VILLAGERS in Charminster are hopeful of an end to their flooding misery as changes to a listed bridge look set to be agreed.
Residents faced a deluge of water during the recent severe winter weather as the River Cerne burst its banks and flooded a number of properties, including a Grade I-listed church and several homes.
Many believed the issues stemmed from the design of a Grade II-listed bridge, parts of which date back to the 16th century, which was limiting water flow.
St Mary’s Church in the village has still not been reopened after suffering extensive flood damage and is expected to remain out of use for some months.
West Dorset MP Oliver Letwin chaired a meeting with representatives from the Environment Agency, English Heritage and Dorset County Council as well as concerned villagers on Valentine’s Day in a bid to find a way forward.
Those discussions now seem to have borne fruit with Mr Letwin revealing that English Heritage had agreed in principle to alterations proposed by the Environment Agency and he was now hopeful work could move forward to implement the changes.
Mr Letwin said: “This is excellent news. I am delighted English Heritage has now agreed to let Charminster have the changes it needs for its bridge.
“With any luck, this will prevent the village being flooded.”
Charminster resident Gwen Yarker also welcomed the news.
She said: “Obviously it’s been a long battle so we are delighted.”
Mrs Yarker said the villagers were ‘very grateful’ to the Environment Agency and English Heritage for their work to address the issue and particularly to Mr Letwin for all his support.
Eliza Oxley, who lives at Charminster House right next to the bridge, added: “We are very pleased. We are delighted.
“It’s the end of a long struggle.
“Oliver did a great job.”
A spokesman for Dorset County Council said that the Environment Agency was heading up the project to alleviate flooding in Charminster and that work on the listed bridge would form part of that project.
Heritage body accepts need for replacement
A spokesman for English Heritage said it had accepted that in principle the bridge should be replaced.
He said: “The Environment Agency’s recent research indicates that the most sustainable course of action to alleviate flooding in Charminster is to dismantle and remodel the listed 16th century bridge over the River Cerne to allow more water to flow beneath it.
“English Heritage accepts that in principle it should be replaced. We look forward to seeing proposals.”
Nigel Bennetts from the Environment Agency said that the organisation had been working with the local community and heritage organisations to find an acceptable solution to reduce flooding in Charminster.
He said the bridge was known to be a ‘bottleneck’ restricting flows of the River Cerne and extensive studies had demonstrated to English Heritage that the only effective solution to tackling flooding was to maximise the ability of the river to convey flood waters safely downstream away from the village centre.
Mr Bennetts said: “This will be achieved by increasing the opening created by the bridge arches.
“The present three small arches will be replaced by two arches.”
As well as the bridge works, the wider flood alleviation scheme will see improvements to the river banks and drainage works.
Mr Bennetts said that plans for the bridge were now being drawn up and he hoped they would be approved later in the year.
It is hoped that the construction works will begin next year.