THREE major projects to protect Somerset’s county town from flooding won’t get under way until late-2024 due to administrative delays.

The Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) has been working with Somerset West and Taunton Council and the Environment Agency (EA) on a number of projects which will reduce flood risk in Taunton town centre, protecting both residential and commercial properties.

The council voted in February 2021 to commit up to £6m towards two projects within the Taunton Strategic Flood Alleviation Improvements Scheme (TSFAIS), with a further scheme involving Longrun Meadow also being developed.

The SRA has now confirmed that none of these projects will get under way until the second half of 2024, with planning permission still not secured and progress being delayed by the transition to the new Somerset Council, which assumed control in April.

This admission comes two months after the town experienced significant flooding as a result of torrential rain – with further disruption expected from further storms on the horizon.

The SRA estimates that there are currently more than 1,300 properties in Taunton town centre at the risk of flooding – comprising a mixture of residential homes, commercial properties and infrastructure such as electricity substations, phone exchanges and the French Weir Health Centre.

If nothing is done, the number of properties at risk will rise to more than 2,500 in the coming decades – with a single major flood incident expected to cost the local economy around £50m.

In addition to water from the River Tone itself, Taunton has numerous small streams which feed into the river upstream of the town, – such as the Norton Brook from Norton Fitzwarren, the Galmington Stream (near the Orchard Grove development site) and the Sherford Stream, whose source lies in the Blackdown Hills area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB).

The Bridgwater and Taunton Canal can be used as a flood relief channel, but it has limited capacity during prolonged, heavy rain, causing it to over-top at Maidenbrook and Bathpool, not far from the Monkton Heathfield urban extension.

The existing flood defences, which were built in the late-1960s and early-1970s (and modified in the early-1990s) are “deteriorating” and will not keep pace with increased rainfall and flood flows which are predicted as part of climate change.

Following initial studies carried out in 2014, a number of schemes were identified to address the issue, ranging from improving the existing streams through Vivary Park to building a new pumping station at Bathpool.

Three major schemes have been prioritised, with £6m being allocated by the district council in February 2020 – namely:

  • New or raised flood defences on the left bank of the River Tone between Frieze Hill and Town Bridge – which will protect more than 500 properties
  • Raised flood defences around the Firepool Lock canal gates, as well as higher defences between Firepool and Obridge – protecting the existing homes, the Firepool regeneration site and both the Crown and Priorswood industrial estates
  • Optimising Longrun Meadow for improved flood storage, reducing flood risk in the Tangier area

These three projects between them are now expected to cost around £8m, with the funding coming predominantly from housing developers in addition to EA contributions.

Ann Rhodes, one of the council’s planning officers, presented an update to the SRA board when it met in Yeovil on November 3.

She said in her written report: “The overall programme has seen adjustments to its original timetable as a result of market forces, the resourcing impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and local government reform.

“At Frieze Hill, our structural survey identified an additional 300 metres of existing defence needed replacing at the upstream end. This required additional bat surveys to be undertaken at day and night between May and September.

“At Firepool Lock, preliminary studies were completed over the spring of 2022, with public consultation on the proposed defence alignment, landscape and ecological mitigation being run over the summer of 2022

“The outline designs have been completed. Discussions are ongoing with the statutory consultees and third-party landowners.

“We are working on a delivery programme for the Longrun Meadow project and the procurement process for detailed design, consents, and permissions.

“It is estimated that this work will be completed within two years, with construction being an additional two-year duration following securing of planning permission.

“Delays on this project have been due to local government reorganisation.”

The planning applications for the Frieze Hill and Firepool Lock schemes are expected to be submitted to Somerset Council by late-March 2024, meaning work could begin by the end of 2024 if approval is granted.