Residents have hailed plans to build flood defences along the River Thames, which the Environment Agency (EA) says will prevent another 2003-style catastrophe.

The EA hopes to spend £300million, granted by the government, on creating three river diversion channels which, it says, will protect about 12,000 homes in Spelthorne, Runnymede and Elmbridge.

The channels, practically new rivers, would be 50-60 metres wide and run from Datchet to Bell Weir, near the Runnymede Hotel, Egham; Chertsey Road, Staines, to Chertsey Lock; and Chertsey Lock to the old river in Shepperton.

Desborough Cut would also be widened and Sunbury Weir’s capacity increased.

Residents in Shepperton, badly hit by the floods six years ago, say the plans are long overdue.

Sandy Tyrrell-Wright, who owns a riverside house, said: “This is fantastic news. We have suffered at this end of the river and, ever since the Jubilee flood protection project at Maidenhead, we have felt like the poor relations. Global warming is here to stay and you can only build homes so high. Certainly here, we are always looking at the weather and keeping an eye on the river levels.”

Jenny Beagle, of Bridge Marine boatyard, in Shepperton, said: “It would stop a lot of worry. The risk of flooding is at the forefront of a lot of people’s minds.”

The scheme, which the EA estimates will take about five years to gain approval and a further five to six years to implement, would pose a huge challenge
of civil engineering, said the body’s flood risk manager, Ian Tomes.

Four homes in Chertsey Lane, Staines, would have to be bulldozed but, he said, the destruction of properties would be kept to a minimum, with the channels being routed away from urban areas and instead connecting to lakes and gravel pits in the Green Belt, before rejoining the river proper. For a scheme of this size in an urban area, it’s amazing how little disruption there would be,” he said.

The new channels would be fully accessible to the public and would be adorned with features including paths, reed beds and picnic areas, he added. For further protection, Desborough Cut would be widened by about four metres and Sunbury Weir would have its capacity increased.

Mr Tomes said the measures would dramatically reduce the flood risk, but added: “It’s not possible to completely eliminate the dangers because the new channels will have a finite capacity, but we can say they would deal with a weather event similar to 2003.

“This is the most positive and comprehensive project ever undertaken on the River Thames and we hope people will respond positively.”

Despite concerns raised by Spelthorne MP David Wilshire about the availability of government funding, Mr Tomes said he did not envisage any problems.

“The payments would be spread over five to six years. It’s doable. The annual national flood budget is £600m.”

Public exhibitions will take place at these venues, all between 3pm-8pm: l October 1, Staines Community Centre, Staines l October 6, Mole Hall, Molesey l October 8, Hythe Centre, Egham.

Source: Surrey Herald