WORK is in progress on the Morpeth flood alleviation scheme, with construction due to start next year, the Environment Agency has said.
Criticism has been levied by local residents and Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery that the £21m project to protect the town has still not begun, four years after the devastating flood of 2008 when around 1,000 properties were affected.
If the proposed High Stanners defences had been in place, properties in the area may not have flooded today.
Morpeth did not score highly enough for Government funding for flood defences in the 2011/12 budget, prompting the Herald to launch a petition demanding an immediate review.
Cash was finally allocated from central funds to the tune of £9.3m after Northumberland County Council committed up to £12m for the works, and a planning application was submitted earlier this month.
The scheme will be a combination of an upstream floodwater storage system and new or improved town centre defences.
An Environment Agency spokesman said: “Since 2008 we have been working closely with Northumberland County Council to get a scheme developed and approved for Morpeth. We appreciate it has taken some time to get the best scheme approved, but subject to planning approval, and weather conditions, construction on the scheme is due to begin in early 2013.
“Morpeth has a long history of flooding and some parts of the town benefit from existing defences, built in the 1960s.
“After the 2008 floods, we did emergency repair work to improve defences costing £3m, including work at the Cotting Burn. We’ve spent local levy money to put in an emergency evacuation track at High Stanners in Morpeth. We’ve also built local defences downstream of Morpeth at Eastmill.
“The scheme for Morpeth did not qualify for Flood Defence Grant in Aid (FDGiA) funding for 2011/12 as it did not score highly enough to get full funding. There is now funding in place for a scheme under the Government’s new Partnership Funding model introduced in 2011, and we have applied for planning permission this month.
“Northumberland County Council has approved funding of between £7m and £12m depending on the final cost of the scheme. £9.3m funding has also come from central government. This is a great example of how partnership funding can work to deliver flood defence schemes for communities.
“Over the past six months we have been designing the scheme in detail, working with the Morpeth Flood Action Group in order to apply for planning permission. We know it is important to people in and around Morpeth and we’ve worked hard to incorporate their suggestions.”