Lack of flood plan in Ironbridge 'deeply worrying', says leader of Telford & Wrekin Council
The leader of Telford & Wrekin Council has labelled the lack of a government plan to combat flooding in Ironbridge "deeply worrying".
Councillor Shaun Davies said the Environment Secretary's visit in the aftermath of severe floods in the Gorge earlier this year "seems to have made little impression", and has called for a named project to protect the World Heritage Site.
This comes after the government announced a £5.2 billion investment in flood defences across the country, including £36 million to the River Severn Partnership, led by Shropshire Council and the Environment Agency to tackle flooding in communities along the Severn.
But Councillor Davies said a "specific commitment" is needed in Telford & Wrekin.
He said: "The devastation along our stretch of the Severn earlier this year was immense.
"Environment Secretary George Eustice himself came to Ironbridge Gorge and saw the incredible resilience shown by residents and businesses here, but it seems to have made little impression on him.
“While there are named projects around the country, new flood defences for our World Heritage Site are conspicuous by their absence. That is deeply worrying.
“February’s floods, followed by the Covid-19 lockdown – and potentially followed by a repeat of flooding this winter coming – would be a triple whammy for our tourism and hospitality sector, from which many would not recover.
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“We need a specific commitment from the government that Telford & Wrekin has not been forgotten, and that people here can look forward with confidence to a flood-free future too.”
Councillor David Wright, cabinet member for economy, housing, transport and infrastructure, said: “While we await more detail of this announcement, we are concerned that £36m to cover this long stretch of the River Severn will inevitably fall short of what we say is needed to protect the Ironbridge Gorge, the region’s only World Heritage Site and a major tourist spot, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
“As we saw this winter, dozens of properties in the Gorge were hit time and again by flooding, while some were protected from the worst effects by temporary flood barriers only, which as this year showed are no guarantee against flooding.
“These barriers were only ever a short term measure, which leave many other homes and businesses completely unprotected. There is a real risk they are seen as a permanent solution that protects only a relatively small number of properties along the Severn in the borough. Many businesses in the area were severely hit by this winter’s flooding which saw the barriers in place for almost one month.
“In February, we lobbied the Environment Secretary to do more for the Ironbridge Gorge and help find and fund a more permanent solution to protect homes and businesses at risk on both sides of the river.
“While catchment flooding upstream may help reduce some risks, people in the borough will be wondering precisely what protection will the Ironbridge Gorge get from this investment and at this point it’s not clear and I fear the answer will be not enough.
“After all that’s happened this year, we must do everything we can to help residents and most importantly businesses.”
Meanwhile, the leader of Shropshire Council, Peter Nutting, has welcomed the government's pledge to combat flooding, saying it is a "big step towards removing the threat of flooding".
Ironbridge was among one of the worse hit communities in Shropshire earlier this year when the county became washed out for weeks, with river levels peaking in the Gorge at 6.52m.
Dozens of people were evacuated from their homes as a 'danger to life' flood warning was put in place by the Environment Agency.
Cracks began to appear in the road surface along The Wharfage and flood barriers were seen to move under the pressure of mounting floodwater.
Many businesses were forced to close, reporting thousands in loss and damage.
Dale End Cafe became flooded twice in about 48 hours in February, before being hit again by flash floods in June, with owner Chris Harrison raising doubt over the future of the business.