Shropshire Star

Talking Telford: Swept into a new year and flood season all over again

We’ve been swept into the new year on the traditional wave of overindulgence, seemingly endless board games and bleary queries that go something like “what day is it again?”

Flood defences going up in Ironbridge

For the fortunate among us the festive period is an enjoyable kind of fugue state to retreat into with family and friends, where we can try and forget about much of the outside world for a few days. But many in the Ironbridge Gorge won’t have had that luxury this year because of another kind of wave, one that is fast becoming its own unwelcome tradition. In the gorge, the end of 2023 was marked by a raging River Severn, the erection of the now-familiar hulking metal barriers and a nervous watch on the Government’s river level tracker. Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like flood season. Again.

Terrible flooding in the gorge used to be a once-in-a-generation occurrence. By the time I started here as a trainee reporter it was once every couple of years. Then came the historic floods of February 2020, when the barriers on the Wharfage buckled under the sheer force of the river, dozens of homes were evacuated to protect life and the nation’s media filed into Ironbridge to document it all.

Since then, it’s been an annual guarantee: it may be in February, it could be in January, it might even be in October - but you can bet your bottom dollar that every year, after a storm or a particularly rainy period, the river will swell and the barriers will be rolled out - with all the impact on homes and business that entails. Hard-working people who would much rather be focusing on their day jobs and supporting their families through an interminable cost of living crisis are instead forced to pump water from their buildings to minimise the damage and the downtime. Individual stories of woe and loss add up all along the gorge, multiplied further up the river in Shrewsbury and further down still in Bridgnorth.

Climate change trends suggest more ‘extreme weather events’ will mean even more frequent flooding. An historic environment like Ironbridge might have had a fighting chance against 20th century once-in-a-generation flooding, but with the kind of environment humans are helping create for the 21st century, with a named storm rolling in every other week? It’s hardly a fair fight. Here’s hoping the Severn is feeling merciful in 2024.