An £11 million flood defence scheme designed to protect residents' riverside homes in Worcestershire was officially completed yesterday.

The project, which received funding from Severn Trent Water, Defra and Advantage West Midlands, was built after a series of floods in Bewdley in 2000.

Its demountable defences, which stretch 800 metres along the quayside, will protect 175 homes and businesses on the River Severn's west bank.

Ian Pearson, the Dudley South MP and Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, officially opened the defence scheme and regeneration of Severn-side by unveiling a plaque.

He said: "I am delighted to have the opportunity to mark the completion of this innovative, award-winning scheme, which delivers economic, environmental and social benefits to this historic town.

"This significant project underlines Defra's continuing commitment to reduce the risk to people and their property from flooding and coastal erosion. Total Government funding for flood and coastal erosion risk management nationally has increased steeply in recent years - from £300 million in 1996-97 to some £580 million in 2006-07, a 35 per cent increase in real terms."

Bewdley was the first town in England to be defended by barriers that can be built on top of an underground wall when a flood is expected and removed when the danger is over. The barriers take about 11 hours to erect.

They faced their first proper test in February 2004, when properties along Severnside North were in danger of being flooded as the river over-topped the quayside yet again.

This was the first area to be protected, as the 240-metre long section of flood defence was finished in autumn 2002, while work on Severnside South, which runs from Bewdley Bridge to the cricket g round, began soon afterwards.

Work was completed on 8 March 2006, but the barriers were sufficiently completed to protect the quayside from another flooding last November.

R oger Prestwood, the scheme's project manager, said: "This is the culmination of almost six years of hard work to make the people of Severnside safe from flooding and I am delighted with what we have been able to achieve.

"It has been a real challenge to provide modern standards of flood defence to protect and boost the future of Bewdley while preserving and enhancing the legacy of past generations."

Jonathan Morgans, flood risk manager for Upper Severn, added: "Great credit should be given to all involved in the scheme's design and construction.

"This solution to managing flood risk maximises all possible environmental, social and economic benefits, and preserves Bewdley's invaluable heritage so that the town can retain its position as one of the most desirable tourist attractions in the Midlands."

The project used specially chosen materials to preserve the appearance of the historic area, with its Grade I listed bridge designed and built by Thomas Telford in 1801.

Mark Pearce, partnerships director at AWM, said: "As well as the vital flood defence system, this scheme has created a wonderful new civic space for Bewdley.

"In addition to providing a community focus for residents this space will also be much more appealing for visitors to the town and potential investors."