DRAINAGE and river defences in Romsey should be beefed up to avoid a repeat of flooding which saw residents fleeing homes and businesses losing millions, an inquiry has urged.

The Army and the Royal Navy had to be drafted in as Romsey was almost overwhelmed by overflowing streams and the River Test burst its banks earlier this year.

Now an independent inquiry has blamed the town’s ageing infrastructure and river defences for the worst flooding in 50 years.

Fifty homes were affected as nearly 40in (1,000mm) of rain poured down between December and February – the most since 1766.

With the Met Office predicting more freak weather events, Hampshire County Council commissioned consultancy firm CH2MHILL to find out what went wrong and make recommendations.

Intense rainfall was found to have overwhelmed ageing sewers just before last Christmas, inundating homes and businesses in Winchester Road, Middlebridge Street, Mainstone, Riverside Gardens and the Causeway with foul sewage.

It also found that drainage at the 800-home Abbotswood development site may have been to blame for flooding in Cupernham Lane.

This left gardens flooded and homeowners battling to keep the water at bay.

The report acknowledges that there was a “groundwater issue” there but crucially “no system” monitoring ground water levels.

Permanent measures were also needed to stop the River Test bursting its banks and flooding areas such as Mainstone, Budds Lane and The Causeway.

Scores of businesses on the Budds Lane Trading Estate lost millions of pounds and people living next door had to abandon their submerged homes.

Romsey World of Water was also forced shut because the only way of reaching the Greatbridge Road-based business was by boat.

County council leader Cllr Roy Perry said: “Now we have the results we will continue to work closely with our partners, including Test Valley Borough Council, the Environment Agency and Southern Water, to determine what actions can be prioritised immediately and what additional steps need to be taken to help address future flood risk.”

But Romsey’s county councillor Mark Cooper said: “From what I can see, it’s saying what’s happened rather than look at solutions to alleviate potential flooding in the future.”

The Government’s climate change minister Greg Barker was due to visit Romsey yesterday but he postponed it to a later date because of other commitments. He had planned to tour the town with Romsey and Southampton North MP Caroline Nokes to look at the impact of the flooding.

Southern Water statement:

A spokesman for Southern Water said: “We will examine the independent report into the flooding in Romsey and consider its findings. During the floods we had more than 100 people working 24 hours a day to support our customers in Romsey.

“The issue of flooding is complex, with various agencies, including local authorities and the Environment Agency, responsible for different aspects of drainage. Southern Water is responsible for the public sewers and our role is to manage the flows our sewers are intended to carry.

“These include wastewater flows from toilets, sinks, baths and washing machines and rainwater run-off from roofs and drives. However, when groundwater levels are high and the drainage systems (which are the responsibility of other agencies, such as the local highways authority) cannot cope, our public sewers can become inundated by large volumes of water that they were simply not designed to carry.

“We remain fully committed to playing our part in a partnership approach to tackle the issue of flooding in Romsey and supporting our customers. In particular, we are keen to work with Hampshire County Council (the designated lead agency), as well as others, to participate in an over-arching Surface Water Management Plan for the area to improve flood resilience in the town.”