SRA Annual Report 2019-20: Bridgwater Tidal Barrier
Few other places in the UK are as vulnerable to tidal surges as Bridgwater, and climate change is predicted to increase the dangers. The town needs extra flood protection. Bridgwater Tidal Barrier will reduce flood risks to at least 11,300 homes and 1,500 businesses.
2019-20 was a big year for the Barrier project, which is led by the Environment Agency and Sedgemoor District Council working as partners.
Key events included:
- major on-site ground investigations
- the submission to Defra of the application for the Transport and Works Act Order (TWAO) required to build the Barrier
- eight weeks of public consultation on the TWAO
- and the allocation by the Government of £114million towards the building of the Barrier by 2024
One of the big targets of Somerset’s 20 Year Flood Action Plan, which was drawn up during the devastating floods of 2013-14 and is now overseen by the SRA, was to ‘accelerate the construction of a Barrier or Sluice at Bridgwater, with the objective of achieving delivery by 2024’. The date previously identified in the Parrett Estuary Flood Risk Management Strategy was between 2030 and 2050, ideally 2046.
The SRA has helped the Environment Agency and Sedgemoor District Council to go faster by putting £2million of Growth Deal money from the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership towards project costs, up to the submission of the TWAO.
Bridgwater Tidal Barrier will be located between Express Park and Chilton Trinity village (as pictured in the artist’s impression above). The scheme also includes improvements to existing downstream primary flood defences along the River Parrett together with new secondary defences in the flood plain.
The Barrier and downstream defences have been designed to protect Bridgwater and nearby communities for the next 100 years, against tides that have a 0.5% chance of occurring in any year.
Activities during 2019-20
The area surrounding the proposed Bridgwater Tidal Barrier site has previously served various purposes. Examples include the brick and tile works at Chilton Trinity, the Saltlands landfill site and a ‘free tip’ at Pawlett where waste dumped by local traders was used to build up the embankment. These days – to avoid possible problems with issues such as contamination – it is important to know what one is getting into. Two phases of ground investigation work have therefore been carried out. The first was in December 2016-February 2017. The second was in October 2019-December 2019.
Most prominent in the second phase was a jack-up barge on the Parrett. Through changing tides, this vessel’s long support legs could be raised or lowered, keeping its platform and crew above water.
Other rigs drilled into land. The main aims were to investigate local layers of soil and rock, assess groundwater levels, and carry out checks for historic contamination.
Information gathered during this second phase is now being used to help select the best techniques for building a Barrier. For instance, results showed higher levels of bed rock than previously identified. This discovery could be beneficial for the design of the Barrier’s foundations, potentially making building quicker and cheaper.
Just before Christmas an application was submitted to Defra for the Transport and Works Act Order (TWAO) required to build the Barrier plus secondary flood defences and mitigation measures such as fish and eel passes. Eight weeks were then allowed for any interested parties to make Formal Representations. An initial deadline of 13 February was extended to 27 April. Representations received by Defra included letters of support for the project (including one from the SRA), objections to particular aspects, and neutral representations about points to be considered as the project progresses.
The project team has been working hard to resolve issues raised by individuals and stakeholders, including those classed as ‘statutory objectors’ under Transport and Works Act legislation, such as landowners and utility service providers. An extension has been granted until 31 July to allow more time for work on outstanding concerns. A decision by the Secretary of State will be made following either a Public Inquiry or a formal process of Written Representations. A decision is anticipated in late 2020 or early 2021.
Sedgemoor District Council has appointed the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust to help get funding for the delivery of wider enhancements to complement the Barrier scheme.
All of the documents submitted for the TWAO can be downloaded as a single zip file (1.35GB) or as more than 160 separate PDFs from Sedgemoor District Council’s website at https://www.sedgemoor.gov.uk/bridgwaterbarriertwao
They represent a vast amount of work and are full of local interest.