Agency ‘can make use of broadcast vehicle’

The River Wansbeck at Morpeth.

The River Wansbeck at Morpeth.

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A mobile broadcast system could be used to inform elderly and vulnerable people in Morpeth during flood alerts and a flood warning situation, it has been suggested.

Communication issues and the response of the emergency services on the night of Tuesday, January 5, were also discussed at a meeting of Morpeth Town Council’s planning and transport committee.

Although water from the River Wansbeck went over its banks at East Mill and the car park at the Morpeth Riverside Leisure Centre was flooded, the closure of the gates in High Stanners and operation of the dam on the Mitford Estate prevented flooding at dozens of properties by the river.

The residents who spoke at a Northumberland County Council meeting open to the public earlier this month praised the Environment Agency for the effectiveness of the defences, but they said there were concerns that need to be addressed.

At the town council committee meeting, members spoke about the issues that had been raised with them. A comprehensive report of events was provided by Coun Andrew Tebbutt.

Coun Dave Pope said there were inconsistencies in the auto telephone warning system for residents in Middle Greens because some received a warning, but others in the same street did not.

Mayor Alison Byard said it would have been useful if information such as the dam being put into operation was relayed to the town councillors who were in Morpeth that night to then pass on to worried residents.

Coun David Clark said the Chantry footbridge should have been closed much earlier by the police, given the depth of water and previous history.

“There was a lot of unnecessary panic because people weren’t getting good quality information,” he added.

Coun Bob Robertson suggested a way that the agency could keep groups of people up-to-date in such circumstances.

He said: “The Environment Agency could operate a van for public address purposes and have an officer speaking into the microphone system with a clear, loud voice to tell residents exactly what is happening.

“This broadcast vehicle would be driven around the key parts of the town in times of high tension and the message would include a telephone number for people to call to get more information if required.

“It would be particularly beneficial for those elderly residents who do not use the internet and on the night of January 5, it could have reassured people that their homes were not going to flood.”

Coun Tebbutt referred to a section of the report where a resident in the Newminster area had informed him that the drive heading from Low Ford Bridge and serving 10 properties flooded and reached ‘impassable levels’.

He said he would take the matter up with the county council’s civil contingencies team.

“We need to persuade the various organisations in charge that information at an early stage, even if it’s about assurance and flagging, is very important,” he added.

The report also included concerns that it took the fire and rescue service a few hours after initial calls by residents to start pumping out surface water in Bennett’s Walk.