A drop in the ocean

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A SMALL amount of funding has been found to continue planning Morpeth’s flood defence scheme this year.

But the £100,000 amount is scant consolation for a campaigning residents’ group, which is concerned that the Environment Agency will be unable to offer the same level of protection as originally planned.

The £17million flood alleviation project has been delayed because it did not meet the revised criteria when the agency’s flood management allocation for 2011/12 was reduced by 17 per cent.

It was scheduled to receive £4million for the next 12 months.

Environment Agency officials admitted in January that they may need to look at ways of making the scheme less expensive, such as completing the upstream storage and flood wall sections individually, phasing the scheme over a longer period of time, or reducing the level of protection to one-in-100 years or one-in-75.

The original proposal, unveiled to the public at Morpeth Town Hall in January 2010, would give a one-in-137 year level of protection, about the same as the September 2008 flood.

In agenda papers for a meeting of the Northumbria (Transitional) Regional Flood and Coastal Committee on Friday, Local Levy Programme Manager Peter Kerr says that the agency has been able to transfer £100,000 from the Local Levy, where money is spent on smaller flood defence schemes, to its main capital programme.

“This sum will be used to fund further development and engagement work on the Morpeth scheme,” he added.

Morpeth Flood Action Group Chairman Alan Bell hopes to find out more details about how the scheme is progressing.

He said: “For such a project, £100,000 isn’t very much and it won’t get the detailed design work done by this time next year so is the Environment Agency anticipating more money coming in or are officers looking at a different scheme?

“There are other questions that need to be answered on Friday, including if the business case has been approved.

“Our big concern is that even if a scheme goes ahead, we could end up with a lower standard of protection than originally planned. Anything less than one-in-137 years wouldn’t satisfy those who were affected by the flooding in 2008.

“Whatever is announced at the meeting, we will be calling on the Environment Agency to come to Morpeth and explain to all the residents what exactly is happening.”

The Herald’s Flood Action Now campaign received a total of 3,915 signatures in just three weeks as the community rallied to call for the project to be reinstated in the 2011/12 budget.

Last month, the agency’s Chairman Lord Smith said its Board has agreed to review progress on the national flood defence programme in October.