Strong public support has been given to a proposed £6.2 million flood prevention scheme for Chester-le-Street.
The town has a history of flooding and was most recently hit by a storm in June 2012 which affected the Cong Burn.
Durham County Council is now considering opening up a 90m culvert which carries the burn underneath the town’s Market Place, in order to reduce the risk of flooding.
The scheme would see the watercourse transformed into an attractive landscape feature, in the hope of providing an economic boost to Chester-le-Street.
It also proposes an extension of the town’s existing flood wall.
The council has carried out consultation to give local people the chance to have their say on the proposals, and on alternative locations for the community’s market should the scheme go ahead.
Of those taking part in the exercise, which ran in January and February, 82 per cent of were in favour of the general principle of opening the culvert and redesigning the market place.
Ninety-three percent were in favour of a grassed and landscaped option as opposed to the use of hard paving.
Having considered all the feedback, the council has now amended its plans to include additional seating, trees, flowers and plants including wildflowers.
The proposals now also envisage public art, wayfinding and directional signage as well as improved street-lighting to deter anti-social behaviour.
The war memorial would stay in its current location.
In addition to the consultation forms, the council received a petition expressing concern that traders would no longer be based in the market place.
Having considered those concerns, the council is now proposing that the traders stay within the market place – but be moved to a paved area of the site known as the ‘red carpet.’ The market would move to its new permanent home, which would be repaved and extended, ahead of construction of the flood scheme.
Options for overspill provision along Front Street are also being considered with the council committed to ensuring all current traders are accommodated.
John Reed, the council’s head of technical services, said: “We are really pleased with the responses we received during the consultation and that so many people are in support of what we are looking to do.
“We have taken on board all the feedback and made a number of changes to the scheme, including proposing more lighting, seats, trees, flowers and planting, which so many people asked for.
“We have also listened to the concerns of traders and that is why we are proposing a new site for them within the market place and overspill provision, which together would ensure all current traders could be catered for.”
Once the revised design work is complete, the council will be carrying out further public consultation.
The authority has committed up to £1.5 million to the scheme and has applied to the Environment Agency and European Regional Development Fund for the remainder of the funding.
The council should know by October how much it has received and is hoping to start work the following month.
Simon Wilson, flood and coastal risk management senior advisor for the Environment Agency, said: “We understand how devastating it is to be flooded and the community at Chester-le-Street has suffered a number of incidents in the past, most recently in 2012.
“The Environment Agency is working closely with Durham County Council to develop a flood alleviation scheme to reduce the risk of flooding from the Cong Burn.
“The current proposals include improvements to the existing flood wall as well as de-culverting a section of the burn though the Market Square, which will provide the best standard of protection as well as improvements to the town centre.
“The community is central to ensuring the project is successful and I’d urge people to participate in the consultation on the proposals to ensure the best possible solution for the town is developed. There’s funding outlined for the scheme in the Environment Agency’s capital programme and the council’s application will be subject to a detailed business case.”
For the latest information on the scheme, visit www.durham.gov.uk and search for flood prevention.