THE £21million Morpeth flood alleviation scheme has finally been given full planning approval – and this week work began in earnest.
Plans for new town-centre defences, such as flood walls and embankments, were passed by county planners in December, but there was still an outstanding application for one of the key parts of the project – an upstream floodwater storage area near Mitford.
Last Thursday, Northumberland County Council’s North Area Planning Committee unanimously approved the scheme and now a detailed work schedule is being drawn up.
Environment Agency Area Manager Ian Hodge said: “Having the final part of the planning permission in place is excellent news for the project.
“A development of this size and complexity needs careful consideration in the planning stages because it’s essential that we get the detail right, but now that we have the plans approved, we can begin work.
“Developing the scheme has been a significant task and we are thankful to local residents and the county council for their support in helping to fine-tune the plans.”
The project, which is due to be completed by autumn 2014, has been developed by the agency, with £10.2million awarded from the Government and £10.9million allocated by Northumberland County Council.
The town-centre defences are expected to take around 12 months to complete and a site compound and storage area has already been created next to Telford Bridge.
Yesterday, work began to remove nine Collingwood Oaks from High Stanners to clear the way for the flood defences.
The trees were planted by local schools and dignitaries in 2005 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar and recognise the contribution of Oldgate resident Admiral Lord Collingwood, who led the British fleet to victory after the death of Nelson.
The oaks have now been moved to the schools involved, or where they can not be accommodated space has been made in Carlisle Park.
A site compound will be set up at Morpeth Rugby Club in the coming weeks, work on Mitford Road defences will start next month and the High Stanners element will begin in April.
There will also be improvements to the Cotting Burn, Church Burn and Postern Burn.
Once finished, the scheme is designed to offer better flood protection to more than 1,000 homes and businesses.
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Morpeth Flood Action Group Chairman Alan Bell said: “It has taken four years, but now thankfully the scheme is going ahead.
“Everyone will be relieved, but we have still got 18 months before the full scheme is in place so we still have to be aware of the risk.”
County council Deputy Leader Roger Styring said: “I am pleased we have now reached another milestone in this vital scheme in partnership with the Environment Agency, which will make such a difference to the lives of the residents and businesses in Morpeth.”
At last week’s planning meeting in Alnwick councillors gave a warm welcome to the scheme.
Members unanimously approved the application that will see an earth dam constructed across the River Wansbeck associated with gated culverts, allowing the flow of the river to be controlled.
The grassed dam on the Mitford Estate will be 4m wide and up to 7m above the nearby ground level. It is intended to reduce the risk of the Wansbeck flooding at Morpeth to one in 137 per year.
Controlled flooding will be allowed for up to 5.6 miles, as far upstream as Hartburn, to relieve pressure on Morpeth.
Lightwater Cottage, near the dam, will be demolished and rebuilt on higher ground to make it safe from rising water.
In response to suggestions from people living in the Molesden area, passing places will be built on the single-track road leading to the site. After construction ends, county Highways will discuss with parish councillors which passing places should be retained.
Villagers are also urging that the river is kept clear of obstructions, such as fallen trees, and that it is dredged.
Wildlife will be protected in the dam design and details of a fish pass, allowing safe passage to salmon and trout, must be approved by the county council before the dam is built.
Moving approval of the scheme, Coun David Moore said: “I would like to thank the Environment Agency for all the consultation it has done with the people of Morpeth. The amount of meetings and get-togethers has been really fantastic.”
Coun Robert Arckless said the agency’s work on the site visit for councillors had been extremely helpful and was much appreciated.