Much Wenlock’s flood management – should it mean even more houses?

Storm Ciara swept across the whole of the UK on Sunday 9th February, bringing heavy rain and very strong winds. There was some alarm at its likely impact in Shropshire, but it is largely forgotten in Much Wenlock now. Its effect upon the town was dwarfed by Storm Dennis one week later.

Overnight on 15th/16th February there was very heavy rainfall and daybreak saw homes in the High Street, Sheinton Street, Forester Avenue and Hunters Gate flooded – around a dozen in all.

Hunters Gate Sunday 16th February 2020

Elsewhere, the River Severn  was in spate and over the following fortnight flood water drained off the hills in Wales, and around the river valley. Shrewsbury, Ironbridge and Bridgnorth all saw heavy flooding and heart-rending scenes of homes, businesses and memories ruined.

Meanwhile in Much Wenlock, water had cascaded down Bridgnorth Road, Bourton Road and Farley Road. The Gaskell Arms corner of the A458 was, as usual under these circumstances, awash with the drains unable to take the volume of water. Muddy water poured into homes, and daybreak saw householders and neighbours surveying the damage. Many more had their gardens inundated, or floodwater lapping at the threshold of their door. The emotional and financial costs cannot be underestimated. It is testament to our community spirit that many residents turned out to help neighbours who had been affected.

High Street Much Wenlock, Sunday 16th February 2020

The new flood attenuation ponds doubtless saved dozens more properties from being flooded. There has been a suggestion locally that the ponds emptied too quickly. The flood engineers have advised me that it is essential that the ponds don’t hold onto floodwater for any longer than is necessary, to ensure that they can handle storms or intense rainfall on consecutive days without overflowing. They worked as intended in the first test of their effectiveness – as endorsed by the Town Council.

Much Wenlock Town Council Planning Committee – draft minutes of March 2020 meeting

At the Shylte Brook Flood Store Area (Stretton Road) the water level reached around 2 metres deep at 03:15 on Sunday 16th February.

Shylte Brook Flood Storage Area

At this depth, the flood storage area was holding approximately 13,000 cubic metres of flood water. The flood storage area then drained down, returning to its ‘normal’ water level at around 19:00 on the same day.

The Sytche Brook Flood Store Area started to respond to rainfall at around 18:00 on the 15th February. The water level reached around 2.1 metres deep at 04:15 on the 16th February.

Sytche Brook Flood Storage Area

At this depth, the flood storage area was holding approximately 6,000 cubic metres of flood water.  The flood storage area then drained down, returning to its ‘normal’ water level at around 02:00, on Monday 17th February.

At Hunters Gate estate, constructed in 2003 and flooded in 2007, the water accumulated in the adjacent field, from where it flooded gardens and entered a house in Forester Avenue for the first time in 60 years. Two houses in Hunters Gate were flooded but reports indicate that the water didn’t flow in through the doors, but instead came up through the floor. One can only presume that the groundwater levels became so high that the water worked its way through the concrete block and beam floor and came in under the skirting boards. Many gardens, garages and paths were awash.

Over the years, local residents have voiced their concerns about the quality of the building of this estate by Persimmon. There are many who doubt that the drainage and flood attenuation tanks below the streets and gardens have been constructed correctly and, whilst studies have been conducted for Severn Trent and the Environment Agency, there seems to be no unanimity about what lies below ground.

Shropshire Council’s Local Plan Review called for sites across the county to ensure that there is a housebuilding supply line until 2038 (revised recently from 2036). Back in January 2019 many residents expressed their opposition to a site between Hunters Gate and Much Wenlock Primary School for the construction of 80 houses. This was advanced by Shropshire Council on the premise that it was necessary in order to pay for flood alleviation at Hunters Gate – and this view was controversially supported by Much Wenlock Town Council.

At the end of January this year the promoters of the site then increased the number of units from 80 to 130 on the basis that this number was required to generate sufficient funds to construct necessary flood alleviation measures. Residents’ widespread scepticism has turned into anger now houses have been flooded again.  The £2.1m found from public funds to build the Shylte and Sytche flood attenuation ponds has proved its value.  However, it seems the town is now expected to bear housing growth far in excess of the guideline set by Shropshire Council in order to provide flood alleviation on the eastern side of the town.  The flooding problem has a long history in this area but was not addressed in the course of the approval and construction of a large housing scheme built less than twenty years ago.  There is understandably little confidence that an additional new development will improve the situation. Those most affected are demanding effective alleviation measures in advance of any approval of further development.

Residents have now sent a petition to Much Wenlock Town Council seeking it to act on behalf of residents in the east of Much Wenlock in demanding action from Shropshire Council, the Environment Agency and Severn Trent.

The petition has been copied to me and to Philip Dunne MP. I am very sympathetic to the sentiments expressed in the petition and will continue to press for an outcome that solves the problem and does not involve building more houses outside the town’s current development boundary.