Update on the Leigh expansion scheme

To reduce the risk of flooding for communities in Tonbridge and Hildenborough in Kent, England, the Environment Agency is working on a project that will increase the storage capacity of the existing Leigh flood storage area (FSA).

Works will also include the construction of an embankment in Hildenborough.

The EA is proposing to increase the capacity of the Leigh FSA by storing water to a greater depth. Currently the Environment Agency can legally store water to a maximum level of 28.05 metres above ordnance datum (AOD).

This level is measured at the control structure in Leigh. Investigations have shown that storing water to 28.60m AOD will reduce flood risk to over 1,400 homes and businesses in Tonbridge and Hildenborough.

The River Medway (Flood Relief) Act 1976 sets the level to which water can be stored. Increasing this level requires approval from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. This approval is essential for both the Leigh expansion and Hildenborough parts of the scheme to progress.

Over the last 2 years, the Environment Agency has been working with organisations and landowners who are affected by the proposal. They submitted the application to increase the stored water level to the Secretary of State in early June 2020.

Defra received 10 objections to the application. Unfortunately, the Environment Agency was unable to resolve these objections. As a result, an Inquiry took place between Monday 26 April and Friday 28 May 2021, to allow concerns to be heard.

The Environment Agency responded to the concerns raised by all respondents. The Inquiry is now closed. The Inspector will prepare her report and recommendations for the minister. She has indicated that this will take approximately 1 month. Once submitted, the minister will make their decision.

Construction works to expand the Leigh FSA cannot start unless, and until, the minister approves the application. Under the original programme, construction was expected to be complete in autumn 2023. However, the final completion date will depend on the outcome and timing of the minister’s decision.

Photo: Constructing the Leigh FSA control structure, 1980/The Environment Agency