A year to the day, still counting cost of Severn flooding

Ollie Parry said he always knew his pub would be flooded one day.

Flooding in the Quarry Park, Shrewsbury, last year. Photo: Russell Davies
Flooding in the Quarry Park, Shrewsbury, last year. Photo: Russell Davies

“It happened in 2001, and we knew it would happen again,” he says. “It was a once-in-20-years flood, only it took 19 years for it to happen again.”

But while he might have been expecting the waters to rise, nothing could have prepared him to for the impact it would have on his business.

It is exactly one year since Storm Dennis ripped through the West Midlands, leaving towns including Bridgnorth, Shrewsbury, Ironbridge and Bewdley under water, and leaving millions of pounds worth of damage in its wake. This time 12 months ago, the barriers at Ironbridge were about to be breached.

It is only now, after a year of legal wrangles, financial hardship, and lots of building work, that Mr Parry’s Salopian Bar is almost ready to open – lockdown permitting.

Ollie Parry, owner of The Salopian bar, Shrewsbury, surveys the cellar of the pub after the extensive flooding

But Mr Parry, who has kept the pub in Shrewsbury for 16 years, knows things will never be the same again.

The flood has not only left him £34,000 out of pocket, it also means he can no longer get insurance cover. He has had to acquire extra buildings in order to vacate his underground cellar, and take on a partner to stay in business. Yet for all that, he remains resolutely optimistic, even managing to find a positive side after his pub flooded again last month.

“It was a great dress rehearsal for when it happens again,” he says. “It took about six of us nine hours to clean the premises. But after that you wouldn’t have even known it had been there. Because the cellar is now above ground level, none of the equipment was damaged. We have now got the pub into the situation where, if it happens again, I think we would be in a position to reopen 48 hours after the water has gone.”

Storm Dennis ripped through the region on February 15-16 last year, but it was the week that followed where the real damage was caused. The Danesford area of Bridgnorth was first to flood, and Shropshire firefighters were inundated with more than 200 calls in 12 hours.

Flooding in Ironbridge last year

On February 17, the River Severn burst its banks at Shrewsbury, requiring people to be rescued from their properties by boat. Areas of Cannock, Stafford and Rugeley were also hit by severe flooding.

But the biggest drama came a year ago today, when the flooding reached Ironbridge. More than 30 homes and businesses had to be evacuated. Flood barriers had been erected, but these were pushed back by the sheer weight of the water. Cleo’s Cocktail Bar in High Street became the command-and-control centre for emergency workers as emergency accommodation was found for people forced to flee their homes. The floods caused walls to collapse, and cracks were left in the road at The Wharfage.

Graham Hickman, who had lived on the corner of High Street since 1950, said the river was the highest it had been in more than 50 years.

“I’ve seen the Gorge change a lot over the years, but I’ve never heard about the Wharfage cracking before, it’s getting a bit worrying,” said the retired Coalbrookdale Foundry worker.

Dale End Cafe in Coalbrookdale, Telford. Owner Chris Harrison

On February 26 flood defences were breached in Bewdley, after the River Severn rose more than 6ft in 72 hours. Cars were under water and homes and gardens suffered flooding. A total of 38 properties in the Beales Corner area are affected, and a number of residents were rescued by fire crews, including a woman in her 70s.

Businesses affected have been able to claim grants of up to £5,000 from the Government as part of a scheme to enable them to carry out work to protect homes and businesses from flooding, but both say getting the money has been a slow process.

Mr Parry believes many people had abandoned their applications under the scheme because the forms were so onerous.

But he says the biggest obstacle has been getting his insurance company to pay for the damage, saying he only received the money just before Christmas. He said: “The previous time I made an insurance claim, back in 2008, it went straight through, and I had the money in a fortnight. But now, I think the insurance company is struggling with flooding and Covid, and they went through with a fine-toothed comb for every single penny. It has left me out of pocket by £34,000.”

Looking on the positive side, he says the acquiring the leases on the neighbouring properties has not only allowed him to move his cellar above ground level, but has also enables him to comply with social-distancing. All he needs now is for the lockdown to be relaxed to allow him to reopen.

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