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.”
Sally Hughes, managing director of The Mill at Sonning, said bookings had halved since the road was shut.
She said: “People think we’re closed even though we never have been. We collected £600,000 worth of tax for the Government last year but this could put us out of business.
“We can’t get our rubbish collected or our sewage pumped and coach parties can’t get to us. The only access is from the A4 so coaches have to stop before the bridge and let people out to walk across.
“It’s not nice for anyone, especially if it’s raining, and it means they’re less likely to want to come back. We’ve had to send staff out in cars to pick up disabled customers and drive them across the bridge.”
Mrs Hughes said she approved of raising the road but only if it meant it didn’t have to close again. She said: “That road has been in an appalling state of disrepair for the past two years and the council has done nothing about it.
“If they want to raise it they should do half at a time and manage the traffic with temporary lights. The village should not be completely cut off for even longer.”
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.”
David Woodward, chairman of Eye and Dunsden Parish Council, said: “Raising the road is absolutely worth it as long as they also install a wide drainage culvert. It must be done thoroughly rather than as a knee-jerk reaction. They must make sure they raise all the areas where the road floods or there is no point doing it at all.
“However, something needs to be done pretty quickly. The closure is enormously disruptive for residents and businesses.”
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.”
Meanwhile, concrete barriers are to be installed on the B478 to stop drivers using it while it is closed.The county council initially put up water-filled plastic barriers but drivers moved these to get through.
Cllr Nimmo Smith said a 4x4 became stuck on a damaged section of road on Thursday last week and had to be towed away.
He said: “People have been saying that the water has gone, so surely they can drive on the road but it is not as simple as that. The recent floods have undermined the road in places and we simply can’t take the risk of anyone trying to drive on there.
“Although this will be inconvenient for many people, I know that everyone understands that there is no alternative at the moment.
“As soon as it is safe, our engineers will carry out a more detailed inspection and decide what needs to be done to bring the road back into use.”
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