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Environment Agency hopes £11 million improvements to Leigh Barrier , near Tonbridge, can start in 2019

The Environment Agency hopes £11 million improvements to the Leigh Barrier can begin by 2019.

The flood defence barrier, which opened in 1982 and is designed to protect Tonbridge, struggled to cope with huge rainfall that led to hundreds of homes flooding on Christmas Eve.

The details came to light during a meeting with Sir John Stanley, MP for Tonbridge and Malling, and members of Sevenoaks and Tonbridge and Malling councils this morning.

Tonbridge Park under water. Picture: Sunshine Parties

It is hoped that raising the gate by one metre will enable it to cope with future harsh weather.

EA officers hope that Kent County Council and central goverment will split the cost 50/50 and this could be finalised when the government releases its Autumn statement.

Paul Carter, leader of the county council, has already made public his desire for the council to contribute £5.5 million for the redevelopment.

Even if the funding is confirmed there is no guarantee that the project will be complete by the end of 2019.

In fact, the agency has conceded that 2020 may be a more realistic completion date.

After a legal agreement to hand the money over has been made it will take at least two years for a design to be approved.

The development may even have to apply for planning permission, although EA officers are optimistic they will be able to avoid this process.

People survey the state of a flooded Tonbridge during the height of the rains. Picture by Matthew Walker
Sir John Stanley, MP for Tonbridge and Malling, with Andrew Pearce, area manager for the Environment Agency

Sir John Stanley said: “My constituents see what is happening in Serbia and they are living in fear of further unprecedented rainfall similar to last winter,” he said.

Neil Gunn, flood risk manager for the EA, said: “I think there’s quite a lot of work to do and it’s going to be hard to progress without a solid design.

“We do however feel that more storage is the best way to go when it comes to improving flood defences.

“We will certainly try to complete as soon as possible.”

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