CAMPAIGNERS are stepping up their fight to halt a project by the Environment Agency that they fear could lead to regular repeats of the flood chaos seen earlier this winter.
In November the River Clyst burst its banks and flooded roads around Topsham. It led to main routes from East Devon into Exeter being cut off for several hours.
The Environment Agency (EA) said the floods were a result of "exceptionally heavy" rainfall. Yet those opposed to the plans fear it could happen up to 10 times a year, should the proposed Lower Clyst Project go ahead.
The project involves removing maintenance of the river banks, which happened in 2010, with the intent they will breach and flood all the flat land between Topsham and Clyst St Mary on high tide. The aim is to create a habitat for birds.
Yet Nigel Cheffers-Heard, of the Bridge Inn in Topsham, said the decision was being made with little or no regard to the residents and businesses in the area.
Mr Cheffers-Heard, who runs the Save the Clyst Facebook page, said: "The flooding of the road from Clyst St Mary to Topsham flats late last year cut off one of only two roads into Exeter from East Devon and serves 8,000 cars a day. It is also crucial to the economy of Topsham.
"By the EA's own admission unless this road is protected in some way this could happen quite frequently, maybe eight to 10 times a year, if they went ahead with this scheme unless a huge amount of money is spent on protecting the road. There are no plans to do this.
"We understand we have got to look to the future, but we are suffering right now from the lack of maintenance in the waterway up the stream by Clyst St Mary that they stopped dredging 25 years ago. The water cannot flow fast enough and it overtops the river banks. We believe that if you dredge this more you will solve the problem – the EA don't agree."
Mr Cheffers-Heard said the campaign started with concerns from the landowners in the River Clyst valley, but now includes a growing number of Topsham businesses. It would also have a big impact on East Devon commuters.
An EA spokesman said: "The flooding in the Clyst Valley and across the region in recent months was due to high river flows following exceptionally heavy rainfall. It followed one of the wettest summers on record. It was these high river flows that caused the road to flood as opposed to a deliberate land management and habitat creation policy on the part of the agency.
"It is likely the road could flood again if we experience similar rainfall patterns and river flows in the future. The existing defences have not been modified and I can confirm the agency will continue to protect people and their houses from flooding."