Multi-million pound plans for new flood defences in Caton Road were announced by the Environment Agency following the devastation caused by Storm Desmond last year.
But business leaders are becoming increasingly worried that a 2018 start and 2020 completion date could be too late, and warn that a similar event in the meantime could force firms to fold or move somewhere else.
Lancaster MP Cat Smith is also calling on the government to address the issue as a matter of haste, after the Environment Agency said it only has half of the £12m it needs to complete the scheme.
Retail and industrial properties in Caton Road suffered catastrophic damage when the river Lune burst its banks in 2015, with many taking months – and millions of pounds in insurance claims – to recover.
The Environment Agency said it is looking at ways to accelerate the delivery of new flood defences, while not compromising the long term benefits to communities.
John O’Neill, Chamber North Lancs manager said a “depressing picture” was painted at a recent meeting between businesses, the Environment Agency, and Lancashire County Council.
He said: “The reports of people who were present are that a depressing picture was painted.
“Investigatory and exploratory works ‘may’ start this year.
“The initial works ‘may’ be finished by 2020.
“When pressed on exactly when, the reply was ‘maybe in December 2020’.
“The next phases of the works, such as Parliament Street and the Quay, were even further into the future, with no definitive timescales.
“Various reasons were given for the delay, including Brexit, but it is no surprise that the main problem is simply a lack of public funds.
“On a conservative estimate, the businesses affected by the floods in the Caton Road area employ over 1,500 people.
“Whilst many businesses have proved extremely resilient, there is an obvious fear that if it happens again in the near future it will have a devastating effect on some businesses and households.
“If we don’t do anything there is a real risk that the flood defences will get kicked into the long grass, until it is too late.”
Lancaster MP Cat Smith says she has launched a campaign urging members of the public to support a letter to the Chancellor to secure funds for flood defences in Lancaster.
She said that while visiting businesses on the Lansil Industrial Estate and along Caton Road in the months after Storm Desmond, firms expressed concern that another flood event “would at worst see their businesses fold, and at best mean that they had to relocate to other sites”.
She now has the support of 16 businesses and is asking members of the public to sign up to her letter to the Chancellor to commit to funds in the Autumn Statement.
Ms Smith said: “These industrial estates represent a significant proportion of the industrial area of Lancaster.
“The businesses who have endorsed this letter employ over 1,500 people, and generate millions for the local economy, and this is not a complete audit of the affected area.
“Businesses on the estates have expressed to me their concern that another flood event which would cost Lancaster much needed industries and jobs.
“The Environment Agency has developed a scheme that would defend approximately 120 retail and industrial properties from a 1 in 100 year flood event.
“However, as yet, the government has not committed funds to this project.
“I understand that approximately £350m remains unallocated from the Flood Recovery Fund established following Storm Desmond, and therefore ask that funds be allocated to the Caton Road Flood Defence project in the Autumn Statement.”
The 16 businesses supporting this are: Kidds Transport Ltd, Fibaform Products Ltd, Pagefast Print & Publishing Ltd, Signs Express Lancaster, Lancaster Rubber, Vertella, M Woodhouse Transport Ltd, Carrs Billington Agriculture (Operations) Limited, Lanes Vets Ltd, Sofidel UK, SJ Bargh Group, Dennison Trailers Ltd, ERIKS UK, Brian Yates (Interiors) Ltd, Northwood Tissue (Lancaster) Ltd, Standfast & Barracks.
A spokeswoman for the Environment Agency said: “We have investigated the flood risk along the River Lune and identified a scheme to protect areas of Lancaster from significant flooding. The scheme would provide a standard of flood protection of one in 100 years plus climate change.
“The scheme would protect 120 retail and industrial properties and an electricity sub-station, alleviating potential flood damage and disruption to business activity and the associated costs.
“There would also be the potential to create habitat and extra leisure facilities.
“The estimated cost of this scheme is £12m.
“However, currently there is a funding gap and over the past year we have been working with partners including Lancaster City Council, Lancashire County Council and United Utilities to look at how to deal with this.
“The aim is to fill the £6 million gap, by gaining high level support for the scheme and ensure it is a high priority within beneficiary organisations. “Subject to funding and government commitment in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement we would hope to start work on this scheme by 2018.”
Some have argued that properties in Skerton could be affected if flood defences were created further upriver.
The spokeswoman added: “As part of our Full Business Case we are assessing the impact of Skerton Weir on the proposed flood defences and all indications are that it is ‘drowned out’ on the 1 in 100 year flood plus climate change.
“This being the case flood levels further downstream on the River Lune should be unaffected, but we will ensure this is the case before any on site construction begins.”