Local ideas are key for flood plans

Flooding in Ponteland Park in December 2015. Picture by Keith Robertson.
Flooding in Ponteland Park in December 2015. Picture by Keith Robertson.

Northumberland leads the way with an innovative new flood prevention scheme at Kielder Reservoir.

Local knowledge and local solutions must remain central to how we deal with and plan for flooding. Changes to Kielder Reservoir, are a great example of this.

Homes returned to, roads and flood defences repaired, and drainage systems cleared — Northumberland has picked itself up after the devastation of floods 12 months ago. As we move forward and plan for the future, local solutions remain integral to preventing the events we experienced from happening again.

Winter 2015/16 saw unprecedented levels of rain across the north of England. The wettest December for a century, for some the wettest in history, saw months worth of rain teem down in a matter of days, or as on December 5, 2015, in just one day. January saw no let-up.

Across Northumberland 214 homes and 94 businesses were flooded, and 30 bridges and 98 roads were damaged.

The challenge since then has been extraordinary and progress hard won, but gradually the damage has been repaired and the future planned for. To help with infrastructure repairs, £14.6million in Government funding was earmarked for our county, helping to complete 31 schemes to date.

This Government has a strong record of flood defence spending. Over the last Parliament we spent £1.7billion in capital spending, a real-terms increase on the £1.5billion spent between 2005 and 2010. The current six-year programme is £2.3billion, which again represents a real-terms increase. It is the first time a Government has laid out a six-year programme so that we do not have a multitude of disjointed pieces of flood spending, but commit to a long-term, co-ordinated programme.

Flooded residents and businesses have claimed an estimated £638,000 in financial support. Bridges at Ovingham and Whitfield have been completed, road repairs and bank stabilisation work on the A695 at Widehaugh have taken place, and reconstruction of a section of road along the river at Bywell has been finished. These are but a few of the projects that have taken place, and work continues.

The introduction of a £1.15million surface water drainage system in Corbridge got under way last month, 7,500 gullies have been cleaned, and 200 tonnes of silt removed from the west of the county alone, all targeting improved drainage.

There is much we can learn about how we as a county, and a country, can prepare for such an emergency. There are a multitude of ways in which we need to plan for the future. There are some larger issues and some highly local responses that matter.

A crucial, local response, with far wider implications, has been the new operating plan for Kielder Reservoir, undertaken by Northumbrian Water. The reservoir holds 200 billion litres of water. The new plan will allow the reservoir to run at lower levels during winter, between 76 per cent and 86 per cent full, increasing capacity for flood storage. In the event of extreme rainfall it will mean several more million tonnes of water stored upstream in the reservoir, rather than surging through the catchment area.

I was happy to be able to announce the news at a flood meeting for the Tynedale area in November. It is another weapon in our flood defence arsenal, with the potential to relieve significantly the flash-flood burden on the North Tyne.

Total removal of the risk of flooding is unlikely. We cannot engineer nature out of all its potential eventualities.

However, changes like the Kielder Reservoir Operating Plan demonstrate what we can achieve when we put local knowledge and expertise into practice. That is how we must learn and move forward.