North Devon Council must embark on a multi-million-pound flood defence programme to protect hundreds of houses in Barnstaple.

That's according to council leader Des Brailey, who spoke to the Gazette ahead of a meeting taking place yesterday (Tuesday) to discuss the findings of a recent study.

Thousands of houses at risk

The flood defence improvements report by JBA Consulting identified 155 houses currently at risk of tidal flooding and 120 from 'fluvial' flooding, when rivers burst their banks.

It found that if nothing was done, those figures would rise to 1,748 and 1,002 respectively by 2115.

Commercial properties and critical infrastructure would also come under threat, the study found.

At yesterday's meeting, councillors agreed to set up a project team to look at how to move forward defence improvement works, which includes looking at funding options.

They will also prioritise works for different areas, by appointing a consultant to look at the cost of the improvement options for each area, and agreed to future public consultations to be organised on the report, its findings and recommendations.

Mill Road improvements 'most urgent'

JBA divided Barnstaple into six 'cells', with cell B around Mill Road and cell F at Seven Brethren considered the most urgent.

Funding could prove a stumbling block - but Cllr Brailey is confident that it can be done.

"It is exceptionally important that we tackle this problem and get the ball rolling because the livelihood of Barnstaple needs protecting," he said. "We can't ignore this.

"It needs to be a co-ordinated effort with the Environment Agency, Devon County Council and the Government as it's going to cost a lot of money - millions of pounds.

"It's not going to happen tomorrow but we need to look at this for the future. Flooding causes misery and we have to look after our residents."

'An important investment in Barnstaple'

Executive member for Environment, Cllr Rodney Cann, said: "The study is an important investment in Barnstaple.

"By bringing its recommendations in to action, it will not only benefit local businesses but also the residential areas of the town.

"The plan will help secure the future and shape of the town for many generations into the future."

The council has submitted a bid to the Government's Local Enterprise Partnership to help fund the flood works.