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Jackfield lives will soon be Gorge-ous again

Telford | News | Published:

Living on a construction site has become normal for people whose homes and businesses are alongside the Ironbridge Gorge.

Today, householders and shopkeepers spoke of the experience as they finally look forward to the prospect of life returning to normal.

This is more than just a hole in the road - it involves work to stop the power of nature as it attempts to shape the historic gorge.

Work takes place off Calcutts Road, Jackfield

It may have looked like any other building site, but the work going on in Jackfield has been protecting a vital part of the Ironbridge Gorge for the next 100 years.

Although the area is now stable and final restoration work is under way, this is just the first in a number of works that need to be undertaken to make sure Shropshire's World Heritage Site is kept safe for future generations.

Geologically, the Gorge is only 10,000 years old, making it a relatively 'young' piece of land – at risk of land slips and movement of the earth. The work at Jackfield started about 18 months ago, with hundreds of trees taken out of the site to prepare the earth for the work.

Nine benches have been cut into the site of the hill, an area which measures 800m by 250m, which has been slowly filled with 2,000 steel poles, set into concrete, creating an underground wall which will support the hill and prevent landslips for at least the next century.

Work to try and secure funding for the project first started in 2003, but it wasn't until a decade later that the final plans were signed off and work was ready to begin.

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Now piling work is complete, the contractors McPhillips are beginning to return the site to its former glory, replacing topsoil and replanting.

But this is just the start of stabilisation works in the area, with more planned across the Gorge in future.

Telford & Wrekin Council continues to lobby government for further funding to address the instability issue Gorge wide and a further £60m plus is needed in the coming years.

Further stabilisation projects will be needed elsewhere in the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site, but are currently unfunded.

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Previously, a major stabilisation project was also undertaken on Jiggers Bank, Ironbridge, after a rock fall closed the road in 2012.

The road was closed for eight months as contractors shifted 20,000 tonnes of rubble to make the area safe.

Riverbank piling works as part of the Jackfield Stabilisation Project have now been completed. That work involved 2,000 steel piles being driven into the banks of the River Severn to stabilise the land and halt the land slip – and was the bulk of the work designed to prevent landslides and try to reduce erosion and the movement of land in the Ironbridge Gorge.

A new road has finally opened to replace a temporary track that had been used to help people reach the far end of Jackfield while engineers work on site.

Earlier this year, business owners spoke of the disruption they faced because of the major works.

Today they finally feel some of the pressure is beginning to lift. The majority of the work has been completed and they are eagerly awaiting the end of works next year.

Janet French, from Janet and Sandra's Crafts at Maw's Craft Centre, said business has really suffered while the work has been ongoing.

She added: "Now the new road is in, the surface is better and we have had a better month because people know they can get to us. There has been a big improvement recently.

"The work needed to be done and as a piece of engineering it is a triumph, and they have all been really good at keeping us up to date with what is going on."

Paul Hornby, at Coin Creations, just a few doors down, said: "

All the traffic and work going on certainly can't help. But it is just something we have got to put up with."

Mandy Park, from Amanda Jayne Jewels and Crafts, also based in Maws, opened her business six months ago when the work was already well under way.

She said: "There are good days and bad days. We do have some people say it is a nuisance, particularly if they drive down after they clean their cars.

"We still get lots of tourists coming in but not many people from Telford come down. It has stopped coach visits because they can't get down. We had a coach trip cancel last week because they couldn't get to us."

Alice Hodgson, who owns her own business, Crafty Alice, within the craft centre, was spending some time working in the centre's vintage tea rooms.

She said: "It's a necessary evil, but at the end of it this will be very positive.

"Now the road is complete it definitely looks more friendly, but there is still a lot of work ongoing."

At the other side of the works in the Fusion Centre in Jackfield, Angela Edwards-Sowdon of Elemental Arts said there have been some problems caused by the works. "Our car park has been severely reduced because they have put a road through the top of that. People just need to know that it is still accessible."

Alice Hodgson helping out at Maws Vintage Tea Rooms

The completion of this stage makes way for final earthworks and restoration of the site to its former glory.

Jayne Madeley, clerk to The Gorge Parish Council and administrator of the Jackfield Stabilisation Group, said: "It has been a privilege to be a part of the works.

"Even though this part has been finished there is still a lot to be done."

People living in the midst of the work have said they are pleased with the way the complicated work has been handled.

Tom Jennings

Tom Jennings, who lives in Jackfield Mill, close to the works said it hasn't been a disruption. The 23-year-old, who works in Ironbridge Co-op, said: "It is noisy with all the earth being moved around but it is good that it is being done."

The overall work was set to cost a total of £17.6 million with contributions made by the Government's Department for Communities and Local Government, which has been part matched by Telford & Wrekin Council and was due to be completed by March 31, 2016.

Janet French, of Janet and Sandra's Crafts at the craft centre

Councillor Richard Overton, Telford & Wrekin Council's deputy leader and cabinet member for land stability, said: "It is a hugely positive step that the mini piling is complete and while the piles are not visible they are key to the stabilisation work.

"I would like to thank everyone for their patience while this essential work to stabilise the landslip takes place."

Further works will be needed elsewhere in the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site, but are currently unfunded.

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