Monday, 26 June 2017

Call to raise road to minimise flood risk

THE road between Sonning and Playhatch could be raised to protect it from flooding in future.

Henley’s county councillor David Nimmo Smith has suggested elevating a section of the B478 so it does not have to close when the Thames bursts its banks.

The road is prone to severe flooding and has been shut for almost four weeks.

It was also closed for two weeks in January. Although the water is now receding, it has eroded the ground beneath the tarmac and the road is starting to collapse.

Oxfordshire County Council, the highways authority, says the road is unsafe and the water must level drop further before the damage can be assessed.

In the meantime, rubbish collections have been delayed or cancelled and businesses in Sonning say they are losing money. Because of the 7.5-tonne weight limit on Sonning Bridge larger vehicles such as refuse trucks cannot get into the village from the other direction.

Cllr Nimmo Smith, the county council’s cabinet member for transport, says raising the road by several feet and installing drainage pipes could prevent it flooding and he has asked the council’s highways officers to investigate the idea.

Cllr Nimmo Smith, who is a structural engineer, said: “We would only need to raise specific parts of the road that are prone to flooding. It would allow it to stay open and should be cheaper than a third bridge over the Thames, which has been suggested.

“I don’t know where the money would come from but central government seems keen to support flood alleviation projects. The flooding in Sonning affects two groups of people: the residents who need to get on with their daily lives and commuters who need to get across the river. The work would help both groups so it would be a win-win scenario.

“Oxfordshire’s economy is losing £50 million a week as a result of disruption caused by flooding so there would be a long-term economic benefit.” Michael Emmanuel, owner of the French Horn restaurant, said his rubbish was not collected for six weeks as refuse lorries could not reach it.

Biffa, South Oxfordshire District Council’s contractor, sent out vans to pick up household waste this week but would not collect from businesses. The restaurant then arranged for Grundon to make a collection.

Mr Emmanuel also supported raising the B478 but added: “They could set up a one-way system via Spring Lane and work on half of the road at a time. I don’t think our businesses could survive several months of closure. I also think raising the road is only a short- or medium-term answer. The long-term solution is another bridge.”

Henley MP John Howell and Reading East MP Rob Wilson are to hold a summit meeting with councils in Westminster on Monday to discuss the possibility of a third bridge.

Mr Howell said: “The situation in Sonning isn’t related to the debate over a third bridge as the impetus for the latter is coming from elsewhere. “We need to have those issues out in the open, which is why I want to get all the various local government organisations together to discuss it.”

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