THE cost of the flood alleviation scheme for Bradford on Avon has now soared to more than £4.5 million due to inflation, the Environment Agency has revealed.

Ron Curtis, the agency’s area flood and coast risk manager, based in Blandford Forum, disclosed the huge increase during a meeting on Friday, January 12 with Chippenham MP Michelle Donelan as part of a discussion on recent flooding in the town centre.

Mr Curtis said: “The scheme in 2019 was £4.5 million. It will have increased even further since then given inflation and there is a funding gap.

“What’s driving the complexity is not just simply keeping the river out it is dealing with surface water flooding because once the various drains become blocked you get surface water flooding behind any walls that you put in.

“It is further complicated by the fact that there is a combined sewer overflow area here which is Wessex Water’s so once they get storm sewer overflow occurring that can’t get into the river either because the flap is closed. So, there is also the risk of sewer flooding behind the scheme.

“The comprehensive scheme was putting in walls, embankments, some property flood resilience measures and also three pumping stations to deal with that flooding that can happen behind the scheme.

“That’s what’s driving the complexity and that’s what’s driving the cost.

“What we’re going to do now is relook at the scheme and see whether there is something slightly simpler and low-cost that we can do.

“I think that we’ll still need a Wessex Water contribution. The scheme is relatively expensive compared to the number of properties that we are protecting.”

In Wiltshire, town centres in Bradford on Avon, Chippenham and Marlborough were all badly affected by flooding in the first week of this month.

Mr Curtis said the agency would be “sitting down” with Wiltshire Council to see how flooding could be prevented in the future.

The agency would look at the possibility of dredging the River Avon in Bradford on Avon to see if that could help but cautioned against it being the answer to the town’s flooding problems.

“We’ll certainly look at that but in many cases people think the answer to a problem is dredging and in many cases dredging isn’t the answer. It is not always a cost-effective option.

Mr Curtis declined to give any commitments in terms of when a reappraisal will take place other than in Bradford on Avon's case the agency would look to begin that in the next financial year beginning in April.

“Once we are in the next financial year, hopefully we will be in a position to take that forward,” he told Miss Donelan, who is also Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology.

Miss Donelan welcomed his comments, saying: “It is reassuring that the work to look at a scheme will kick off in the next financial year.

“It is good that the Environment Agency will be doing a full stock-take and lessons learned to improve next time, not just here in Bradford on Avon but across the piste in Wiltshire in other areas that were impacted by flooding, like Whitley, like Staverton, etc.

“We know that with climate change, that obviously we will be impacted even more by volatile weather patterns so it is something that we need to continually address.”

As part of the agency’s stocktake, Mr Curtis said the agency would talk to Wiltshire Council and Wiltshire Police about the possibility of closing roads to all traffic to prevent vehicles from creating bow waves.

They would also look at the possibility of setting up a place where residents and businesses threatened by flooding could obtain sandbags to help protect their property, he said.