Communication is key for flood protection initiative

THE £15.7 million Stonehaven flood protection scheme, to be completed by McLaughlin & Harvey, will see homes and businesses protected from flooding around the River Carron. The project will see the alteration of five bridges along the river as well as the construction of flood walls between the Red Bridge and the river mouth, together with removal of an island on the river.

Like most projects around the country, work was put on hold at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic. But Rachel Kennedy, Aberdeenshire Council’s principal engineer for major projects, told Project Scotland the scheme will be a ‘fantastic’ asset to the town once complete.

“It protects the surrounding area to a one to 200-year level of protection, so half a percent probability and also takes into account climate change factors,” she revealed. “It’s sort of future-proofing and will enable residents to get insurance. There are an awful lot of people in the town who can’t get insurance for flooding, or if they can, their excesses are ridiculous.”

The interview was conducted just as lockdown restrictions were starting to ease in Scotland. The project had begun a phased return, with a small number of staff back on site and the council and main contractor working to make alterations for a wider return to work. 

Rachel explained, “We worked with the contractor to make sure that the site operating procedures were in place, that safety plans and their RAMS had all been updated and looked at phasing what operations could be undertaken in various stages – following the construction sector guidance for the phased returns. 

“There’s new revised toolbox talks held every morning and different induction processes. There is also a phased return so not everybody is coming back at the same time, so again there’s time for personnel to get up to speed and be trained before works can commence.

“There are various procedures in place for when we move into the further phases where we need PPE, so there are permits which personnel need to apply for to undertake work requiring Covid-19 PPE – however we’re not at that phase yet.”

Other changes include the use of single-room offices, adjustments to welfare units and changes to the sign-in procedure with fingerprints no longer being used. Rachel described the changes as being ‘minor, but hugely important’.

Despite being in local government, Rachel said they receive news on lockdown measures at the same time as everyone else. While admitting that nothing in her career could have prepared her for the recent circumstances, she said communication has been key to ensuring works can continue smoothly.

“It’s all about communication – making sure you keep talking. We maintained regular contact with the contractor to ensure other parts of the scheme such as design work could continue.

“As the project manager for the scheme, it’s all about trying to address the client wishes as a local authority, but also handling the increased requirements of the contractor. They have signed up to deliver the works and they want to get back to work. What has made it quite challenging are the distinctions between Scotland and England, and the fact that the contractor had sites down south which remained in operation.”

In terms of the point at which the project will resume, Rachel says it is currently at its ‘messiest’ – with work halting not long after they had dug everything up. She explained, “We’ve completed the vast majority of the piling works and we’re starting the concrete and civil work to build the walls. A number of bridges and culvert structures were due to be installed in this period.

“The lockdown has inevitably delayed the scheme significantly. It’s not simply a case of the site having been shut for three months, therefore there’s a three-month extension. Some works will be less efficient if 2m physical distancing has to be maintained.”

 Rachel revealed that the completion date is currently being reviewed to assess the impact of the Covid-19 shutdown and the works going forward, however it will be towards the end of 2021.