BANBURY Town Centre would have been under water yesterday if £17m flood defences were not opened, it has been claimed.

The Environment Agency finished the defences – which protects more than 500 properties, including the railway station and Banbury United Football Club – in October.

But the county council-run Mill Arts Centre was too low-lying and too close to the river to be protected by the scheme, just north of junction 11 of the M40 – and saw its bar area flooded yesterday.

Ian Tomes, Environment Agency area flood risk manager, said: “You would have seen quite significant flooding in Banbury town centre if the scheme was not in place. Banbury town centre would probably be under water at the moment.

“The scheme is storing a very, very high level of water as we speak.

“We knew all along that The Mill Arts Centre was not able to be protected by the scheme.”

Banbury Town Council leader Kieron Mallon said: “I visited the flood defences and, looking at the amount of water held back north of Banbury, I could see the flood defences seemed to have done the job.

“If that amount flowed down the river as it normally would the whole of Banbury town centre would have been knocked out.

“You cannot console any of the businesses or The Mill that were affected, but it has saved probably hundreds of other properties and businesses from being flooded out.”

The Mill Arts Centre’s bar area was flooded with about 4in of water before 8am yesterday.

Cleaners alerted staff and a team of about a dozen people helped move furniture as the fire service pumped water from the building.

The electricity was out yesterday and the centre is not expected to reopen until next Thursday, cancelling performances of Calendar Girls and today’s Job Club.

Management committee chairman Nick Turner said: “It is not catastrophic damage but it is going to mean, even if there is no more flooding, we are going to take until the middle of next week to dry the place out and check the electrics and boiler.”

Banbury was hit by severe floods in 1998, affecting 160 homes and businesses, and again in July 2007, when the River Cherwell burst its banks.