£50m barrier scheme to protect Bristol from floods
PLANS have emerged for a £50 million tidal barrier on the River Avon to protect tens of thousands of Bristol homes from flooding.
It was first believed the scheme could be built near Clifton Suspension Bridge but experts now consider that it would be more effective if it was built at Avonmouth, although no specific site has been earmarked.
Lib Dem Councillor Tim Kent said the barrier was unlikely to be built for another ten or 15 years but they had to think ahead because of rising sea levels and the costs involved.
He said about 30,000 homes in the city were at risk of flooding which made Bristol one of the most vulnerable in Britain.
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These homes are not just under threat from a massive tidal surge but also to rivers which could burst their banks or the run-off of surface water from nearby hills.
Mr Kent said the critical times were during spring tides when the Avon reached its highest level and water often spilled onto the A4 Portway beneath the suspension bridge.
For years it was assumed the docks could act as a massive drain to take excess water. But an expert has told the council that the docks could only act as a sump for about 30 minutes before water levels became too high.
The whole of the city centre is under threat of flooding, together with areas alongside the River Frome, Brislington brook as well as Whitchurch, Withywood, Hartcliffe and most of Avonmouth.
The enterprise zone near Temple Meads where the council and business leaders want to encourage new investment and thousands of jobs is also under threat.
Mr Kent said the Avon barrage would act in the same way as the Thames barrier which prevents flooding in parts of London.
The flood gates are electronically controlled so that if the tidal water surges, they can be quickly closed.
Some business leaders have suggested in the past that a permanent barrier should be built across the Avon which would extend the Floating Harbour and encourage new investment. But Mr Kent said that initial studies reveal that such a project might be counter-productive and actually increase the risk of flooding because it would restrict river flows.
It is understood that the Environment Agency, which is responsible for flood control, is keen on the idea of an Avon Barrier. They believe it is the best way to regulate tidal water and prevent low-lying land from floods.
The only effective alternative to a barrier would be high-sided flood defences which Mr Kent said would be ugly and mean that no one would be able to see the river.
The Environment Agency would be expected to foot the lion's share of the cost from its national budget for flood prevention but some of the costs would be met by the city council and the Local Enterprise Zone. It might even be possible to win some funding from the European Union.
Mr Kent said: "This is a long-term project which we don't have to rush into but the threat is there and it is going to get worse with rising sea levels in the future so something will eventually have to be done.
Jon Rogers, the council's deputy leader, who is responsible for the city's infrastructure, said: "Our initial work shows that a flood barrier, operated similar to that of the Thames barrier, could provide nearly total protection for the city from tidal flooding."