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Ex-council leader calls for Whitesands vote

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By Donald Turvill
Dumfries and West
Ex-council leader calls for Whitesands vote
APPROVED PLANS . . . an artist's impression of the £25 million scheme

A DUMFRIES resident who opposes the Whitesands flood defence scheme has called for a referendum to gauge local support on the project.

John Dowson, former leader of Dumfries and Galloway Council and now a prominent figure in the Save our Sands group, criticised Dumfries and Galloway Council’s decision to go ahead with its six week appeal process, which began on January 22 after being delayed for months due to the pandemic.

On the same day the public consultation period began, the local authority gave notice of Scottish ministers’ decision to approve the £25 million project without modifications.

Mr Dowson — who recently stepped down from Loreburn Community Council — told fellow members in an email on Monday, ahead of a meeting the following day, that people are “unable to meet and discuss just what kind of appeal might be submitted” to the project.

He called for a halt to the consultation until the Covid crisis subsides and for a “fully informative leaflet” to be produced about the appeal process.

He added: “This is simply not good enough and gives inadequate information to the general public.

“The Whitesands has flooded for thousands of years and there should be no real rush to spend in excess of £30 million of public money on this scheme until we are fully satisfied that all aspects of community engagement have been fully complied with.”

He made the case for a yes/no vote on the multi-million pound flood defence to be held within the area served by Loreburn Community Council to “ascertain, once and for all, if there is community support for this scheme”.

Highlighting increasing costs, he added: “The original £10 million has climbed through £12 million to £15 million to £25 million and that cost is now some five years out of date,” – and he asked what the project is currently costed at.

Responding, Dumfries and Galloway Council leader Elaine Murray accused Mr Dowson of making the issue party political.

Dr Murray said the consultation is “required in law,” and highlighted that previous delays to the process were “probably in breach”.

She said: “Whether this scheme goes ahead will depend on whether it attracts funding from the Scottish Government. The government has approved the scheme, attracting the anger of Save our Sands, but have not yet allocated funding.

“I am sure that they would require an updated assessment of costs. I’m unsure how we can delay something which hasn’t yet commenced but it is notable that John frequently implies weak and ineffective leadership when it’s something he disagrees with.”

Mr Dowson replied: “The Save Our Sands group are not party political in the slightest. As a member of the public I am quite entitled to ask the community council to consider an item of public interest.

“I maintain that there is no broad community support for it. If the council are confident that there is community support, they have nothing to lose by simply asking the people.”

A council spokesman said: “A decision was taken at the December 2020 meeting of the council on the Whitesands Flood Defence Scheme. The notification (22 January) of the Scottish Ministers’ decision to confirm the scheme follows on from the council decision.”

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