Learning points: a blue-green strategy for Kilmarnock

Explore learning from our workshop on blue-green infrastructure good practice.

Twigs, sticks and logs are piled up in front of a grassy hill. Most of the scene is in shadow except for a large, sunlit hill in the background.

Flooding is a major issue for Kilmarnock. It affects both the town centre and its areas of vacant and derelict land. Recent risk assessments cast doubt on the viability of sites previously allocated for development.

East Ayrshire Council is seeking to address both flooding issues and a place-based approach to regeneration in an imaginative way. So in 2021, Architecture and Design Scotland (A&DS) gathered experts from the Key Agencies Group and the council for a workshop to explore good practice in blue-green infrastructure.

Our aim was to see how these ideas could be applied to the council regeneration strategy for Kilmarnock’s town centre and south-central area. We explored:

  • what an imaginative approach to flood risk management and blue-green infrastructure looks like
  • how this can bring benefits for placemaking and regeneration

Scales of planning for blue-green infrastructure

During the workshop, we shared good practice in developing blue-green infrastructure strategies at four key scales. These are the:

National policy context

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

Panellist: David Faichney, Scottish Government

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’. This paper sets out a vision for the future, describing the role public sector stakeholders need to play to develop our blue-green infrastructure.

“It is not all about net zero. There is 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

Learning points

The session identified the following learning points.

Developing resilient cities

Climate resilience is about developing our towns and cities so that they can flourish regardless of climate change. Flooding impacts can be caused by increased heavy rainfall (pluvial), river flooding (fluvial) and rising sea levels along the coast.

Taking a more holistic approach

The Scottish Government’s water resilient places policy framework 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.

Designing with flooding in mind

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.

Involving all sectors 

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.

This is especially the case given how unpredictable our rivers are. Despite having data on the flow of River Irvine back to the 1930s, this is still less than 1% of the time people have been living in Kilmarnock

Ensuring the community benefits

In Kilmarnock, the local authority was praised for:

  • planning a climate strategy that ensures the local community benefits from high-quality green spaces
  • 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

Looking across a whole region, 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.

Panellist: Nick Bowen, 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.

Panellist: Lucy Filby, LENs Lead

Lucy Filby showcased how Landscape Enterprise Networks (LENs) can take a regionally focussed approach to flood management.

Learning points

The session identified the following learning points.

Ensuring longevity through simplicity

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.

Adding value beyond flood management

In an urban site, SUDs (sustainable urban drainage systems) need to take into account the places around them, adding value beyond flood management.

Adapting design to suit current and future functions

The urban river channel form must be adapted to suit current and future functions, including flood attenuation, amenity and biodiversity. This is rather than being left constrained to the channel design of the 19th century.

Creating multiple benefits

The above approaches would meet the objectives for multiple agencies, cost less than traditional flood defences and be less carbon intensive.

Involving business

Businesses can be brought into the process. Landscape assets and their functions can tie in with their chief beneficiaries to ensure they play a role.

An architectural sketch of green space in a town centre with people sitting and walking in the area.
Image credit: Richard Carman

Townscape scale

Here we are assessing how we can improve the porosity of our neighbourhoods.

Panellist: Fiona Stirling, Landscape Architect, Nature Scot

Fiona Stirling showcased good practice in greening our urban area. She focussed on the Sheffield Grey to Green scheme.

“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, Nature Scot

Panellist: Grant Vanson, Flood Risk Management Team Lead, Scottish Government

Grant Vanson shared some of the key learnings for town centres across a number of different scales.

Panellist: Stephen O’Malley, A&DS panellist

Finally, Stephen O’Malley 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.

Learning points

The session identified the following learning points.

Have a long-term ambition or vision

Think about sharing the vision with other partners, and 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

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 the porosity of a town.

Site-specific scale

At site level, land must be in the public interest but with innovative approaches given to managing flood risk.

Panellist: David Stewart, Senior Policy Officer, Scottish Land Commission

David Stewart 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.

And Helena Huws, A&DS panellist and Head of Destination Development for Scottish Canals, showcased work on infrastructure, regeneration of Speirs Locks, and Glasgow’s Smart Canal Project in her presentation.


Learning points

The session identified the following learning points.

Developing land in the public interest

Land must be developed in the public interest. Where the public sector lead on land assembly, especially brownfield sites, better outcomes have been found.

Benefitting both private and public sectors

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.

Overcoming perceived barriers

Rethinking our public realm can help previously unutilised areas flourish for residents, and overcome perceived barriers that can occur with long-term, post-industrial dereliction of a site.

Unlocking economic development

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.

A woman on a bike on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow. She is wearing a helmet and a backpack.
Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow, home to one of the city’s “Avenues” projects. Image credit: Ross Sneddon on Unsplash

Further information

Follow the links below to explore more interventions not mentioned above.

Townscape interventions

Site-specific interventions

Next steps

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

Green Recovery Offer

Following on from a successful pilot project in June 2020, A&DS worked with the Key Agencies Group to launch the Green Recovery Offer. This seeks to work with local authorities “in developing and informing evidence-led approaches” to spatial policy and support a green recovery in line with the Place Principle.

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.

Header image: A leaky dam, inspired by beaver dams, designed to reduce the flow of water upstream and use locally sourced materials such as logs. Image credit: Zora Van Leeuwen. Thanks to Raeburn Farquhar Brown.

Collaboration in place

At Architecture and Design Scotland, we are working collaboratively with local authorities, communities and designers to help transform the future of places. We can support you with advice and learning resources catered to your needs.

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