Businesses in Sheffield’s economically important Lower Don Valley were promised better protection from flooding following the completion yesterday of a £20m project funded by a combination of public and private investment.
The work, involving the installation of more than 60 new flood protection measures to the River Don between the Wicker and the M1 at Meadowhall, is said to benefit around 500 businesses on a five-mile stretch of the river.
The area was one of the worst affected by the summer floods of 2007 and was hit again five years later, causing damage to property put at millions of pounds.
The protection scheme is the first of its kind in the country to have been funded through the creation of a Business Improvement District. Local firms are contributing around 10 per cent of the cost, with the rest coming from the Government.
The Environment Agency said the new measures would help safeguard thousands of jobs in the area, which is considered second only to the city centre in its economic importance to Sheffield.
Chief executive Sir James Bevan said: “Flooding has devastating costs for people and businesses, and we know this has been the case for the people of Sheffield.”
Business leaders said the area had been hit by rising insurance costs since the floods. Richard Wright, executive director of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, said: “Insurance cover for flood risk is increasingly harder to get but the installation of these defences should help us moving forward.”
Philip Wilbourn, who runs a consultancy of environmental surveyors close to the Weedon Street Bridge, and whose office was 1m deep in floodwater in 2007, added: “Everything changed after the floods. Banks became less likely to lend to businesses because of the flood risk and the area was at risk of commercial and social deprivation.”
But he said the event was also “a trigger for us to come together as a community to address the issues all of us were facing”.
Gordon Macrae, special projects manager at the engineer Gripple, whose premises were also flooded, said: “We have three manufacturing sites within 100 yards of the River Don, so doing nothing was not an option for us.
“Businesses in the Lower Don Valley are passionate about creating a long term sustainable economy and the flood defence scheme has led to increased confidence in the business community here.”
The engineering firm Forgemasters saw its site on Brightside Lane submerged by 6ft of water in the 2007 floods.
Group environment manager Andy Segrott said: “We could see the river slowly rising and within a couple of hours it had breached the river walls.
“While some areas of the business were operational after a few weeks, others took us six months to recover.”