Flood memories one year on

The water level rising outside the front hedge of Alison Oliver's house.
The water level rising outside the front hedge of Alison Oliver's house.

A MORPETH family received text messages telling them to be prepared for possible flooding on a few occasions last year.

Most of them turned out to be precautionary as the river did not rise to a high enough level, but Tuesday, September 25, 2012, was different for Alison Oliver and dozens of others in the town.

Persistent heavy rain caused flooding to low-lying properties in High Stanners nearest to the river. Such was the intensity of the rainfall that the Cotting Burn, a small stream running through the town, also overtopped its banks and flooded properties at Dawson Place, Butchers Lonnen and parts of Newgate Street and Copper Chare, in part owing to a partial blockage of a culvert.

Ms Oliver lives in Abbey Terrace, High Stanners, with her partner Austin Campbell and their children Sam, 13, and Aidan, 11.

They received a flood alert from the Environment Agency on the Monday evening and then a flood warning message in the middle of the night.

She said: “We had received the flood alert before, but thankfully the river level went down.

“However, on this occasion the combination of the flood warning and persistent heavy rain which showed no sign of stopping meant it was clear that this was on a different scale.

“We got up and moved items upstairs and at about 7am, we noticed water coming through the garage door and from then it started to come into the house quite rapidly.

“Our initial plan was to sit it out upstairs, but when the fire brigade came they insisted that we needed to leave.

“We got into a rescue boat and were taken away. None of us were scared, but things took on a surreal quality.

“We went to my father-in-law’s house in another part of Morpeth and then up to King Edward VI School, which was being used as a rest centre, where we met up with some of our neighbours.

“In the afternoon we were able to return home and it wasn’t a pleasant sight. There was a thick brown sludge on the floor and carpets, the smell was awful and many units and appliances were ruined.

“We didn’t appreciate how much damage had been done at the time. It hit home when the loss adjustor came round to make an assessment. It then took longer to sort out than we initially thought as workers had to remove the render off the walls because the rooms were not drying properly.”

The family took their pet dog Sonny with them to a house in the town that they rented, but decided that their cats Polo and Fluffy would be better off being based upstairs in their High Stanners home and this meant they went there almost every day.

They were allowed to live there again in June and the last bits of repair work are currently being carried out.

Morpeth’s flood alleviation scheme – a joint project between the Environment Agency and Northumberland County Council – started earlier this year.

It will include an upstream floodwater storage dam on the Mitford Estate, upgrades to existing defences and new flood walls and embankments in a few different areas, including High Stanners.

Issues of surface water are also being looked at, including a pump system, and Ms Oliver says residents’ concerns will remain until it has been installed.

“Abbey Terrace is a really lovely place to live and there is a great sense of community among everyone living in High Stanners,” she said.

“We welcome the flood defence scheme, but funding for a new pump in the area is essential otherwise the wall would act as a dam and bounce surface water back to our homes.

“We think it’s only fair that we get the same level of protection as other areas.”

An Environment Agency spokesman said: “The surface water study that we have undertaken has identified the need for a pumping station to be installed at High Stanners to remove ponding when the surface water system is overwhelmed. The county council is going to prepare a business case to seek funding for this and other surface water issues in Morpeth.”