CONSTRUCTION could start on Musselburgh’s flood protection scheme by 2024, it was revealed at a public meeting.

Conor Price, project manager, told the 50-strong audience that a draft outline plan, drawn up by design engineers Jacobs, would be presented at a public exhibition in late summer before going to East Lothian Council for approval.

He said: “We are on a journey. We have a preferred scheme but we don’t have an outline design. So we are continuing delving into greater detail to get greater clarity over what it is that we are going to be doing when we crystalise all of this as a scheme towards the end of 2022.

“We believe that, with a good wind behind us, we are capable of going to construction and delivering flood protection to the town by the winter of 2024.”

But he warned that if there were fundamental objections to the scheme, it would go to a public local inquiry and this could add three to five years to a project “if it gets bogged down”.

“We are aware of this risk and so are doing everything we can to ensure that doesn’t happen,” he added.

After the outline design and further public consultation phase, approving the scheme under legislation would get under way before a detailed design is carried out and pricing sought from contractors.

In January, the preferred plan was approved by East Lothian Council’s cabinet, which heard that the cost of introducing flood protection measures in Musselburgh had more than quadrupled to £42million after focus moved towards threats from the coast.

The plan, which aims to introduce defences against a one-in-200-year risk of flooding in the town, was initially projected to cost £8.9million in 2016.

However, the revised costs were estimated at £42million, with plans to introduce more than four kilometres of walls and embankments, as well as replace three bridges – Goosegreen Footbridge, Electric Bridge and Shorthope Street Footbridge.

Councillors heard that the threat to Musselburgh had gone from being mainly from the River Esk, which flows through it, to being more from the surrounding coastal boundary because of climate change.

The Scottish Government has pledged to meet 80 per cent of the costs of the total project.

Mr Price told the public meeting: “We can’t protect the town without defences – no amount of managing water outside of the town will remove the need for defences. Equally, no amount of defences removes the need for drainage networks and pumping stations.

“We will manage the mill lade and Pinkie Burn – they are lesser risks but we have solutions that we can manage them, but we have a lot of work to do on that.”

He said existing reservoirs would be utilised and there would be natural flood management and debris management, mostly trees, to stop the flow of water in the town so the defences could be of a lesser scale.

“We have been told to stay away from the Rennie Bridge and Roman Bridge, so we are not proposing to replace those ones,” he added.

Mr Price said he did not know what the new flood wall would look like, adding: “It isn’t designed. We have to get to that point.”

He added that people also needed to access the beach and river, saying: “As we evolve the design, we figure these things out together.”

Environmental screening and scoping was now set to be carried out, he stressed.

The need to work with residents on shaping the flood protection plan to get the “right outcome” was also highlighted at the meeting, which was organised by Musselburgh and Inveresk Community Council at The Brunton.

Mr Price said the draft outline design would continue to be developed based on the consultation feedback received at the public exhibition.

He said: “This is an evolving process. We don’t have a definitive, fixed approach to things. We are very much calling out to the town to try and tell us how we go about this, so we can take what is engineering best practice and map it, and make it unique to this town so we get the right outcome.”

He said the project team was calling out for “local champions,” adding: “There are already people across the town who have been working with and helping us, and it is a huge benefit to us.”

A meeting has been held with Fisherrow Harbour and Seafront Association and an update on the plan is due to be given to the Friends of Musselburgh Links on March 25 at 7pm in Musselburgh East Community Learning Centre.

It is also hoped to build-up contact with residents at Murdoch’s Green/Edinburgh Road which got mapped into the scheme late, the Goosegreen area and also Eskside East and West, which is the closest to the proposed defences.

Letters are expected to be sent to these locations in the next couple of weeks, inviting residents to attend a meeting at The Brunton.