CONSTRUCTION on a new barrier to protect thousands of Bridgwater homes and businesses can begin in early-2023 after the project’s business case was approved.

Sedgemoor District Council is working with the Environment Agency (EA) to deliver the £99M Bridgwater tidal barrier across the River Parrett, which it is claimed will provide better flood protection to 11,300 homes and 1,500 businesses.

The barrier has already received funding from the government’s towns fund (as part of a package for Bridgwater in excess of £23M), as well as contributions from housing developers through the community infrastructure levy (CIL).

Now the Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) has confirmed the construction will be able to begin within the next 18 months – despite the fact that planning permission still hasn’t been granted.

To allow the barrier to be built, two aspects are required – permission to modify the river under the Transport and Works Act 1992, and an outline business case (detailing how the money will be spent and how it will benefit Somerset residents) approved by the Treasury.

The council and EA submitted the plans to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) back in December 2019.

Bridgwater Mercury:

However, environment secretary George Eustace MP – whose Camborne, Redruth and Hayle constituency has also been severely affected by flooding – still has not granted permission for the scheme to go ahead.

By contrast, the Treasury has approved the outline business case relatively quickly – following up on chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak MP’s commitment to funding the project in his 2020 budget.

EA project executive Graham Quarrier broke the good news in a report published before a virtual meeting of the SRA board on Friday morning (September 10).

He said in his written report: “The business case has now been given approval by HM Treasury for the project to continue, which is a major milestone.

“As anticipated, this approval has the caveat that there will be further checks on the commitment of match funding from partners at the full business case stage, when the main contract is about to let.

“We and the council are already working on further funding bids to achieve this and ongoing support from the SRA will be very beneficial in this regard.”

Ahead of construction formally beginning, the EA is carrying out surveys of the river and conducting further design work on both the barrier and the improved flood defences downstream of Bridgwater which form part of the project.

Mr Quarrier added: “We are planning to start setting up the site in late-2022 to enable construction to start in early-2023, dependent on achieving approvals and consents.

The progress was welcomed with dry humour by board chairman David Hall, whose Bridgwater East and Bawdrip division on Somerset County Council includes the eastern end of the barrier site.

He said: “It’s not often in the public sector that you hear the words ‘treasury’ and ‘approval’ in the same sentence, so I’m taking that as a positive sign.”