Building and flooding – need to reflect

POSTED ON February 10, 2023 BY Terry Levinthal

A new development along the Water of Leith at 27 Lanark Road is providing a case study on the
challenges of development in areas of known flood risk.

A new development along the Water of Leith at 27 Lanark Road is providing a case study on the
challenges of development in areas of known flood risk.

In 2018, a planning application to demolish the former pub The Blue Goose (formerly The Tickled
Trout or The Dell Inn) and replace it with a flatted development was lodged. The proposals involved
significant new building along the Water of Leith.
Planning Officers recommended approval even though it was s a departure from the Local
Development Plan with officers indicating that, “The proposals do not comply with Policy Env 10 of
the Edinburgh Local Development Plan in terms of development in the Green Belt.”


It was assessed that material considerations justify a departure from policy. The proposals have no
adverse impact on the landscape quality of the Green Belt, are acceptable in terms of scale, form,
design and materials and will have no adverse effect on the character of the surrounding area. The
development will have no detrimental impact on significant archaeological remains, flora or fauna,
residential amenity, road safety or infrastructure and will have no significant impacts in terms of
flooding or aerodrome safety.”[our emphasis]

However, the Council’s Development Management Sub-Committee rejected this refused consent on
the grounds of impact to the Green Belt and surrounding amenity. The developer appealed, and the
application was subsequently approved by the appeal reporter. Ce plus change.
As part of the planning process, a Flood Risk assessment was undertaken by consulting engineers.
They assessed that, “the site is adjacent to the Water of Leith and we have based the peak water
level of 59.280 m AOD for the 1 in 200 year plus climate change flood based on the Kaya modelling
data. Topographic data for the site indicates a minimum ground level of approx. 60.47 m AOD,
meaning the site is well above the flood level and not at risk”. Furthermore, they note that “No
other sources of flood risk were identified”. As such, it was concluded, “that the development can
be undertaken in a sustainable manner without increasing the flood risk either to the proposed
development or to existing properties/systems within the downstream catchment and is therefore
compliant with planning policies.” [our emphasis]

Well, clearly the photos, provided recently by a member, show otherwise.


In the recent flooding of the Water of Leith (January 2023), the water current got behind a barrier of
gabions and undermined the edge of the development, leaving it now partly in mid-air.   The water
flow pushed the gabions out of the way, leading to severe localised erosion of the river's
embankment.  Assessing the natural and scale of the damage will be challenging. The developer will
have a difficult access problem to fix the embankment, requiring a lot of cooperation from SEPA and
other interested parties.

Whilst the water level has now subsided to its normal level, more storm and cloudburst events are
forecast. The impact on the stability of this section of the river will be a major concern, and the
knock-on consequences downstream is something which needs careful assessment.
Was it a correct decision to allow such a development so close to the Water of Leith in the first
place, especially in the context of increased cloudburst events as a result of climate change? There
can be no denying that the flood risk assessment was conducted in the appropriate manner and
used appropriate modelling data. There can also be no denying that the development has suffered
flood damage.

The repair to the damaged bank might require more intrusive structures than gabion baskets. If this
was proposed as part of the original application, would it have influenced the planning officers’
recommendations to support the scheme? Impacts on biodiversity, amenity and downstream
properties could be even greater as a result.

Speculation doesn’t address the immediate problems at 27 Lanark Road. It does raise the serious
question of allowing development directly adjoining Edinburgh's river, or any other water course.
Despite the professional assurances and detailed technical analysis, the precautionary principle
might need to be the approach adopted, assuming that flood impact/damage will occur as the
starting point. We have already raised our concerns already regarding coastal planning and sea level
rises here –
but-what-does-this-mean-for-edinburgh/. Climate change must influence how we approach
development and not just in areas of potential flood risk.
Furthermore, impacts on the amenity and appearance of the river and issues such as appropriate
and legitimate access for maintenance, river cleaning, river rescue, fishing, public pathways and
natural creatures should be specific planning objectives.

We will watch with interest the resolution to the flood impact at 27 Lanark Road. We can’t help but
think of the old proverb, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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