A MAJOR flood scheme will continue on without the Royal Borough as council ‘cannot afford’ its part to protect riverside villages.
A petition, which has garnered over 1,500 signatures, was heard at a full council meeting on April 27, urging the council to ‘honour its commitment’ by funding their part of the River Thames Scheme (RTS).
The £640 million project was set up with three channels to protect 15,000 homes from Datchet to Teddington from flooding – but channel one, which protects Datchet to Bells Weir, will not be progressed.
The chair of Wraysbury Parish Council (WPC) and the petitioner Margaret Lenton, who spoke on behalf of Old Windsor, Datchet, and Horton Parish Councils, said WPC is ‘convinced’ there are no alternative schemes to protect the villages from devastating floods such as the one in 2014.
She said: “Not going ahead with the scheme from Datchet to Egham has already proved detrimental because residents are having difficulty getting insurance for flood cover.”
Councillor David Cannon (Con: Datchet, Horton, and Wraysbury), lead member for public protection, said the Environment Agency and Surrey County Council led sponsoring group spearheading the project made a ‘non-reversible’ to exclude the Royal Borough and channel one ‘against their wishes’ and won’t be allowed to re-join due to ‘significant’ costs and delays to the project.
This is because the Royal Borough failed to fully fund their part of the scheme, which was nearly £53 million, by lobbying government to allow a flood levy on council tax.
Andrew Vallance, head of finance, told councillors it would cost the Royal Borough £1.3 million every year over 50 years to repay the borrowing.
Cllr Cannon also said the borough is working with the Environment Agency to find alternative measures with the ring-fenced £10 million funds they have.
The leader of the Independents, councillor Lynne Jones (Old Windsor) said there is ‘no plan B’ for Old Windsor if RTS went ahead without the Royal Borough and accused the Conservatives of ‘misleading’ the public when they promised to invest millions into the scheme in 2019.
She said: “There are no other options in Old Windsor that will protect residents from seeing a repeat of the 2014 flooding.
“If channel one does not go ahead, there is nothing that will replace that protection and I think we need to be very, very clear on that.”
An angry Independent councillor Ewan Larcombe said the people of his ward of Datchet, Horton, and Wraysbury were ‘sold down by the river,’ while Windsor and Maidenhead benefit from their flood alleviation scheme, the Jubilee River.
Cllr Larcombe claimed, according to minutes of a sponsoring group meeting on June 22, 2017, the Royal Borough ‘indicated’ they would be ‘unable’ to commit its contribution at that stage and the group were ‘preparing a plan B’.
Councillor Andrew Johnson (Con: Hurley & Walthams), leader of the council, said it was with ‘a heavy heart’ to say the Royal Borough cannot afford the scheme due to the authority’s financial position.
Cllr Johnson also criticised the government, believing the RTS should’ve been fully funded nationally rather than by local authorities.
He said: “I remain firmly convinced that projects like this should be funded nationally and not on the expectation of local authorities who were decimated by Covid and were collectively in a relatively weak financial position going into this, not funded by local authorities having to take on unaffordable additional borrowing capacity.”
The petition was narrowly defeated with 19 councillors voting to find another scheme to replace the RTS, 18 against, and three abstentions.