Express & Star

Delight from all as ground is broken on new flood defences

The ground has officially been broken for a new major flood defence which will transform a flood-plagued area of Bewdley.

Mark Garnier, Rebecca Pow and Emily Bourne get ready to break ground on the new flood defence

Environment minister Rebecca Pow joined local representatives to celebrate the start of construction on a major flood risk management scheme at Beales Corner, one of the most notorious flood points on the River Severn.

The minister was joined by Wyre Forest MP Mark Garnier, Bewdley deputy mayor Emily Bourne and Environment Agency operations manager for the West Midlands Anthony Perry at a ceremony on Beales Corner.

The ground breaking begins with all three participants getting their shovels stuck in

There were speeches by all four, with thank you's given to a large number of groups and partners by Mr Perry and the links to the area of Ms Pow, whose sister lives in Bewdley and who remembered taking her own children to the town.

Following this, Ms Pow, Mr Garnier and Ms Bourne officially cut the ground with ceremonial spades to officially mark the start of the project, which will replace the low-level temporary flood barriers currently used and provide a far higher standard of flood protection.

The new protection consists of a combination of demountable flood barriers and permanent raised walls with glass panels on top to maintain views across the river.

The minister said she had been a regular visitor to Bewdley during the flood times and was delighted to see the defences being built

The minister also announced an extra £1.5 million of additional funding, re-allocated from economic recovery funding, alongside the £6.5 million fund to complete the work and build the barriers, with work set to take from 18 months to two years to complete.

She said she was delighted to be present to announce the opening of the project.

She said: "I'm just so delighted and excited to be able to announce the start of this project at Beales Corner, which is the last remaining significant piece of the jigsaw in this huge flood defence that's been developed in Bewdley over many years since the first bit went up in 2006.

"Those demountable barriers have been used 23 times since then, so they were much needed, but this was the little corner that was still very sadly subject to flooding, and I've been here on many occasions, particularly after Storm Christoph in 2020.

The area where the ground was broken has been under water from flooding several times, such as back in January

"This town is so beautiful and I've had small children with me on the train and on the boats and it's a very lovely place for visitors to come, which is why it's even more important to get this flood protection because that's a big way of how the town runs its economy and Bewdley is one of the key points up and down the River Severn."

As part of the scheme, off-site environmental improvements will take place at Limekiln Bridge Storage area to support habitats for wildlife and increase biodiversity in hedgerows and trees.

Once complete, the scheme will provide decades of invaluable service to the community, reducing flood risk for more than 50 properties and maintaining access to 160 businesses, as well as schools and other public services in the town.

The project will replace the low-level temporary flood barriers currently used and provide a far higher standard of flood protection.

Work has been going on along the banks of the Severn to get ready for the new flood defences

Anthony Perry said: “We are very happy to mark the official start of the main construction on this important and much-needed flood risk management scheme at Beales Corner.

“We know the devastating impact flooding can have, which is why protecting the people of Bewdley is our top priority as we adapt to the increased threat of flood events caused by climate change.”

After flooding in 2020, the Government made funding available for the communities impacted, enabling the Environment Agency to consider a flood risk management scheme for the Beales Corner area of Bewdley and keep the main Kidderminster and Stourport roads into the town open at times of flood.

Emily Bourne lives in the town and said she could remember the flood defences going up as a young girl, so was excited to see the new defences being built.

She said: "It's absolutely fantastic to finally see it come along and I really hope it won't be long until it's all done.

The Environment minister spoke about her own links to the area and said Bewdley was a beautiful town

"I can remember seeing Merchants getting flooded when I was younger and the defences being put up on this side and watching friends and other people seeing their homes and possessions getting destroyed, so it's really good to know we'll get away from this type of problem.

"After such a difficult time, it's nice to see that the future is bright and it's going to be great when it's done."

Mark Garnier said he was also very pleased to see the work finally beginning after having worked on it for 15 years with colleagues and representatives around the community.

He said: "I'm delighted as I've had an interest in this since 2008 when I first met Anthony Perry and other representatives and it's always been obvious that we needed to have something here.

"If you go back 10 to 15 years ago, the flooding wasn't as bad and level protection was an answer, but in the last three years, we've had three once-in-a-century events and it really illustrated that we had to do something, so this solution not only deals with it, but is a very intelligent and well managed solution because it doesn't close the town.

"There are around 30 houses which are affected by the flooding, but every time you get a flood and close the bridge, Bewdley as a commercial centre dries up and it is a massive problem, so we need to make sure the solution isn't just about stopping the water going into people's home, but is also about keeping the town open for business."

Bewdley has been badly affected by flooding over the last few years

For local residents and businesses, the news of work beginning on the defences was a welcome relief.

Irene Buxton lives at a house right next to the corner of Beales Corner, overlooking the river, and said she was relieved to hear that the issues she has faced would be coming to an end.

She said: "I think it's brilliant and I can't wait for the work to be done and I don't care if it's a bit disruptive as when you have to live upstairs for five months every years, a little disruption because of building work is nothing compared to what we've gone through.

"The design ideas are ok and I think they've tried to please everyone, but I and other people started campaigning for this years ago and were told no then, so anything is better for me and I'm just looking forward to it being done."

The new defences will offer more protection to people living next to Beales Corner

Across the river, Joe Johnson was serving customers at Teddy Gray's Sweet Shop, which is located next to the bridge over the river, and said the whole town would benefit from the works.

He said: "The town will be happy to see it is finally happening and while there's going to be a bit of disruption when the barrier goes up, it will be so much better for the people who live on Beales Corner and who have been badly flooded over the years.

"From a business point of view, this side of the river will benefit from the new defences as we'll get more visitors, so any disruption will be worth it in the long run."