§ Mr. Jessel
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress has been made with the construction of the Thames barrier and the downstream defences; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
As my hon. Friend may recall, I was the Minister responsible for the Thames barrier when the Government decided in 1970 to authorise its construction. Work began on the site at Silvertown in 1974 and at the same time preparations were made for the improvement of the tidal defences downstream as far as Southend and the Isle of Grain. As with any major project of this kind there were difficulties in the early years which seriously delayed progress on the barrier. Since January 1979, however, the work has progressed very much on schedule and within the revised budget. As a result the construction contracts are now virtually complete and all the gates are in position. I understand that a trial closure of the gates last weekend demonstrated that they were all operable. Although some engineering work remains to be done, the barrier could be closed in an emergency. This means that for the first time London could be protected from a tidal surge if the need arises.
At the same time, most of the downstream defences have also been completed, including the smaller barriers at Barking Creek, Dartford Creek and Canvey Island. So virtually the whole of the vulnerable areas downstream of London are also capable of being protected from tidal flooding.
This has been a long and difficult project and I should like to congratulate all those who have contributed to its success—the engineers, the contractors and the work force. Its completion is a tribute to the skill and ingenuity of the British engineering and construction industries.