Environment Agency flood works deadline to ‘focus their attention’

A deadline could be set for the implementation of a scheme designed to protect hundreds of homes in Chelmsford from flooding – almost 10 years after it was agreed.

The flood alleviation scheme at Margaretting is an Environment Agency-led scheme to which Chelmsford City Council originally agreed, in 2010, to make a substantial contribution towards.

This was on the grounds that the scheme, which was part of a wider package of works, would reduce the flood risk to some 548 residential and 235 commercial properties in the urban area of Chelmsford.

The scheme is proposed because homes and businesses in central and urban Chelmsford are at high risk from flooding associated with the Rivers Chelmer, Can and Wid.

It is the most significant element in a series of projects aimed at delivering enhanced flood protection for the city.

The scheme has foreseen an embankment on the River Wid to hold back flood water, allowing the waters from the Can and Chelmer to stay within their channels and banks for longer.

However, the Environment Agency (EA) has said it has recently updated its river modelling for Chelmsford and this new data will be used to review the flood mitigation options available for the city.

The council has a capped contribution to the scheme, which also includes the completed works at Chelmer Village, of £6.5million.

The scheme, which was given planning permission in 2013, has been subject to prolonged delays including challenges from a local landowner to restrict the EA onto his land.

EA bosses claim the success of the multi-million pound project had rested upon building a 465-metre long, three-metre high embankment, sluice gates and a control building on the 100-acre Little Tressells Farm in Margaretting Tye beside the River Wid.

Farm owners unsuccessfully challenged the project, which experts say could stop 500 million gallons of water cascading down the Wid and into the River Can, which runs through Central Park and Chelmsford.

With the legal challenge finalised, Chelmsford City Council’s cabinet has now voiced its own frustration with the delay – the latest due to the EA not yet producing a revised business case for the scheme that reflects the changes since it was originally agreed.

The city council has said that given the apparent inability of the EA, for a variety of reasons, to deliver this scheme over the last nine years and with no certainty that it will do so in the near future, the justification for retaining a financial contribution to the scheme in the capital programme is questionable.

Leader Stephen Robinson said: “We are waiting on the EA to tell us whether the scheme is going ahead. They are the lead on this.

“They are the experts on flooding and it’s their statutory duty to make provision to reduce flood risk. The council is guided by the EA and we are waiting for them for them to make up their mind.”

He added: “We want to give the EA a deadline to decide whether the scheme is going ahead. We are not taking the money away.

“We are saying we want the EA to make up their mind and by asking for a date we are hoping to focus their attention on whether the scheme is going ahead or not.”

The council has suggested the EA be advised that unless definite progress has been made to implement this or a similar scheme by June 2020, a formal project review should be undertaken to consider the council’s continued commitment to making a financial contribution to this scheme.

In April the South East Local Enterprise Partnership decided that £800,000 of local growth funding which was provisionally allocated to the project, should be reallocated to other projects due to the high level nature of the business case and “gaps in information”.

An EA spokesperson said: “We have recently updated our river modelling for Chelmsford.  Using this new data we are going to review the flood mitigation options available for Chelmsford.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter