Stone Bridge may be knocked down
EDENBRIDGE may face losing its beloved Stone Bridge in the battle to protect itself against flooding.
For the past year, Environment Agency experts have been examining options to improve the town's inadequate flood defences.
This week, the agency's flood and coastal risk management engineer Neil Gunn said the best solution was to demolish the 19th century bridge and build another one able to take more water underneath.
"I think this is the cold, hard answer," he told councillors.
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He added: "It's your (Edenbridge's) flood risk, your town and your bridge. My job is to help you.
"You might not want to lose the bridge but after the next big flood you might say 'I've been thinking about that bridge and I've changed my mind'."
According to the agency's official rating, the Grade II listed structure, which stands at the south end of the town, is currently able to take up to 50 cubic metres of water per second under its arch, meaning it can handle a once-every-20-years flood.
The nearby Mont St Aignan Way bridge, built many decades later, takes 150 cubic metres a second, meaning it can cope with a once-in-a-century flood.
Edenbridge was badly flooded in 1958 and then again ten years later before flood defences, in the form of stone walls and embankments, were built in 1972.
Flood maps drawn up by the agency in 1968 had about 90 homes at risk of flooding but last year these maps were revised to reveal the number of homes now at risk was 216. The River Eden came perilously close to bursting its banks earlier this month.
Mr Gunn said: "Those flood defences weren't built with most of the housing developments around them in mind.
"Edenbridge has been lucky so far. You've had many escapes by the skin of your teeth but you've been fortunate."
Other options considered by the agency's experts included raising the current embankments, building a storage reservoir, working on protecting individual houses and even building another river to take some of the strain off the River Eden.
But Mr Gunn said he thought the best and most cost-effective option was to replace the Stone Bridge, which would cost in the region of £5.5 million.
The next step is for the town council to examine the options.
If councillors agree that a new bridge is the best option the agency will speak to a string of other organisations, such as bridge owner Kent County Council and English Heritage, and work on detailed cost projections for the work.
Mr Gunn said: "When we started to look at it, we all knew the bridge was important to the town. It's part of the heart of the people of the area and we want to hear what people think about this."
A bridge has been on that spot since Saxon times and the current structure dates back to 1834.
Initial reactions from some councillors showed mixed feelings about the idea of replacing it.
Town and district councillor Jill Davison said: "The town will have a blue fit."
Town council chairman Clive Pearman said: "It's a hugely delicate matter but it's not all doom, gloom and despondency.
"The community has to have a voice in this and I'd like most of those options carefully explored."