Flood fight is on

A CALL to action has gone out to councillors to fight for Morpeth’s flood scheme.

Members of Morpeth Town Council have been told it is up to them to take a lead in the battle and they must be prepared to do all they can to push for the alleviation project as a matter of urgency.

Coun David Parker said: “It is absolutely crucial that all 15 of us on the council actually do something. It is not just a case of writing letters ourselves, but it is important that we encourage the public to do so.

“It is important that we show our leadership as individuals and collectively. People are looking to us to do that. The eyes of Morpeth are upon us and we need to get that across to all 15 of our colleagues.”

The call came at a meeting of the council’s Finance and General Purposes Committee last week as members were updated about news that the Morpeth flood alleviation project is set to be deferred as it is not included in the Environment Agency’s budget for the coming year.

As well as the emotional impact of any delay on flood victims, it could have major implications for insurance cover in the town and future investment, while due to proposed changes to the funding of flood works next year, the community could be faced with a bill running into millions of pounds to secure a scheme in the future.

The Herald has launched a petition calling for the project to be re-instated in the 2011/2012 budget as originally promised, while the Morpeth Flood Action Group is running a letter-writing campaign to show the Environment Agency Board the impact of the 2008 flood on people’s lives and their fears for the future if there is any delay to defence works.

Town councillors have agreed to back the campaign, but with the Agency Board due to meet again next month there is no time to waste.

Coun Nic Best said: “For the Board to reverse the decision, it has to be done sometime next month so it is a very intensive campaign.

“People are saying ‘can’t the town council drop all of its other business and just concentrate on this for the next few weeks’. That is not entirely possible, but it shows how urgent it is. It is an intensive campaign — think of it as an election.”

Councillors have agreed to write individual letters about the concerns, as well as to send a collective one from Morpeth Mayor Ken Brown.

Coun Les Cassie said: “There is a very high level of energy and enthusiasm for doing this. People don’t just want to accept that we are being rolled over and at least they want an opportunity to push back.”

The council also decided to write letters to Government Ministers and the Prime Minister calling for more funds for flood projects nationally. And Coun Andrew Tebbutt warned that without that support, the Government’s localism plans would be at risk.

“The overriding message that has come out is that we need to pull together,” he said.

“At this stage we have a very simple strategy, telling people ‘you must allocate us the money. You have already decided that this is a high risk area and it needs a flood alleviation scheme, all you have done is run out of money and that is not our problem. You have to find the money’.”

He added: “All this about the Big Society and the Localism Bill is about enabling communities to find different ways of operating.

“They are talking about regeneration and the one thing that is absolutely vital to that regeneration is the flood alleviation scheme in order to protect it. What they have done is totally contrary to their philosophy.”

Councillors are also expected to be on hand at the Morpeth Flood Action Group letter and petition stall in Sanderson Arcade on Saturday to give their support.