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.

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

Fifty homes were affected as nearly 40 inches 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.

The report sends out mixed messages about the Abbotswood development’s contribution to the flooding problem in Cupernham.

At one point, it says that the site “...did not result increasing of the flood risk to Cupernham Lane...”

However, it then lists several problems on the site.

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

Remarking on artificial drainage features in the south-western corner of the site off Cupernham Lane, the report states: “It is probable these drainage features date from the quarrying operation (Chiver’s Gravel pit), but they appear to have a significant influence on discharge and drainage from the site. Blockage of these pipes may have been a considerable influence on the flooding experience.”

The report also acknowledges that there is a “groundwater issue” on the Abbotswood site and that “no system” was in place to monitor groundwater levels to assess risks during the planning and development phase.

The report goes to say: “The potential flood risks to the properties located south-west of the development site (Cupernham Lane and Fishlake Meadows) will remain post development and efforts should be made to reduce such known risk during the planning review of the drainage strategy for the Abbotswood development by improving the current proposals or through the provision of offsite measures.”

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 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 on Monday 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.