Ballot to pave way for better flood defences

Floodpic: The Deluge.'Sheffield Floods'Saville Street
Floodpic: The Deluge.'Sheffield Floods'Saville Street

More than 200 businesses in the east end of Sheffield are to be balloted this autumn on a scheme that would pave the way for them contributing financially to better flood defences.

They will be asked for their verdict on creating a Business Improvement District, which could allow a levy to be introduced to help prevent a repetition of the devastating floods of the summer of 2007.

On the agenda for the Lower Don Valley is the construction of new flood walls, installation of flood gates and the clearing and maintaining of the River Don over the next five years, as well as reinforcing existing structures.

Already it is intended the Government will provide £6.7m towards strengthening defences between the Wicker and Blackburn Brook near the M1.

But a further £1.4m is required from local businesses.

Business Improvement Districts are being encouraged by the Government with a view to companies paying an additional fee to get projects that will benefit them and the area off the ground. Better flood defences should mean a better deal on insurance, for example.

Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and the council are backing the ballot - the first of its kind in the city - which is expected to be held in the autumn after initially being planned for the summer.

A BID has to be approved by a majority vote and would see affected companies in the Lower Don Valley making a payment calculated on their rateable value over a fixed period of five years. It is calculated that over half of businesses in the BID area would pay less than £2,500 over five years towards the improvements.

Richard Wright, executive director of Sheffield Chamber, said: “The project details are almost finalised and we are ready to go to a ballot of the business community imminently to ensure we can install the defences next year, if the BID is approved.

“We believe it is a cost effective project that minimises the contribution from businesses in the valley.

“The insurance industry and Government reached a Memorandum of Understanding last week and, whilst we do not know all the details yet, it seems that these defences will significantly aid the ability of businesses to get good cost effective flood cover without the overly-large excesses we have been seeing.

“In that respect there should be a positive return on the investment for the contributing businesses.”

The aim is to have a full funding package secured by the end of this year so that a start on site can be made at the beginning of 2014.

A prospectus and full business plan about the flood defences and the BID will be made available to affected businesses to allow them to make their decision on how to vote.

Coun Leigh Bramall, cabinet member for business, skills and development, said: “The Lower Don Valley area is a strategically important area for the city and its economic future.

“That is why it is imperative that the council, the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, the Environment Agency and the local businesses themselves work together to secure the best deal for the area.

“Of course we hope never to have a repeat of the devastating floods of 2007 again, but you can never predict what nature has in store, that is why getting prepared now is crucial to helping maintain and support businesses in the Lower Don Valley area now and in the future.”

Floods in 2000 and especially 2007 caused significant disruption and multi-million pound damage to hundreds of businesses, power, transport and telecommunications infrastructure.

The Lower Don Valley is described as second only to the city centre in terms of economic significance.

Already flood defences have been strengthened in some areas, notably around Nursery Street, thanks to Government grants.

Now the opportunity is being offered to carry out work along the whole valley to try to ensure the estimated chance of another major flood is one in 100 years.

If the levy is made, all businesses would contribute on the basis that the whole area would benefit.

However, Meadowhall would not be part of the BID as “the cumulative power of the businesses could easily jeopardise a majority vote”.

Meadowhall has already installed one in a 200 year flood defences and continues to maintain the adjoining river.