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No need to replace Thames Barrier says former manager

A leading expert on flood risk in the Thames estuary this week rejected claims that the Thames Barrier needs “urgent” replacement.


Thames Brrier: No replacement yet

The barrier’s ability to withstand future flood events was called into question last month by Richard Bloore, one of the engineers who built it in the 1980s (NCE 10 January).

He said recent flooding in New York should serve as a warning to London and called for a replacement to be built urgently.

The Environment Agency has no plans to replace the structure before 2070.

Arup associate director David Wilkes, who spent much of his career managing the barrier, defended the Agency’s stance this week.

“When the barrier was designed there was a significant allowance for rising seas, even with the recent levels we’ve been seeing,” said Wilkes.

“It needs to be kept under review, but it would be very hard to justify major expense until the later part of this century”.

Before joining Arup in 2006 Wilkes had a 30 year career with the Environment Agency and its predecessor organisations.

While manager of the Thames Barrier, Wilkes initiated the early planning of the options for protecting London in the face of climate change and rising tide levels.

Readers' comments (2)

  • The barrier should be able to reduce the max height of tides upstream even if it is OVERTOPPED. Part of the effect of the barrier is to detune the Thames. Predicted tidal heights increase going up the Thames to a maximum near the Tower before falling off again further up. The river acts as a musical instrument and damping the oscillations with the barrier will reduce the extremes. Furthermore even if the extreme overtops the barrier it is still throttling the flow.

    The biggest risk is if the extreme tides coincide with high river flow because under those conditions the direction of tidal flow changes long after the bottom of the tide, sometimes by several hours at Putney for instance. Thus the barrier is most effective if closed as soon as the tidal current starts heading upstream so that it acts as an enormous check valve and the volume upstream of the barrier can have the greatest storage.

    The people that potentially have the most knowledge of this are those involved with the operation of the barrier as they can collect the data of water levels and closure times and hopefully model the effects on computer.


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  • this article should be substantiated with numbers rather than 30 years service with environment agency so that people can realise the extent of the problem if there is one.

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