Shropshire Star

River Severn levels exceed predictions but flood barriers hold in Ironbridge

Flood barriers in Ironbridge were holding strong even as river levels exceeded predictions and the River Severn's peak passed downstream.


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It's now been over a week since the demountable barriers went up along the Wharfage in Ironbridge.

After days of downpours, the rain had subsided - but the river at the UNESCO World Heritage site had not.

As the river lapped at the top of the Wharfage's iron railings and water levels approached their predicted peak of 6.3m on Thursday afternoon, the barriers were holding steady.

A handful of Environment Agency staff were working to maintain the barriers that had been put in place on December 27.

Environment Agency area incident manager Nick Green explained what had been going on.

Area incident manager, Nick Green

He said: "We get a lot of advice from the Met Office, and that advice was that Christmas was going to be a very wet period.

"We've got lots of assets along the River Severn that we need to put up and maintain to make sure that they're up over Christmas. And obviously, we want our staff to be able to have some form of Christmas too, so we made sure we put these barriers up well in advance so that they were ready."

The Severn was predicted to peak at the Buildwas gauge on Thursday evening, between 6.1m and 6.3m. At around 4pm, the river was already at 6.32m - by 9pm it was steady at 6.33m.

But, after a week of rising water from storm after storm, Nick was optimistic that this peak was the peak of peaks.

"We've got to strongly caveat that with any future rain. Yesterday [Wednesday], some rain did fall on the Welsh mountains, but we're not expecting that to cause any additional peak up at Shrewsbury.

"What happens now is that any rain that does fall anywhere, the ground is just so saturated the river is going to stay elevated for a long period of time. But, fingers crossed.

"We do have that peak that's passing from Shrewsbury down to here this evening. And once that passes, the river should start to recede."

In Shrewsbury, the river finally peaked on Thursday afternoon at 4.68m. Further down the river still from Ironbridge, Bridgnorth is predicted to get its peak of 4.9m to 5.1m on Friday morning.

The increasing frequency of major flood events has not escaped the incident manager, who started working for the Environment Agency three decades ago.

"When I started 30 years ago," Nick explained, "I was deployed onto a big flood and I was told 'Nick, this is your one big flood of your career.' And here we are, we've had big flood after big flood after big flood. Is this the new norm?

"Obviously, time will tell with regard to that. But we're here, we're protecting the community. It's been year after year that we've put these barriers up and we've warned and informed the community. That's what we're here for."

Telford & Wrekin Council's chief executive, David Sidaway, was out in Ironbridge on Thursday, visiting Environment Agency staff, contractors and businesses.

Chief executive of Telford & Wrekin Council, David Sidaway

"I've been working for Telford & Wrekin now for four years, and this is the third time in that period into the levels that we're seeing today," he said.

"We're probably not going to be at the levels that we've seen at the extreme in 2020 but it's still a significant challenge for the residents and businesses in Ironbridge.

"We want to say a personal thanks to everybody involved, both the contractors and employees of Telford & Wrekin Council for the work that they've done - not only today but over the Christmas and new year period.

"They've been unbelievable in terms of their support for our residents and our businesses because it's a really challenging time for people.

"It's a key priority to encourage those businesses to stay open as much as they possibly can and we do everything we can to help them make that happen. It's a difficult time from an economic perspective as well, so the importance of that is really a priority for us."

One of the businesses, which fortunately sits high enough above the river to avoid flooding, is still feeling the impact of the rising waters.

Angelika Ravojt from Ironbridge Fish & Chips

Angelika Ravojt, who owns the Ironbridge Fish and Chip Shop, said business was down around 50 per cent with the Wharfage closed.

"It's quiet," she said, "very quiet. The road is closed, deliveries can't get through, and people can't park anywhere.

"Watching the river rise from the balcony is scary, I have a friend who has a house on the other side of the river there and it's a quarter filled.

"It's very scary."