are currently no plans to upgrade the pumping station to accommodate for the additional burden of those David wilson homes, because it works as it needs to. The strategic wastewater model assessment done for the development site concluded that the pumping station has got capacity to support the new development. However, SB notes they will rerun a modelling study of the wider network to make sure there is nothing further required. If the model did identify that the pumping station or the network needed to be upgraded in order to accept that development, then it is the developers who would front those costs.
AH enquires as to whether Scottish Water plans to do a letter drop to the new residents living near the Kilburn, or if this is just an idea at present.
SB confirms it is just an idea, as this is only done where there are repeat offenders. They have not seen any issues since January 7th, but they will do a letter drop if another blockage occurs.
Eastfield Pumping Station: work has been progressing with the aim of having this completed prior to bathing season. The current work involves making sure the penstocks can be isolated properly which is due to start today and should take about 10 days. SB explains the plates that come down to isolate the flows coming into the pumping station were not operating well enough to allow the work to be completed safely, therefore they have devised a new way of conducting the work in order to get the penstocks isolated. Once completed that will be all the work finished with regards to cleaning. The final piece of work will be to look at the pieces of kit to make sure everything is good as it needs to be.
Coal Authority – Tom Mills
On 31st January two stakeholder engagement events were held to give an introduction or update to the public on the mine water treatment scheme. TM reports this event went well, with a mixture of people and organisations in attendance.
A few weeks ago, the Coal Authority submitted their prior notification for permitted development to Midlothian Council planners which is currently going through the system. TM notes the Coal Authority has also recently purchased an individual property which will be demolished in order to improve access to the proposed site for the treatment scheme on Newmills Road for building and operationality in the future. This has been included in the package of information which has been provided to Midlothian Council planning regarding the demolition process.
TM explains that the flows and chemistry of the mine water has not significantly changed, but they did experience a high flow event a couple of weeks ago after heavy rain, which caused flows to significantly increase and led to a deterioration of the river conditions due to sheer volume of rain getting into the mine system. TM states the flows seem to be returning to seasonal levels and the event has not caused a significant change in the water chemistry, but they will continue to monitor.
The main works have been out to tender and the Coal Authority has now received the bids back from the design and build contractors, they are now currently working through the various proposals. TM notes the costs are have increased in the construction industry, but they are working with the tenders to explore various options to reduce costs without causing any detrimental impact on the overall works.
CB asks what sort of flexibility the Coal Authority has to absorb the impact of rising costs on the project.
TM states an element of risk was included as part of the business case which was put forward to BEIS. The Coal Authority have also been working with SEPA to look at the current permit and exploring whether there is an option to reduce the amount of water that could be treated and how to work through different flow conditions. There are also engineering options such as how much welfare provision they have on site. TM notes they don’t want to compromise too much on the scheme and will also be looking at what proposals the tenders come up with.
ASK highlights the major concern from the local community is what they perceive as lack of communication from the Coal Authority and are requesting that members of TM’s team meet with the community on both sides of the river. The Community Council is available to help facilitate communications with local residents where necessary. ASK further reports she is also aware of several small errors in the communications sent by the Coal Authority which aren’t inspiring confidence with local residents, noting the poster referred to a Bilston Glen event and there was also a mix up with dates. ASK states she did ask at the presentation events if it might be possible to see what the treatment scheme would look like from the other side of the river as that is another issue which was causing concern. Additionally, local residents are also worried about the boundary with James Lean Avenue, but this could be resolved with some kind of communication. ASK notes she is also perplexed about the demolition of a very old building in order to provide access to the site, as the paperwork she has seen that was submitted to the Council seems to show the building has to be demolished to accommodate for the treatment scheme.
TM thanks ASK for her comments, agrees Zoom is not ideal for engagement with the local community and explains COVID-19 was the reason for why the events were held remotely. The next steps for engagement will be 1 to 1s particularly along James Lean Avenue to meet and understand the concerns of residents at that boundary. On visibility from other side of the river, they are drawing up stakeholder plans but are currently in a process of tender clarification which might impact on the design. TM notes in regards to the demolition that the site is extremely constrained in terms of access to build the treatment scheme, so it is necessary to make the site safer to operate. TM explains further stakeholder engagement work will be set out once the current stage has been completed.
ASK reiterates the importance of early engagement with the local community because rumours will start to grow. People are already talking about a 50ft high building which she hasn’t seen in the design work. However, ASK states she would also like to compliment the Coal Authority as its EIA is very thorough.
Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) – Katrina Wilson
River Esk Pollution incident from 14th January: SEPA has continued with its incident response. The multi-agency meetings concluded at the end of February, but since then SEPA and East Lothian Council have continued to meet regularly to ensure the incident is under control and to provide updates to the public. SEPA ecologists have also done further water and soil sampling in the tributary of the River Esk which has been taken and analysed. They are continuing to monitor the watercourse and collect data. KW notes the information provided for the investigation by the public has been valuable and SEPA would like to thank everyone who provided this to them, but unfortunately whilst the investigation is live she is limited on what else they can share at the moment. KW invites SG to provide further information from an East Lothian Council perspective.
SG states she would mirror much of what KW has said, they have continued to meet regularly to provide communication updates to let the public know this is still an ongoing exercise. SG confirms she currently attends the site at least once a week to monitor the watercourse. The number of absorbents deployed have been reduced because the situation is improving, and some were also washed out from higher flows and have now been retrieved. SG further reports the Council have been liaising with the golf course, who have also been keeping an eye on the watercourse for them.
KW notes there has been an unusually high number of incidents in the River Esk and its tributaries in recent weeks, however she would like to reassure everyone that these are unrelated. SEPA have been investigating the reports and ensuring that mitigations have been provided, and have also provided regular updates to partner agencies, stakeholders and the public. KW explains they have recently responded to an incident relating to a burst domestic heating oil tank and have also received a number of notifications of silt coming from construction sites.
Eastfield Pumping Station: SEPA continue to work with Scottish Water via the Eastfield Wastewater Pumping Station Operational Group to ensure the works are carried out prior to bathing season.
Fisherrow Sands: out of season monitoring has now concluded, early indications show a possibility of other sources of pollution in the Brunstane Burn which will be investigated once the full results have been interpreted. KW notes this work has been only recently been completed and therefore they do not have the full results yet.
Fish barriers: work continues to improve fish passage at two barriers in the North Esk at Montague Bridge and Ironmills, as well as one on the South Esk at Dalkeith Weir, which she notes is also known as Newbattle Weir. Discussions with land and structure owners are continuing with a view to obtain permission for the first set of structural surveys, which has been delay due to complexities over land and structure ownership. It is hoped these surveys will be carried out in Q1 of the next financial year.
ASK mentions it is her understanding that Dalkeith Weir is different to Newbattle Weir. Dalkeith Weir is at the location where the Coal Authority is undertaking the mine water treatment scheme, whereas Newbattle Weir is further up the river near the Sun Inn.
KW states she will look into this and find out.
CB enquires about how the recovery has been going from the IT issues.
KW states the process is ongoing, but they are in a much better position in comparison to this time last year. KW explains they have not been able to recover their old systems but have got new systems up and running which allow them to do their job. Progress has been made and things are much easier than 12 months ago.
PF explains SEPA had a digital strategy prior to the cyber-attack which was looking to morph a lot of their old systems onto modern platforms. These were originally five years plans which have been brought forward due to the cyber-attack. PF notes this has been an extreme growing pain but has meant the organisation is now moving into a space they were looking to be in 3- or 4-years’ time.
CT enquires as to when the results from the analysis from Fisherrow might be released.
KW states she is unaware when the results will be analysed.
CB asks if there is any prospect of catching whoever it was that was responsible for the incident on 14th January?
KW explains it is difficult to provide details because there is a live investigation, there is a positive line of enquiry but that’s all she can say at this time.
East Lothian Council – Shona Grant
SG mentions members of East Lothian Council recently attended an oil pollution beach supervisor course run by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which took place last week over two days. This formed part of an ongoing training programme which was delayed as a result of COVID-19. SG notes there was a high attendance at the course across Local Authorities, as well as representatives from the Ministry of Defence, Dunbar Harbour Trust, North Berwick Harbour Trust and Fisherrow Harbour and Seafront Association. SG mentions the course was very informative and will be useful for them to have that knowledge going forward.
SG explains the work at Newhailes remains ongoing, some of the manholes are either buried or significantly covered in vegetation so work has been going on to clear these areas in order for sampling to begin in the next few weeks.
CT notes she would like some feedback from East Lothian Council in relation to fibrous material which she believes is coming from the sea defences at Morrisons Haven. CT adds the material consistently makes up approximately half of her litter bag from rubbish she picks up at Fisherrow Sands and would like to know if there are any plans within East Lothian Council to do something about this.
SG states she will look into this and see who CT needs to speak to about this matter.
PC states she has been helping to set up new sites in Musselburgh to do with surveying for river fly. PC reports she was out checking for flies with an ecologist one week after the pollution incident and did notice the flies appear to be healthier further up the river from the incident. The ecologist is hoping to post their results online.
Musselburgh Flood Protection Scheme – Conor Price
CP confirms the Scheme maps were published in January 2022. The team has also been continuing to consult with key organisations and individuals across the town to understand their concerns and thoughts pertaining to the project. The Project Team have recently undertaken 3 major consultations events, a meeting for the Esk Corridor and Coastal areas on 8th and 9th of February, as well as a further meeting for the whole town which took place on the 8th March.
CP notes the Scheme has now reach a partnership agreement with Dynamic Coast, with a final review of the contractual arrangements currently in the final stages of completion. A piece of work with them regarding natural solutions on the foreshore will begin thereafter.
CP reports the Scheme’s website is now fully functional and there is a huge amount of information on it with all the historical documents available for download. CP believes the Project Team has delivered everything that has been asked of them by the Project Board through Q1 2022, so the key question is what is next for the project.
Since summer 2021, as part of the consultation, the Scheme has been engaging with its regulatory working groups, involving all the appropriate officers with statutory, regulatory or licensing oversight of the Scheme. There have been three different working groups: planning, heritage and landscape, watercourse coastal impact and road structures and access. CP explains they have also been engaging with Musselburgh Community Council, NatureScot, Dynamic Coast, University of Glasgow, Musselburgh Flood Protection Scheme Action Group and other notable concerned individuals who have contacted them with key thoughts they want the team to consider including the Musselburgh Business Partnership, Musselburgh’s elected representative, Buccleuch Estates and Dalkeith Country Park.
CP states he was delighted with the outcome of the meeting on 8th March. There were 14,000 letters of invitation sent out from the team to every property with a EH21 postcode plus some other properties in adjacent postcodes. CP confirms 422 people attended on the day, which was a huge number of people for a 10-hour event which took place in a single room in the town. One of the trends he noticed was that people were staying for a very long time, engaging with the team and reviewing all the boards. There were 322 questionnaires completed on the day and the team are now ongoing in analysing this information. CP notes the team were able to analyse the postcodes of people who attended and will be looking at this further to identify any gaps or areas where people are not engaging with them. Equally, the Project Team will be trying to identify the age groups that have not engaged with them so far and will be refocusing the next consultations to capture those who haven’t yet participated.
CP explains there has been huge amount of information conveyed to them which have been built up under 4 different themes: concepts, concerns, risks, and opportunities. CP notes the Project Team have not yet inputted the analysis from the recent consultation events in February and March which will be a key task in the next couple of weeks. Thereafter they will be able to extrapolate out key words and areas that are of the greatest importance to the public. CP states they will need to be careful about this and notes that just because a word turns up a lot doesn’t necessarily mean it is the most important. Words such as ‘bridge’, ‘electric bridge’ and ‘mouth of river’ jumped out from lots of the word clouds, however they are not seeing the same scale of word associated with defences as these can fit under many words. CP notes the Project Team need to grasp the background behind the words and then consider how do to absorb these messages and themes into the design once it begins to move forward.
The Project Team have now published two new pages on the Scheme’s website to provide unique destinations for information associated with two key themes: hydraulic modelling and natural solutions. CP notes both of these sections have been clearly highlighted to them throughout the consultation as areas the public and organisations want more information on. The team are putting in place all information they can on these pages to provide further clarity on these matters, and once the project moves forward these spaces will be used to evolve the conversation on natural solutions.
The Scheme’s Project Board met on Thursday 10th March to consider the progress in consultation prior to the design commencing. CP explains the Project Board has considered that the Project Team have undertaken an extensive process to consult widely across the town and across organisations to capture thinking before the design starts. CP notes he is not in a position to provide further information on the outcome of that meeting at the moment, however this will be published outwards to the town later this week.
CP advises on behalf of the Project Team and East Lothian Council he would like to express his sincere thanks to everyone who has participated in the consultation process to date to provide their thoughts about the Scheme. CP explains the Project Team want to do justice to all of the information that has been given to them in order for them to decide the best next steps for how to move forward with the project.
RC states he is pleased there is a recognition that further consultation of the community of interest is needed. RC reports it is also good that the historical documents are now on the website but notes many of these were developed years ago and have only became available to the public in recent weeks. It is important that we can have a process of engagement to understand what is behind some of these documents, as they do come to decisive conclusions but without offering the evidence that supports those claims. RC explains one of the major worries relates to the hydraulic model being used, which is this 1 in 200-year event which the public are being told is on the instruction of Scottish Government. Therefore, in the eyes of the consultants this seems to preclude most nature-based solutions in the catchment. RC asks for clarity regarding the process of decision making, notes most of the funding has come from the Scottish Government, but we are being told that it is East Lothian Council that decides. What role does SEPA have in the formal decision-making process, as well as other government agencies such as NatureScot?
CP confirms a new page on the website has been created to provide more information on the hydraulic model, and soon other technical reports will also be uploaded to that location. CP recognises the process is not concluded but is committed to constructing that webpage into a space for all information associated with the hydraulic model. CP continues by stating there is no divergence between the Scheme’s flood maps and those published by SEPA, so although they have used two separate models, both are showing the same thing. The difference is the Scheme has the most accurate topographical survey data and therefore is more capable of representing the flow of water across the ground. CP further reports that decision making for the Scheme is defined by the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009. Ultimately, the Scheme must be presented to a full meeting of all councillors of East Lothian Council for a decision. CP notes the organisations RC has sighted will not be taking a decision on the Scheme because that is not the process outlined in the legislation, however those organisations will have a part to play as per their regulatory responsibilities. However, CP mentions as the Scheme is not yet designed they cannot definitively determine which pieces of legislation they will need to interact with and therefore what responsibilities each of these organisations will need to undertake, but as the project moves onwards this will become clear.
RC thanks CP for his response and understands he cannot be definitive at this time. RC further notes he looks forward to further discussions with CP and welcomes the opportunity to keep the dialogue going with the town and wider interests.
Midlothian Council – Edel Ryan
ER confirms both issues she was due to highlight have been covered in other updates. No other significant updates since last meeting.
RC notes at the previous meeting CB committed to making representations at a Scottish Government level about integrated catchment management, asks if CB has had the opportunity to have this discussion.
CB reports he received a response from Scottish Government a few days ago, which states they support integrated catchment area management. There is currently one being managed by the Forth Rivers Trust. CB explains he will circulate this with the group so everyone can see where the government is coming from.
RC mentions he is aware Forth Rivers Trust have been doing some electrofishing on the Esk but wasn’t aware of any wider work. RC notes it would be useful to see the Minister’s letter so he can pursue this further.
CB explains this isn’t a matter for this group to take up but is certainly something that should be pursued.
ASK adds Forth Rivers Trust are carrying out a Fisheries Management Plan for the Forth Catchment but wasn’t aware of any other projects.
DK notes she would like to thank everyone for their support on Scottish Water’s ‘Nature Calls’ campaign which is running for the next couple of months, they have reached out to a number of community councils who have been sharing the campaign.
ASK enquires if there has been a date confirmed for the next meeting.
BS confirms he is looking at a number of potential dates, hopes to have these shared with the group in the coming days.
CB thanks all for attending.
Meeting ended 11:15am
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