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Recovery of historic stone marks the start of Skipton town centre flood defence work

A ceremony has taken place to mark the beginning of work to improve flood defences in parts of Skipton town centre.

Four sites in the town centre have been targeted for improvements as part of the Environment Agency's £13 million Skipton Flood Alleviation Scheme.

Raising of the existing flood wall on the east side of Eller Beck where it skirts the B&M store car park in Broughton Road will begin on February 2, and is scheduled for completion in May.

Work will then start immediately on building a new flood wall on the west side of Eller Beck alongside the Morrison supermarket car park. This will be completed in July.

Early February will also see another team of Environment Agency contractors starting work at Ginnel Mews, behind Newmarket Street, where an old wall will be replaced. A new footbridge will also be installed at this location and the work will take three months to complete.

The work has been programmed for the winter so that the children's play park at Ginnel Mews, which will be closed for the duration, will be available again when it is most in demand in the summer months.

At nearby Devonshire Place, construction of a new wall behind residential and business properties on one side of Waller Hill Beck will start in April and will be finished at the end of June.

The new walls at Devonshire Place and Brookside will be clad in matching stone to blend in with other buildings in the conservation area.

The fourth town centre scheme involves minor improvement works near Spindle Mill which are planned for completion in March.

To mark the start of the town centre works, a stone gatepost which has been found lying in Waller Hill Beck near Ginnel Mews, will be lifted out of the water for future preservation as a local heritage feature. It is believed to date from the 16th century.

Councillor John Dawson, Craven District Council member for Skipton North, said: "It is very welcome to see this important work beginning.

"It will benefit residents and businesses in Skipton and reduce the risk of any repeat of past flooding and the flooding and threat of flooding we saw on Boxing Day across the town."

Jenny Cooke, project manager at the Environment Agency said: "The start of the town centre work is a significant further step towards reducing flood risk in Skipton. While there will inevitably be some local disruption during the period it will take to complete all these works, we will be doing everything we can to minimise it.

"Environmental surveys will be carried out before any works take place and any trees which need to be removed will be dealt with before the birds nesting season. Some local footpaths will be temporarily closed and notices will be displayed prior to the start of works, along with details of alternative routes."

The Skipton Flood Alleviation Scheme will reduce the risk of flooding from Eller Beck and Waller Hill Beck which often swell very quickly after heavy rain.

Two flood storage areas upstream of Skipton are being built to slow the flow of water from surrounding hills, thereby reducing the risk of the watercourses overtopping in the town centre. Work on the first of these - at Eller Beck near Skipton Golf Club - is well advanced and construction of a second dam across Waller Hill Beck is also underway. It is hoped that, weather permitting, both of these will be completed by early 2017.

Environment Agency staff will be available to address any concerns raised by local residents and business owners at Skipton Town Hall every Friday from 10am to 3pm from 5 February until the end of March.

Graham Lindsey, Flood Resilience Advisor at the Environment Agency added: "As the work progresses, we will also be taking the opportunity to offer free advice and information about how residents and businesses can take action themselves, in order to further reduce the problems flooding can cause. Simple steps such as registering to receive our free flood warnings, and developing a basic flood plan, can be hugely beneficial - and knowing the dangers of fast moving flood water and how to stay safe could even save your life."

Skipton has a long history of flooding and the cost of a major flood in the town would run into many millions of pounds, with hundreds of homes and businesses at risk. It is estimated that economic damage alone would add up to £15 million. There could also be a significant threat to human life caused by the rapid onset of flooding.

Local residents who are concerned about flooding are encouraged to find out their flood risk, and to register for the Environment Agency's free flood warning service. More information is available online at www.gov.uk/floodsdestroy, or by calling Floodline on 0345 988 1188.

More advice and information about flooding is available on Craven District Council's website here.