Flooding Guildford feb 2020 1 gov (image Environment Agency)

Floods with silver linings for Guildford’s housing targets?


Guildford has been given the “biggest opportunity” to transform itself in a century. The Environment Agency is looking into an expanded flood prevention scheme that would save homes and businesses from rising waters – and open up previously unusable town-centre land for new housing. Supporters say the upshot of this is huge.

Councils have to identify land for housing in order to meet Government set targets, but Guildford Borough Council had to recently disregard 50 sites because they were subject to flooding – 30 of which were in the town centre, the Local Democracy Reporting Service was told.

If the expanded flood alleviation scheme goes ahead it would instantly increase the amount of land in the town and in a swoop take pressure off green belt villages.

Former councillor John Rigg said that the town has been waiting affected by floods for almost 100 years and that it would only get worse if nothing was done. He said: “The Environment Agency’s  planning period anticipates a 72 per cent  increase in rainfall in the Guildford area. Not steady rain, big downpours.”

He said the problem was compounded as towns upstream – for example in Waverley – pressed on with their own developments.

Mr Rigg said: “When the Government said Guildford had to deliver 10,000 homes, they had to all go in the green belt and the villages, because nobody  got the flooding scheme underway and released the brownfield sites. When Guildford was looking at land for development as part of its local plan,  there were 50 sites that had to be disregarded because they were subject to flooding, 30 of them in the town centre.”

Among those are the Millmead and Millbrook car parks.

He said: “We have got to get the flood alleviation plan adopted. The EA has said there is £7bn allocated  to areas that  deliver economics and social benefits. This ticks all the boxes. It’s an important town, it’s a county town and it needs homes and businesses. The previous scheme was a minimum, just to stop a couple of streets flooding, but this does it properly, it frees up brownfield sites. It’s the biggest opportunity for Guildford since about 1900. Last week, by the cinema it flooded, it was up to people’s knees, as far as this town is concerned, they need to wake up.”

Guildford has a long history of flooding from the River Wey, and the Environment Agency, working with the borough council and Surrey County Council, are looking to reduce the high level of flood risk to the town centre.

The project is still in its appraisal stage, but the EA has confirmed it is looking to create a larger protection zone than initial plans from 2018. It expects to take up to three years to finalise the scheme as it undertakes  assessments, surveys and public engagement – the first of which takes place at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre on Thursday April 18, from 2pm to 7pm.

Jon Mansbridge, Guildford Flood Alleviation Scheme project director at the Environment Agency, said: “The feedback we gather from communities during our engagement is really valuable in helping to inform the preferred option.” He added: “The flood defences will be visually integrated into existing and regenerated areas of the river corridor, reducing flood risk to even more of the town centre.”

Councillor Joss Bigmore, former co-leader of Guildford Borough Council said: “Finally the Environment Agency is supporting the council by backing a flood alleviation scheme. “We’ve been patient, nobody has the money to do these things, and its positive that we are at the top of the queue.

“Hopefully we can come up with a comprehensive solution and hopefully we can eradicate  the risk of flooding for the centre of Guildford for the next century.” He added: “For existing residents it very important – and if there is a solution it will unlock a lot of regeneration opportunities on former flood risk areas.”

Flooding in Guildford Feb 2020 (image Environment Agency)

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