Shropshire Star

Ironbridge flood barriers could be breached as River Severn keeps rising

The River Severn could breach flood barriers in Ironbridge if the water levels continue to rise, locals have been warned.

Last updated
Flooding along the Wharfage

River levels are still rising in the Ironbridge Gorge and around 60 homes and businesses have been evacuated ahead of the Severn's expected peak on Tuesday evening.

Telford & Wrekin Council declared a major incident on Monday, urging people to avoid the Ironbridge Gorge and not to drive through any floodwater. They, and the Environment Agency, also advised people to leave their homes, with local hotels and B&B's being used to accommodate residents.

However some locals have pledged to stay and look after their homes and businesses.

A year ago heavy flooding caused similar disruption across the county with the River Severn reaching a maximum height of 6.71m in Ironbridge.

And this year the water could rise even higher and get above the Wharfage barriers, which themselves only protect part of the Gorge. Meanwhile other areas such as Jackfield are going through the well-rehearsed routine of clearing valuables, propping up sandbags and pumping out water.

Shaun Davies, the leader of Telford & Wrekin Council, called on the Government to offer a permanent solution after three successive years of serious flooding.

Meanwhile Clare Dinnis, the area director of the West Midlands at the Environment Agency warned the situation would yet get worse.

Away from the flood barriers in Coalford, Ironbridge, Colin Meredith helps his neighbours after having to abandon his cottage for the third time in three years. Photo: Dave Bagnall

She said: "We are concerned about the level of the river and potential of the water overlapping the barriers. Although the level of the water has reduced slightly the forecast is looking at 6.7 to 6.9 metres as a peak and the barriers would be over topped at 6.8 metres.

"We had to take the decision to ask people to leave their homes based on forecast information and to give people enough time to evacuate, that's why we issued it yesterday morning. The forecast is for the peak to happen in the dark hours so to get people out early and in plenty of time is the sensible thing to do.

"Our partners have led the evacuation but we know that there are some residents who don't want to move out and we liaise with the emergency services to make sure they are supported and looked out for because it is their decision.

Clare Dinnis, Environment Agency area director for the West Midlands

"We expect the water to peak overnight but for water levels to remain high for some days. The good news on the forecast we have is that there isn't a lot of rain expected for the rest of this week and then we will see the level drop beyond that but there will be disruption for quite a few days to come this week.

"We try very hard to be ready early because of the storms such as Eunice and Franklin over the weekend so we put the barriers up early. As soon as we can safely take the barriers away we will so things can get back to normal and we can focus on recovery, but in the meantime we will be on site to support the community and answer any questions they have."

Councillor Davies was on the scene in Ironbridge on Tuesday morning and repeated his call for a permanent solution.

He said the Government have provided the community with "temporary" flood barriers, but "there is significant concern they will be breached".

"This is a problem for the Severn as a whole and we need to make sure the solution is permanent," he added.

Telford & Wrekin Council leader Shaun Davies near the River Severn

The Labour politician said the EA and the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said that flooding in 2020 was a "once-in-a-century event".

"But it's just two years later and we need to be preparing for this kind of event as a normal event going forward," he said, adding that the community now needs "permanent barriers".

On Tuesday morning the water was lapping up towards the top of flood defences installed outside shops and homes at The Wharfage while on the other side of the river, there were flooded gardens, with some debris seen in the still flowing water.

People watch the rising River Severn from the Iron Bridge

But there was an eerie quietness about the area, with just a few people walking around, where yesterday there were many more onlookers and some shops and cafes still open.

Kelly Middleton, cabinet member for leisure, public health and wellbeing on Telford & Wrekin Council, was in Ironbridge as part of the support provided by the council.

She said: "We are providing 24-hour-support with a councillor on site all the time to help out, answer questions or just provide a friendly face.

Flooding in Ironbridge

"This used happen to once every 100 years but we have now seen three successive floods and I don't like using the word unprecedented - it does seem to be the case.

"We have been to the hotel and chat to people who have been evacuated and the morale is quite good - they are getting used to it and feel the response has been quite well co-ordinated and they feel they are being looked after.

"The first time was distressing, now it is unsettling but I think they are getting used to it.

"Jackfield is an issue as well as Ironbridge - I think it is important to recognise though there are not flood barriers there like at Ironbridge, there are people there who need our support as well and we are providing that."

The Iron Bridge and the River Severn

Councillor Carolyn Healy for the Ironbridge Gorge said: “Inevitably the press focus during flood events is on Ironbridge and The Wharfage but we all know that flooding affects people throughout the gorge.

"Telford and Wrekin staff and contractors are working throughout our area to support residents.

"At Dale End the team are literally fighting back against the rising water to keep levels low enough to allow for emergency vehicle access to this end of the gorge.

"Whilst sandbags have been delivered to key locations, staff are assisting to get these to individual properties including at Ferry Road and Severnside.

"Those residents already flooded or at risk of flooding have been offered alternative accommodation. Call centre staff are making daily phone calls to over 100 homes and adult social care are making sure more vulnerable residents are okay.

Flooding in Ironbridge

"The call centre will remain open throughout the night should anyone need further assistance - 01952 384000.

"The police, fire service, ambulance service and utilities are all working with the council to manage the situation.

"The peak is expected overnight at between 6.7 and 6.9m.”

Sharon Bright, who lives in nearby Broseley, said: "I live in the area and just thought I would take a walk down to see what is happening and it looks as though the water is rising and it is starting to rain again so that probably won't help matters.

"I hope everyone who lives here is OK and that they have managed to find alternative arrangements as it seems the situation is going to get worse before it gets better."

Flooding in Ironbridge

In its flood warning issued on Monday, the Environment Agency said it expected properties on Ferry Road to flood, and predicted the river to peak at Buildwas between 6.6m and 7.0m on Tuesday night.

Sandbags are available to residents from Wharfage Car Park (accessible via foot only), Ironbridge Central Car Park and in the last parking bay outside the Black Swan Pub.

The council has also closed The Wharfage (to vehicles only), The Lloyds, Coalford and Ferry Road, while Madeley Road - originally due to be closed until mid-April for essential roadworks - has reopened with temporary traffic lights.