It’s time to vote over £8.1m flood defences

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News: Sheffield Telegraph online 24-hours a day.

A ballot starts tomorrow (Friday) to decide the future of a £8.1m project to protect the flood-prone Lower Don Valley from further damage and disruption.

In the first vote of its kind in Sheffield, more than 250 businesses in the east end are being asked whether they are prepared to contribute to the cost.

Unless a majority ‘yes’ response is secured for a private sector contribution of £1.4m, the latest flood defence programme for the River Don will not be carried out.

The main aim is to avoid the type of flooding seen in 2000 and especially 2007 that caused massive disruption and multi-million pound damage to hundreds of firms. Since then there have been smaller floods.

The Government is preparing to foot most of the bill to strengthen bridges and retaining walls and to ensure channels are free along 8km of the river between Nursery Street in the city centre and the Blackburn Brook near the M1. But the proposed deal depends on businesses in the Lower Don Valley chipping in as part of one a Business Improvement District.

They would make a payment calculated on their rateable value over five years to cover part of the building cost and to ensure the Don is properly maintained and kept clear.

Small companies with a rateable value less than £12,000 would be excluded, while it is estimated more than 60% of companies in the BID would pay less than £2,500 over the five years.

With the backing of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, ballot papers are being sent out along with a project prospectus outlining the details. The closing date for voting is December 13.

Chamber executive director Richard Wright said: “This is an important project and an important decision for business to make.

“I understand how hard it is to run a business, but I can only recommend people vote ‘yes’ to the flood defences. Under the scheme, 33% of businesses will pay up to £200 per year for five years and more than 60% will pay £500 or less.

“Public monies will cover 83% of the total cost of the project. It is a one-off opportunity to grab such a large proportion of the available government money to see the project go-ahead. We believe this is a good deal for businesses and offers an excellent return on investment.

“The Lower Don Valley is a critical economic area of the city and the damage from the floods was catastrophic and took several years for businesses to recover from.”

James Newman, chairman of the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, said the Lower Don Valley was a significant part of the region’s £25bn economy, with hundreds of very successful businesses and thousands of highly skilled jobs.

He supported the efforts of the Environment Agency, council and chamber to tackle the threat of flooding, improving the sustainability of the business community and attracting new investment.

Business owners are being invited to drop-in sessions about the proposed improvements.