NEWS that Morpeth’s flood scheme has been delayed has been described as ‘an absolute disaster’ by councillors.
But community representatives have vowed that the fight is not over and they will do all they can to reverse the decision.
County and town councillor Ian Lindley, who formerly held the portfolio for emergency planning at Northumberland County Council, said: “It is an absolute disaster.
“This scheme was being planned long before the flood and after the flood I went to the Environment Agency to ask what was happening and was promised faithfully from that day to this that it would definitely be done.
“The Morpeth scheme did score well and exceeded the bar that was in place, but they have upped the required score by a huge amount, which means there is no way it can get funding. It is really annoying.
“The good news is that there is a determination to sort it out and we will deliver something, but it will have to be done in a different format because the whole system has changed at national level.
“I have asked the Environment Agency to draw up some options and we will try to get people around a table to sort out what we can deliver.”
Fellow members of both Northumberland County Council and Morpeth Town Council have echoed his disappointment.
Morpeth Mayor Ken Brown said: “It would be a devastating blow if the scheme doesn’t go ahead.
“In light of other cuts and job losses facing the town really we are depending on a flood alleviation scheme to maintain the business and residential properties and keep Morpeth the affluent and vibrant place it is.
“The town council will be getting together with the Morpeth Flood Action Group and the county council to see what can be done.”
County councillor David Moore added: “I’m extremely disappointed to say the least.
“There has been a lot of hard work gone in by the Morpeth Flood Action Group and the Environment Agency and it just seems to have gone to waste.
“What worries me is we have to wait to find out whatever the new rules and regulations are before we can understand how we can re-submit this plan.
“In theory work could have started on the scheme this year, which would have been a weight off residents’ minds, but now it is going to be next year before we even know what is going on.”
Fellow county member David Towns said: “It’s nonsense. The Environment Agency first envisaged the scheme for 2015, then it brought it forward after the flood to 2013 and now it is putting it back again.
“Really I think people who have been affected by flooding will be very annoyed.
“There was great concern in Mitford about flooding when we had the recent snow because it brought down trees into the rivers Font and Wansbeck and when the snow started to melt the water started to rise very quickly.
“It could happen again.
“Morpeth is in fear of another flood.”
And town councillor Nic Best accused the Environment Agency of moving the goalposts.
He said: “Basically, because of the cuts it has to make it has moved the goalposts.
“From a political point of view, I think it is extremely short sighted of the Government to be making this £4million saving given the risk of the cost of flood recovery.
“We had assurances from so many people, both from the Environment Agency and politicians, about the scheme in the two and a half years since the flood and then when it comes down to it they move the goalposts and change the funding criteria.
“It is very disappointing and for all those people affected by flooding, very frightening.”
Others spoke of their determination to keep the project alive.
County councillor Peter Jackson, who was Leader of Castle Morpeth Council at the time of the 2008 flood, said: “I am deeply disappointed that the scheme is going to be delayed.
“At Castle Morpeth Council when the scheme was drawn up we used every possible means to get it on the Environment Agency list. We used our local MPs, made representations to the Minister of State and had face to face contact with Ministers.
“What Northumberland County Council should be doing now is resurrecting that action plan to make sure the scheme is considered very seriously at a national level and not just put on the back burner.
“There is hardly anything worse than flooding when you see the disruption and distress caused to families and that is why we have to do everything possible to make sure this scheme does go ahead at some stage soon.”
County and town councillor Andrew Tebbutt is also keen to explore all avenues, including the possibility of raising funding in the community.
“We have heard that perhaps there are some slight opportunities for things to happen,” he said.
“It seems that if the community demonstrated it can get a level of resources to be able to help fund a flood alleviation scheme then it will help to attract money.
“I find that in one sense bizarre, but Morpeth has demonstrated in the past its ability to show how it can rise to the challenge.
“We have all got to work together locally to try to address the situation. Certainly the county council will work with the Morpeth Flood Action Group, Morpeth Town Council and the Chamber of Trade, and anybody else, to see if we can find a way of protecting Morpeth.
“Obviously every one of us is desperately hoping we don’t have what we had in September 2008 again.”
He added that the county council administration is planning to put forward a motion expressing deep disappointment at the flood scheme delay and calling for partnership work to secure works as soon as possible.