REDUCING flooding and improving ecology and the river environment are at the heart of Salisbury’s River Park.

With the main construction work now underway the Journal joined the project team to find out more about the £27m scheme.

Environment Agency project manager Andy Wallis said: “This is reducing flooding to about 350 properties and businesses through Salisbury. When we plan for these things we plan for future changes in terms of climate change as well so there is allowance included for that. We are not eliminate flooding, we can’t eliminate flood but we are very much reducing it in this area.

“It will very much improve things for large parts of Salisbury.”

The scheme is a collaboration between the Environment Agency, Wiltshire Council, Salisbury City Council and Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

It will also create two hectares of enhanced riverside habitat for the benefit of wildlife, remove obstructions to allow fish migration to continue upstream and the creation of 13 hectares of public open space, including enhanced foot and cycle.

“The River Park project is about lots of things. It is about reducing flood risk but it’s about a whole load more than that. Ecology and environment – these are massively important water course. They are chalk streams and there are very few of them in the world and they have wonderful habitat within them,” adds Andy.

Improvements will be made to enhance amenity areas for locals and visitors alike with foot and cycle paths, picnic areas, as well as boardwalks and viewing platforms down the river.

“There’s also opportunities to improve amenity value of the area. Getting people more engaged with the river, provide more active travel opportunities as part of it,” adds Andy.

“We generally want to create a much nicer place for people to come and use but also then to take more ownership of the area and the watercourse and understand how important these are and look to protect it in the future."

The construction work is in its “early stages” and has been constrained by ecology. Work in the river channel is only allowed between July 1 and the end of October when there’s no fish migrating or laying eggs.

These works will be scaled back over the winter and continued the following summer.

As part of this the River Avon channel in the Central Car Park will be de-watered to enable work to start in the river channel.

Excavation work will also start in Central Car Park and Fisherton Recreation Ground.

Foundation works will also be carried out at Ashley Road for the construction of a flood defence wall.

A temporary bridge was put in place last week on the Ashley Road Open Space, which will enable access over the river into Fisherton Recreation Ground to start work on building a new channel and wetland area. It came in three parts and was lifted into place by crane.

The improvements to the river channel will create natural habitats for not only fish but also water voles and otters and birds like king fishers.

Andy says a “massive bonus” of the project will help migrating salmon. A sluice gate, which is acting as a barrier to fish and stopping salmon getting through and laying their eggs further down stream, will be replaced with a series of low rock weirs. These will be “passable to all fish”.

Cllr Dr Mark McClelland, Cabinet Member for Transport, Waste, Street Scene and Flooding, Wiltshire Council, spoke of the significant investment for the city not just with this project but with the Future High Streets Fund schemes improve the Station Forecourt and Fisherton Street.

He said: “This is massive investment a lot of other places in Wiltshire don’t receive so I think that is fantastic in terms of reducing the flood risk here and also it is going to create a wonderful environment for local people to enjoy and cycle and walk and the ecology.”