MORE than £15million worth of upgrades to the flood defences in and around Tonbridge have been given the green light.
It is anticipated the improvements will finally stop the longstanding issues in places like Hildenborough – and mean there is no repeat of the major flooding in Tonbridge on Christmas Day 2013 when 80 homes were inundated on Barden and Danvers Roads.
The proposals were first announced in the Medway Flood Action Plan last December after consultation by a wide range of stakeholders, and planning approval has been granted.
They will now go ahead following a £2.35million grant from the Local Growth Fund supported by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership [SELEP].
The total cost of the multi-agency project is put at £15.5million, with £10.1million coming from the EA and £2.5million from Kent County Council.
Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council has put in £500,000 and the Southern Regional Flood and Coastal Communities contributed £85,000.
At the Flood Storage Area in Leigh, the Environment Agency [EA] will increase the reservoir’s water level from 28.05 metres to 29 metres.
It will also increase the size of an existing embankment near Hawden Farm in Hildenborough, and install a new control structure and pumping station to prevent water from the River Medway backing up into the village.
These works means a further 275 homes will be protected. When the project is completed in 2023, at least 1,475 homes and 200 businesses will be better off.
Much work has already been done with £9.8million spent since the 2013 floods. Almost £2million was spent renovating the Town Lock and Bewley’s Weir as well as carrying out repairs at Leigh.
SELEP says 50 jobs will be created or safeguarded by the latest development, and estimates that another 100 jobs will be created through the availability of previously unsuitable commercial sites.
The MP for Tonbridge & Malling, Tom Tugendhat, who has campaigned for improvements, welcomed the news.
He said: “I’m very pleased this investment in our flood defences at Leigh and Hildenborough is now confirmed.
“Since the floods at Christmas 2013 we have needed everyone to step up and do their bit to make sure we’re prepared should it ever happen again.”
Mr Tugendhat added: “This money will safeguard hundreds of jobs and create many more, and protect over 1,500 homes and businesses from future flooding. I’m delighted we have achieved this result for our community.”
Geoff Miles, Chair of the SELEP Accountability Board, said: “While the current Leigh Flood Storage Area provides some flood protection to Tonbridge and the surrounding area, in the winter of 2013/14 its capacity was breached and the area suffered serious flooding that affected 311 homes and more than 100 local businesses.
“This investment will offer greater protection for existing homes and businesses and unlock sites for residential and commercial developments.”
Over the next five years the EA will invest £19million in the whole Medway catchment area. Other schemes include property level resilience for homes in Yalding, Collier Street and Laddingford.
The government agency will also spend around £1million each year on maintenance of river channels and defences such as flood walls, sluices and weirs in order to ensure they are in good condition.
An EA spokesperson said: “The plan is owned by the Medway Flood Partnership and outlines how the members will work with communities to manage the risk of in the Medway catchment, which covers all land draining into the Rivers Medway, Beult, Teise, Bourne and Eden, as well their tributaries.”
Tonbridge Flood Warden Carl Lewis was enthusiastic about the funding, saying: “Of course any money that is put towards flood defence for Tonbridge, Hildenborough, and our towns and villages further downstream is to be welcomed.”
However, he warned that the public still needed to remain vigilant as the best way to help avoid future catastrophes.
“Flood resilience is not just a job for the Government, but something that every resident and business should do by signing up for Environmental Agency flood alerts, and making their own flood plan,” he said.
“With the area enduring two storms already in the past week, it is the perfect time to remind people that the weather is unpredictable, and that preparation is key.”
To find out more about flood alerts, visit gov.uk/sign-up-for-flood-warnings and gov.uk/flood or call Floodline on 0345 988 1188.
For information about becoming a flood warden, email email@example.com or call the Kent Resilience Forum on 01622 212409.