£60m pledge to Thames flood scheme
Resident says Conservatives can’t claim a victory when they caused damage in the first place
GOOD things come to those who wait, said the foreign secretary, MP and the country’s flood envoy, Philip Hammond, after the government pledged a further £60m towards the Lower Thames Flood Scheme on Tuesday.
Ahead of Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement, the Runnymede and Weybridge MP said the commitment from central government meant the scheme could now go ahead.
The £300m plan to install a new flood channel, make improvements to existing weirs and implement property-level products to reduce the risk of flooding has been regarded as unrealistic by many residents due to a shortage of funding.
Of the £300m needed, £165m had already been pledged by government and the £60m announced on Tuesday means that 75% of the current estimated costs have been met, with local authorities and other partners left to find the rest.
The new funding, which will be available from 2021, is being regarded as a ‘victory’ for local Conservative MPs who have campaigned for it under increasing pressure from residents hit by River Thames flooding in early 2014.
“It’s fantastically good news, it means the scheme will now go ahead,” said Mr Hammond.
“It will be a permanent solution to the flooding problem in the area, it will take eight to 10 years but at least people know that we are going to have it built, they can make plans.
“I know that people suffered enormously earlier in the year and I hope, coming up to Christmas, this is the tonic that people need.”
Mr Hammond explained that a central funding formula suggested the total grant coming from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was about £165m and after other partners have contributed there will be a gap of around £25m to be found by local authorities.
“It’s always a battle to get money,” he said.
“To the many people in this constituency who have been writing to me during the floods after the prime minister’s announcement and asking what’s going on, the answer is – to those who are patient, good things come.”
In response to the announcement, Surrey County Council cabinet member for flooding recovery, Cllr John Furey said: “Even though we are under pressure for school places and adult social care financially, we will manage to fund this work with partners.
“It’s great doable now.”
Spelthorne’s MP Kwasi Kwarteng said the funding was a big step forward.
He added: “The River Thames Scheme will help to deliver safety and security to local families and businesses that need better
it’s flood protection.”
Work on the scheme is due to start in 2019 and will protect around 15,000 homes, although improvements to weirs may start in summer 2016.
Runnymede Borough Council’s chief executive, Paul Turrell, said: “Approaches are being made to the various local enterprise partnerships that cover the area of the scheme, with a view to their collectively contributing half of the shortfall.”
Residents welcomed news of the cash injection, albeit with some scepticism.
During the floods, Helen Saxey-Santillo, 79, was stranded for a week at her home on the Northern Burway near Chertsey, where she has lived for 15 years. She failed to get a Surrey County Council subsidy for £260 to repair sewer damage as it was not covered as ‘flood resilience’ work under the authority’s repair and renew grant scheme.
She welcomed news of the £60m investment but said her experience had made her pessimistic.
She said: “Being quite elderly and having lived through a lot of government promises, as the Somerset farmers said, I will believe it when I see it.”
Ian Swinglehurst, of Wendover Road in Egham Hythe, said: “In the eighties it was the Tory government that decided not to maintain any of the river beds,” he said.
“The River Thames has lost 40% of its water conveyancy capability as a result of the Tories and now they claim it is a victory to undo the damage.”
Mr Swinglehurst also suggested that the responsibility should fall on all local authorities whose boroughs sit on the Thames or its tributaries to fill the funding gap.
The Chertsey Sausage – an inflatable dam brought in to Bridge Road in February to protect the town.