Cautious welcome for town centre flood defence scheme

MORPETH residents have given a cautious thumbs-up to detailed plans for a flood alleviation scheme.

Hundreds of people took the opportunity to visit an exhibition at Morpeth Town Hall on Tuesday to see how the project, which will combine town centre defences with an upstream floodwater storage system, will look.

The project team from the Environment Agency was on hand to answer any questions and listen to concerns, along with representatives of Northumberland County Council and Northumbrian Water.

A series of information boards showed technical drawings, maps and pictures of the proposed defences, and people were encouraged to fill in feedback forms.

Lilian Nelson, of California Gardens, Middle Greens, whose home was hit in the 2008 flood, said: “I’m just so relieved to see this. We now have concrete plans, the funding is totally ring-fenced and this scheme is going to happen — I can’t tell you how reassuring that is, especially with the weather we’re having at the moment.

“The organisers of the exhibition have to be congratulated because they have so many agencies here, all working together, so it must have been a strategic nightmare, but they are making it work and I think it is great.”

Ian Nelson added: “I’m so pleased to see the plans. It’s nice to see something happening. It’s brilliant.”

Chris Gresham, who was flooded in Mitford Road, but has since moved to Kingswell in Stobhill, said: “I think the scheme looks good. Anything that helps the local community and addresses the big issue with insurance is good. I found out that I couldn’t insure the house for flooding so something has to be done about that.”

His father Brian, of Hepscott, added: “The insurance issue is massive. People can get their houses insured against anything else, but they can’t get flood insurance at all and it prevents people from being able to sell their houses.

“We are not bad in Hepscott, apart from the burn goes up and down, but the day when Mitford Road flooded was terrible. I just think the flood scheme is moving a bit slow. I know everybody is trying to do the best they can, but at the same time it really needs pushing along now.”

Some residents of Mitford Road will have flood defence walls built in their gardens so they were keen to find out exactly what the project will entail.

Michael Fair said: “We are coming from a position where we were not happy about it at all, but we are more or less resigned to it now.

“I am reassured by the attitude of the team, but what is critical for us is the position of the wall and we are getting down to the detail now, a couple of feet either way is critical to us.

“I think the answer is there. I come from an engineering background and I think it can be achieved.

“The very first design we saw put a wall smack through the middle of the garden, but the plans now are moving more towards what we want.”

Residents in High Stanners were also concerned about the detailed design of the flood walls to ensure they do not spoil the character of the area.

David Mitford, of Abbey View, said: “Our first feeling is that we hope this is going to happen and I think this is the best that can be achieved with the scheme in hand. We are hoping that we have a stone wall so that it doesn’t take an awful lot away from the area.”

His wife Sheelagh added: “We have mixed feelings about it because there is still a concern about the wall. If we have got to have something we want it to look the best they can make it.

“We live there so it will affect things like selling the house, which is very low down the priorities for us, but if we are living with it day in and day out we want it to look part of the area. We don’t want it to look as if someone has just built a concrete wall. An awful lot of people come to Morpeth and people picnic here so we want to keep it nice for them as well.

“We are also going to lose some of the trees so if they are taking our trees away we want the best looking walls we can get.”

Another High Stanners resident, Adrian King, said: “We are very pleased with the plans, there are just one or two bits of tweaking to do.

“I think the wall needs to be set slightly further back from the road because nearest to Oldgate Bridge some houses are right on the road and the wall is at its highest point at that position. We don’t want to jeopardise the scheme in any way, shape or form, but talking to the experts they don’t think it would be a major engineering issue to set it back a bit further.

“Other than that, it is what we want the walls to be built of. I think brick or stone would be okay. Some people prefer brick, some prefer stone so there will be a compromise. On the top of the wall they are putting coping stones. My preference would be to have a pointed stone to deter people from sitting on it or walking along it.

“At the moment we have to keep our fingers crossed every time it rains. It’s a pity it has dragged on as long as it has, but we know these things take time and we are more than happy that the county council has stumped up 50 per cent of the cost of the scheme.”

Clare Hopkins, of Middle Greens, said it is important that work now progresses as quickly as possible.

“The agencies are trying very hard, but it is a pity it is so slow and a lot of people are still going to remain very anxious with everything that is happening at the moment with the rain,” she said.

“My neighbours have been through it twice now because they were flooded in the 60s as well and they get very anxious. That is going to continue until the scheme is done.”

Morpeth Flood Action Group Chairman Alan Bell was delighted at the turnout.

“The fact that so many people have turned up shows the interest there is in this in the town. It is very positive and things have gone very well. There are some areas that still need sorting out, but we are in close contact with all the relevant bodies to ensure that the scheme is as good as we can possibly get,” he said.

Northumberland County Council Networks and Infrastructure Manager Ruth Bendell said: “Obviously, we are really keen to see the scheme go well because we are putting in roughly half of the funding and we are working closely with both the Environment Agency and Northumbrian Water. It has been a very good turnout and the majority of people have given very positive feedback, which is good because from the county council’s perspective we want to ensure that when the planning application comes in the public are on board and we minimise any objections.

“I think understandably there is an awful lot of tension when there is wet weather so we are very pleased that the scheme is going to go ahead and the sooner, the better.”

A planning application for the project is expected to be submitted next month. People can still see the plans at Morpeth Library on Saturday, from 9.30am to noon, on Monday, from 2pm to 6pm, and on Tuesday, from 9.30am to noon.

Alternatively visit www.environment-agency.gov.uk/morpeth or call 03708 506506.