The Hull flood barrier received a £10million makeover this autumn to strengthen its defences, ensuring it will protect the city from tidal flooding for decades to come.

And after being completed just last month – on budget and on time – the 30-metre tall structure has already has already faced its first test from the sea, following seasonal high tides a little over a fortnight ago.

Environment Agency chairman, Lord Smith, visited Hull last week to see for himself how the money has been spent.

“The barrier is a major feat of engineering and its refurbishment means it will continue to perform a vital role in the community for 70 more years,” said Lord Smith.

“As sea levels rise and storms get fiercer, the barrier will become increasingly important however people’s first line of defence against flooding is themselves. This refurbishment on the barrier is just a part of our ongoing work with residents and organisations across the city to ensure everyone is better prepared to tackle flooding, whether it’s from land or sea.”

This summer, Environment Agency (EA) staff and contractors were locked in a race against the tide as they worked in a brief 40-day window to complete the work. The barrier is one of just a handful of its kind in the country and has towered over Hull’s waterfront, preventing tidal surges from funnelling water into the River Hull, for three decades.

Project manager Andrew Newton commented that the renovation had been the largest undertaken on the iconic structure during its lifetime and was made increasingly precarious as much of the work had to be done 30 metres up in the air.

“We could only carry out the work during the summer when there was less likelihood of tidal surges and the new parts had to be winched up and passed through the windows,” Newton said.

“The refurbishment took four years to plan and two years to complete and posed a real challenge, but the barrier is now working better than ever and will help to protect people and property for many more decades to come.”

The Hull Barrier is a 212 tonne, 30 metre-wide gate, supported between two towers that house the operating machinery. Due to the tight timescales, staff minimised the risk of failure by assembling the replacement drive mechanism – which lifts and lowers the gate – in the factory beforehand. This gave them the opportunity to identify any problems before winching it up to the barrier.

They also analysed tides and identified 40 consecutive days this year and a similar period last year, which showed a one in 24 million chance of a tidal surge occurring.

The refurbishment means that the barrier can now be dropped safely under gravity in the event of a power failure.

Sam Plester

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