Barnstaple now a flood prevention priority after 'worst flood event'

Flooding in and around the Square in Barnstaple. Picture: Simon Ellery

Flooding in and around the Square in Barnstaple. Picture: Simon Ellery - Credit: Simon Ellery

Barnstaple has been moved to the top of the priority list for flood prevention schemes in Devon in response to the ‘worst flood event’ in the last decade last summer. 

The torrential rain on August 17, 2020, left parts of the town under as much as 3ft of water reported in places, while traffic came to a standstill as floodwater made the town impassable. 

People from basement flats were rescued by fire crews, with several having been made temporarily homeless by the flooding, with more than 100 properties, including the town’s Queens Theatre having been damaged. 

The flooding, which was Devon’s worst flood event in a single location since 2010, saw 118 residential and 46 commercial properties flooded, and Devon County Council have subsequently amended the list of highest priority communities in the Local Flood Strategy to include Barnstaple. 

A study is already underway to investigate the risk and consider what surface water improvements could be developed, Devon County Council’s cabinet on Friday heard, with Barnstaple joining Exeter, Kingsbridge, Tiverton and Dawlish as ‘high priority’ areas where schemes need to address the risk of surface water flooding. 

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Cllr Roger Croad, cabinet member for community, public health, transportation and environmental services, said: “Following the recent flood events in Barnstaple we have re-evaluated our catchment prioritisation in accordance with the local strategy and Barnstaple has now been identified as one of our highest priorities. This means that a more detailed review of the flood risk will be investigated within the council’s next six-year programme. 

“To avoid delay, we have already appointed our consultant to carry out a more detailed assessment of the surface water flood risk in Barnstaple. At this early stage of the detailed investigations, it is not possible to say what the final proposals are, but we will liaise closely with relevant partners to keep them informed. 

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“The optioneering, detailed design, landowner agreements, planning permissions, notices, for whatever the preferred option is will take time, but the difficulty is the area flooded is quite dispersed, and although opportunities for some quick wins will be explored it is quite normal to take five years plus from the date of an event to actually deliver the works.” 

In the foreword to the Local Flood Risk Management Strategy for Devon and Annual Action Plan, Cllr Croad added: “The main purpose of the strategy is to set out how flood risk will be managed in Devon. It will identify who has responsibilities for what element, how they will work together and what will be done to reduce the risk. 

“The effects of climate change, with more intense rainfall events are a growing concern and are considered for all flood risk management activity. This is particularly relevant for the reviewing of development proposals to ensure flood risk is not increased as a result. 

“The use of sustainable drainage and natural flood management measures will be encouraged for all development and flood improvement works. A new addition to this revised local strategy is an indication of our highest priority communities that we aim to investigate over this next six year period.” 

Cllr Croad added: “This emphasises the need to make communities aware of the risks and be resilient and adaptable to them. It aims to make more use of natural flood defences rather than continually raising defences by hard engineering. This will also help to protect and enhance the natural and historical environment, combat the effect of climate change, and work towards a net zero carbon by 2050 at the latest.” 

Cllr Rob Hannaford, leader of the Labour group, said: “Since Christmas, we have seen volatile and unpredictable weather, months of rains in days, then a cold snap, so things are happening around us that we need to deal with. 

“We need to be thinking outside the box with lots of different ways to deal with flooding we are vulnerable due to the geography and nature of the landscape.” 

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