Flood wardens quit over ‘critical’ report

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FOUR flood wardens have resigned as a report into the latest Morpeth deluge is slammed for glossing over council failings.

Northumberland County Council has prepared a draft debrief about the disaster of September 25 as it draws up a new Flood Action Plan.

But town councillors say the report fails to detail the county authority’s failings during the emergency.

And all of the flood wardens for High Stanners have resigned over critical comments about their role on the day.

Coun David Parker said: “What Northumberland County Council has not done at any point is to acknowledge any failings on its own part on September 25, nor has it acknowledged in any appropriate way the actions of flood wardens and others who certainly saved the day. This particular report glosses over that.

“It does say that in some areas the flood wardens were not clear about their duties. I’m pretty sure from the information we have that the flood wardens in High Stanners certainly were aware of their responsibilities and they exceeded them on the day and because of that they saved the situation.

“The report talks about 5.30am onwards – that is far too late.

“It says the emergency plan was activated early in the morning, but it doesn’t say what it means by early in the morning and that is key to the situation.

“I have previously asked the county council for an apology for the flood wardens for what happened. That has not been forthcoming and I ask that again.”

The criticism came at a meeting of Morpeth Town Council’s Planning and Transport Committee and follows complaints from Morpeth residents in the aftermath of the flood that county council officials arrived too late to help.

There was also concern that voluntary flood wardens were left to ensure the evacuation of vulnerable residents, a job that is outside their remit as it is considered dangerous.

The draft report into the incident has not been made public or available to the Herald.

Coun Parker said: “The Flood Action Group seems to be reasonably happy about changes that have been made to the Action Plan in addressing some of the problems, but we have to take on board that things did not go as well that day as they should have done. The county council does in fairness admit that in a number of points, but it is not quite satisfactory.

“It glosses over certain issues in a way which is not as transparent as what is needed.

“The future is the priority now, but if we don’t acknowledge the failings of the past that doesn’t do anything to encourage communities that the council is ready and able and willing to be able to deal with future emergencies.”

Coun Ken Brown was equally concerned about the report, particularly as it suggested that opening Morpeth Town Hall as a refuge centre could have caused confusion. Coun Brown said the town council took that decision due to a lack of action elsewhere.

Coun Les Cassie said: “I think the report for whatever reason glosses over the issues of High Stanners. It doesn’t specifically address what the county council failed to do on the morning of the flood.

“The flood wardens did the job beyond the call of duty to help the people there. I have been informed that all four flood wardens in High Stanners have resigned as a consequence of this report. I hope they will be encouraged to re-engage as flood wardens because they are valuable to the community, but I do understand that they feel very angry with the county council’s response, with some justification.”

Morpeth Flood Action Group Chairman Alan Bell confirmed that flood wardens had resigned as a result of the report, but he says the group is continuing to work with the county council.

He said: “We know of the report and have discussed it at action group meetings. We are going to be providing further information regarding what happened to Northumberland County Council and we have a meeting arranged with a senior officer.

“We feel there is a bit of misdirected criticism in the report, but we are hoping to address this.

“The important thing is the Action Plan and the county council is seeming to address some of the issues.

“We are working with it to make sure mistakes don’t happen again and things are looking positive.”

A county council spokeswoman said: “The document, which is a draft review report, was circulated to all groups with an interest in learning points from the September 2012 flooding incident. It was produced to be shared with all those involved and, as a draft report, the intention is to adapt it to take into account feedback from groups in Morpeth and other areas of the county.

“Senior officers at the county council have met with councillors, members of Morpeth Flood Action Group and the town council, and further meetings are already scheduled for Friday, March 8, when we will be happy to discuss any questions and feedback with regard to any aspect of the report.

“During the meeting there will also be updates and discussions about the community agreements, which are being developed in conjunction with the community to co-ordinate flooding response.”

Around 90 households were evacuated on the morning of September 25, when the River Wansbeck burst its banks, just four years after more than 1,000 Morpeth properties were inundated in 2008.

Homes in High Stanners were flooded from the river, while residents in Dawson Place and Copper Chare were hit from the Cotting Burn.