Learning Points: A Blue-Green Strategy for Kilmarnock Town Centre

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In August 2021, A&DS gathered a group of experts from the Key Agencies Group and East Ayrshire Council to discuss good practice in blue-green infrastructure. The aim was to see how these ideas could be applied to the East Ayrshire regeneration strategy for Kilmarnock Town Centre and South Central Kilmarnock.

a leaky dam, inspired by beaver dams, designed to reduce the flow of water upstream as well as use locally sourced materials such as logs and such
Credit: Zora Van Leeuwen – thanks to Raeburn Farquhar Brown

Flooding is a major issue for the town. Recent risk assessments now cast doubt on the viability for sites previously allocated for development. The town centre is affected as are former industrial sites including areas of vacant and derelict land. The council are ambitious and seeking to address both flooding issues and a place-based approach to regeneration in an imaginative way.

A&DS worked with other agencies such as SEPA, Nature Scot and Scottish Water to show the art of the possible – what an imaginative approach to flood risk management and blue/green infrastructure looks like and how this can bring benefits for placemaking and regeneration.

Scales of Planning for Blue-Green Infrastructure

During the workshop, we shared good practice on developing Blue-Green Infrastructure Strategies four key scales. These are the national policy context, strategic scale – looking across a whole region, townscape – assessing how we can improve the porosity of our neighbourhoods, and site-specific scale.

National Context

Surface water flooding is already a significant issue in Scotland – by 2080 an estimated 270,000 properties will be exposed to surface water flooding. At national level, the 2019-20 Programme for Government – Protecting Scotland’s Future, outlines the need for an approach to transitioning to ‘blue-green cities’ and managing Scotland’s exposure to floods in the future.

David Faichney, who presented the national context at the workshop, helped Scottish Government develop  ‘Water-resilient places – surface water management and blue-green infrastructure: policy framework’ which sets out a vision for the future, describing the role public sector stakeholders need to play to develop our blue-green infrastructure.

“It’s not all about net zero. There’s also a lot to be done to ensure we develop our climate resilience so that we can continue to flourish regardless of what our future climate holds.”

David Faichney, Scottish Government Blue-Green Infrastructure

Key Learning:

  • Climate resilience is about developing our towns and cities so that they can flourish regardless of climate change. Flooding impacts can be caused from the increased heavy rainfall (pluvial), river flooding (fluvial) and rising sea levels along the coast.
  • Scottish Government has published a new strategy on Water Resilient Places Policy Framework: that emphasises moving beyond ‘dealing with flooding’ and taking a more holistic approach. Resolving surface water flooding issues in future will focus on the use of blue and green infrastructure.
  • We must change the way we regard flooding and take flood exposure into account when designing our places. Avoiding flood exposure and building-in resilience is the way forward.
  • Effective strategies will need all sectors to consider how their activities can help reduce our exposure to the impact of floods when we set out our places. Especially given how unpredictable our rivers are – despite having data on the flow for River Irvine back to the 1930s, this is still less than 1% of the time people have been living in Kilmarnock.
  • In Kilmarnock, the local authority was praised for planning a climate strategy that ensures the local community benefits from high quality green spaces, as well as taking a collaborative approach to place in the face of the climate emergency. Exposure to flooding impacts will increase in the town as climate change becomes more severe.

Strategic Scale

Creating a flood resilient landscape is an opportunity to undo the mistakes of the past. Our urban centres often have been designed away from riversides and design needs to reflect our continuous relationship with our natural environment.

A&DS Design Panellist Nick Bowen highlighted several case studies on this including Greendyke Climate Ready Park, roof gardens at Queen Margaret University and Bertha Park in Perth. Lucy Filby, LENs Lead, showcased Landscape Enterprise Networks (LENs) can take a regionally focussed approach to flood management.

 “How can we a achieve a more sponge-like catchment? Delaying flood spikes through storage up-stream, while benefiting the landscape and the ecology of the whole area?”

Nick Bowen, A&DS Panellist

Key Learning:

  • A strategy for water needs to be as simple and low tech as possible, to ensure its longevity. Nature-based solutions upstream such as beaver damns can slow the flow of the river, increasing biodiversity as well as the porosity of water flow. Enhancing woodland cover, reducing the intensity of farming and restoring natural habitats are also highly effective.
  • Sponge places: In an urban site, SUDs (sustainable urban drainage systems) need to take into account the places around them, adding value beyond flood management.
  • The urban river channel form must be adapted to suit current and future functions, including flood attenuation, amenity and biodiversity, rather than being left constrained to the channel design of the 19th century.
  • The above approaches would meet the objectives for multiple agencies, cost less than traditional flood defences and be less carbon intensive.
  • Businesses can be brought into the process: Through Landscape Enterprise Networks, consider how the landscape assets and their functions can tie in with their chief beneficiaries to ensure they play a role.

Townscape Scale

“No matter what the size or type of space, there is always potential to plan for nature rich schemes that benefit people and wildlife… yes water storage but please so much more!”

Fiona Stirling, Landscape Architect – Nature Scot

Fiona Stirling, Landscape Architect for Nature Scot, showcased good practice in greening our urban area focusing on the Sheffield Grey to Green Scheme.

Grant Vanson, Flood Risk Management Team Lead for Scottish Government, shared some of the key learnings for town centers across a number of different scales.  Finally, Stephen O’Malley, A&DS Panellist, looked at a range of projects across the UK that took a more positive look at place and incorporation of blue-green infrastructure to our streetscapes.

Key Learning

  • Have a long-term ambition/vision: Think about sharing vision with other partners, look at linking goals across departments.
  • Be design-led and multi-functional in your response: SUDs approaches across the UK have looked at building up flood mitigation through a more decentralised than volume-mitigation approach.
  • Think big and small (interventions): Connect the flood management strategy with wider regeneration plans. Think how smaller interventions elsewhere can incorporate flood risk mitigation in its design.
  • Think long-term: look to create value, set a quality standard, use materials well and plan for long-term management and maintenance.
  • Prioritise nature-based solutions and plan for people and wildlife: rethink streets and spaces, for example, to create greener, more liveable places, and to increase porosity for a town.

Site Specific Interventions

At site level, land must be in the public interest but with innovative approaches given to managing flood risk. David Stewart, Senior Policy Officer at the Scottish Land Commission, discussed good practice in regenerating brownfield sites for community benefit. He also showcased good practice in land assembly overseas in Wuppertal, Germany, Hilversum, Netherlands and Biel, Switzerland.

Helena Huws, A&DS Panellist and Head of Destination Development for Scottish Canals, showcased work on infrastructure, regeneration of Speirs Locks and the ‘smart canal’ projects in North Glasgow in her presentation.

Key Learning:

  • Land must be developed in the public interest. Where the public sector lead on land assembly, especially brownfield sites, better outcomes have been found.
  • In the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland, public sector land promotion has reduced risk for the private sector and reduced long-term costs to the public sector.
  • Rethinking our public realm can help previously unutilised areas flourish for residents, overcome perception barriers that can occur by long-term post-industrial dereliction of a site.
  • Reimagining water bodies such as canals and nature sites for drainage can unlock the potential of nearby sites for economic development. Achieving this has wider social and environmental benefits for the neighbouring sites.

Further Information

A pencil sketch of a climate action town - a person stands next to a river, where two kayakers are in the water.

National Context

  • Water Resilient Places Report – Scottish Government https://www.gov.scot/publications/water-resilient-places-policy-framework-surface-water-management-blue-green-infrastructure/

Strategic Level Interventions

Townscape Interventions

  • Glasgow Avenues Project https://www.glasgowcitycentrestrategy.com/project/avenues
  • Anderston Station https://civicengineers.com/project/10777-2/
  • Greener Grangetown, Cardiff https://greenergrangetown.wordpress.com/
  • Grey to Green, Sheffield https://www.greytogreen.org.uk/

Site Specific Interventions

Next Steps

We are continuing to work with the local authority, landowners and the key agency group to support positive steps for flood resilience in Kilmarnock. Using the project as a case study, the lessons learnt here will be applied further to other flood resilience strategies across Scotland.

About the Key Agencies Group

The Key Agencies Group comprises a group of public bodies that are recognised as supporting the delivery of culture change through improved joint working in the built environment. They have a key role in the delivery of Scottish Government’s aim of creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth.

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