COMMUNITY efforts to deliver the Morpeth flood alleviation scheme are among the best in the country according to a Government Minister.
Environment Minister Richard Benyon was among a group of visitors to the town on Monday to view progress on the £21million project, and he praised the partnership work that has led to it being delivered.
“This is going ahead because a lot of people have worked hard together to make it happen – the Morpeth Flood Action Group, the town council, Northumberland County Council and representatives of all parties,” he said.
“This is one of the most impressive community schemes that I have seen anywhere in the country.
“The last time I came here there was a stench of flooded homes, a restaurant was ripping out carpets and people were throwing out their furniture.
“It was so depressing, so to come here today and to hear and see that construction is taking place on the scheme is good for everybody.”
Mr Benyon said he understood residents’ frustrations that the defences are still not in place almost five years after the devastating flood of September 2008, but he said work would not have gone ahead at all without the Government’s partnership funding scheme.
“Under the old scheme there were many communities like Morpeth that were led up the garden path to believe that their schemes were going ahead and then other schemes that offered better value for money would come in above them and push them out,” he said.
“Under the partnership funding scheme that no longer happens.”
“There are many communities that have been waiting a lot longer than five years for their flood schemes.
“It may be frustrating for people in Morpeth, but ever since the partnership funding scheme came in I thought something could be done here and it is very rewarding to see it happening.”
The visitors, including Environment Agency Chairman Lord Smith, met with local campaigners, project workers and councillors to discuss the scheme before taking a walk in High Stanners to see the construction work that began in April.
Lord Smith said: “It is wonderful to see it at last getting under way. I came to Morpeth very shortly after I started as Chairman of the Environment Agency back in 2008, shortly after the devastating floods, and everyone was saying to me ‘you have got to get something underway as soon as possible’. It seems like it has taken a very long time to get here, but it is so good to see it all happening.
“I can absolutely understand the frustration that people have felt. The key to unlocking the funding came through our ability to put together the funding from the Environment Agency and Northumberland County Council. Since then we have all been working really fast to get the scheme designed and approved.
“The combination of the upstream storage and the defences in the town will provide protection to a one-in-130-chance event. It won’t protect against a biblical flood, but it would have protected against the flooding in September 2008 and that is the really important benchmark.”
The scheme is due to be completed in autumn 2014.