Catastrophic flooding that forced people out of their homes and caused devastation in Marlow in 2014 would have been avoided if long-awaited defences had been built years ago, it has emerged.

A £9.5 million flood defence scheme to protect hundreds of homes in Gossmore Lane and Pound Lane is now in operation and was put in place to shield Marlovians from a repeat of the devastating floods five years ago.

It started taking shape more than five years after it was approved.

Firefighters worked around the clock to pump water away from flood-affected homes in the riverside town, while residents were forced to leave their homes and military officers joined a meeting of agencies involved in the relief effort.

Modelling done by the Environment Agency (EA) showed that had the scheme been in place in 2003, 2012/13 and 2014, it would have prevented the disastrous floods during those years.

Construction of the new walls was completed in autumn last year and the EA hosted an event this month with project partners and guests to show how the flood risk to some 287 properties has been reduced as a result.

Attendees also saw how, should Marlow now suffer prolonged or heavy rainfall, as it has several times in the past few years, the risk of flooding from the river and groundwater to these properties has been lowered.

Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the EA, said: “It will better protect the beautiful town of Marlow from flooding, not only from the Thames but also from groundwater.

“There are real environmental benefits too, with 18 hectares of habitat created and over 300 trees and 10,000 shrubs planted.

“This scheme is part of the Environment Agency’s plan to reduce the risk of flooding for 300,000 homes between 2015 and 2021.”

The Environment Agency worked with the local community, Buckinghamshire County Council and Marlow Town Council to deliver the scheme.

Dominic Grieve, MP for Beaconsfield, whose constituency includes Marlow and who attended the EA event, added: “The start of operations for the Marlow Flood Action Scheme is an important moment for the town.

“I can distinctly remember the previous flooding in Marlow, including the floods in 2014, which caused considerable devastation.

“Walking around the new scheme, I was pleased to see how the structures sensitively complement the environment and enhance local wildlife, as well as to hear about the system to pump groundwater back into the Thames.

“I applaud the work of the Environment Agency, Buckinghamshire County Council, Marlow Town Council and the local community to deliver the £9.5 million scheme, which I am sure will benefit Marlow for many years to come.”

The scheme consists of new flood walls and embankments in the Gossmore Lane and Pound Lane areas of the town. It also includes a flood storage area at Lower Pound Lane to replace the natural floodplain.

The EA said low lying areas of Marlow are also prone to flooding from groundwater travelling up through the gravels found below the ground, so the scheme also includes a pumping system which pumps groundwater back into the Thames reducing the risk of flooding.

The final phase of the scheme, which includes reinstatement and planting work, is continuing and will take place over the summer months.