WORK will begin on site this month to clear the way for the Morpeth flood alleviation scheme.
And the second part of the multimillion-pound project – an upstream floodwater storage dam – is set to get the green light from planners tonight.
The news will come as much relief to residents who in some cases have been flooded out of their homes three times in the last four years.
All funding is in place for the scheme, which will be led by the Environment Agency, and plans for the town-centre defences, including flood walls and embankments, were approved in December.
Now contractor Birse is moving into the town and next week work will start to clear trees and vegetation to make way for the walls and embankments.
At High Stanners, a number of trees will be removed, including the Collingwood Oaks that were planted along the riverbank in 2005 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar in which Oldgate resident Admiral Lord Collingwood led the British fleet to victory.
The oaks will be carefully taken out and relocated to local schools.
Environment Agency Project Manager Anthony Myatt said: “As part of the preparatory works at High Stanners, we will be removing 10 Collingwood Oaks and some other trees to allow for the main flood wall and embankment to be developed.
“We’ve been in close contact with the community about the flood defence work and we know that these trees do have a local importance so they are going to be re-planted in a number of local schools so they will remain a part of the town’s heritage.
“In planning the development we have tried to ensure that, despite its size and complexity, it has as little impact as possible on the existing character of the local environment.”
Other work will include additional surveys in some parts of the town, such as Low Stanners and Middle Greens allotments, to further inform the design of the flood defences.
Birse will also create a compound and storage area at Morpeth Rugby Club ahead of work starting next month to construct a new flood wall at Mitford Road.
The High Stanners defences are due to be started at the end of April.
Officials from Birse and the Environment Agency met the Morpeth Flood Action Group (MFAG) earlier this week to update members on the schedule.
Agency Flood Risk Officer Dave Clark said: “We had a useful meeting with the flood action group this week. It’s great to have its ongoing support as we move forward into the first phases of construction.
“This is an exciting time in the project for them and for us.”
MFAG Chairman Alan Bell said: “We are glad to see that the Environment Agency has put out a schedule of works so people are aware of where and when work is starting. The community will be pleased to see this.”
Plans for the upstream flood storage area at Mitford will go before Northumberland County Council’s North Area Planning Committee in Alnwick tonight.
The project will involve building an earth embankment ‘dam’ across the River Wansbeck to the south east of Lightwater Lodge on the Mitford Estate, which will help to control the flow of the river.
There will also be seven culverts with gates, a control building, plant room kiosk and a new access road.
Lightwater Cottage is at risk of flooding so it will be demolished and a new property will be built on higher land, out of the flood risk area.
Two Molesden residents have commented that while they support the flood alleviation project, careful attention needs to be paid to construction traffic management.
They say there are already driving hazards along the proposed route and that tarred passing places should be provided, a maximum speed limit of 30mph should be set and the road should be regularly cleaned and kept in good repair.
Calls have also been made for regular dredging of the river and the removal of debris.
Meldon Parish Council is supportive despite the influx of works traffic.
Vice Chairman George Sanger said: “This part of the scheme will involve over 22,000 lorry movements through the parish, but it was unanimously supported by the members as it will directly benefit the citizens and businesses of Morpeth, whose lives were blighted during recent floods.”
Council planners are recommending approval of the application.
Mr Bell said: “This is the next stage of getting full approval for the flood-alleviation scheme.
“Obviously, we are looking forward to it being approved and work starting as soon as possible.”
The entire £21million flood scheme is expected to be completed by autumn 2014, dependent upon weather conditions.
While supporting the project, MFAG is also calling for further protection for Morpeth homes.
The bulk of the flood alleviation scheme is designed to protect properties from the River Wansbeck, but Mr Bell says it is also important to consider the Cotting Burn, which has flooded homes in Butchers Lonnen and Dawson Place in recent years.
And the flood group has been collecting signatures door-to-door calling for action.
Mr Bell said: “We have got well over 150 signatures about this now. We have to get the message out that it is not just the Wansbeck that is a problem, it is the Cotting Burn as well.
“The petition states that people fully support the Morpeth Flood Action Group in asking that Northumberland County Council and the Environment Agency provide a scheme that reduces the flooding from the Cotting Burn and tackles any additional run-off from the Northern Bypass and the development of homes at Northgate.
“We have had people going round knocking on doors about this all along the Cotting Burn and in Low Stanners as well, which is also affected.”
The Environment Agency has previously said that in addition to its work around the river there will be some work to be carried out on the Cotting Burn, Church Burn and Postern Burn.