WITH so many development proposals coming forward for Morpeth at present it will come as no surprise to learn that the town has been earmarked as a major growth point in Northumberland.
But with plans for hundreds of new homes in the pipeline, there are concerns about the ability of existing infrastructure to accommodate such extensive development.
Roads, sewers, drainage, schools and health services will all have to be considered, but in one aspect at least work is already under way to prepare for the expected expansion.
Northumbrian Water is now six months into a £9million project to overhaul the Morpeth Sewage Treatment Works.
Not since the present tanks were installed in the late 1960s has such a major improvement scheme taken place at the facility, but with the plant already at capacity for the area’s existing homes, and tanks in desperate need of repair, the upgrade is essential.
Northumbrian Water Project Manager Dean Thompson said: “The existing primary tanks are getting on for 30 or 40 years old now – the first one was put in in 1969. They are in such a poor state of repair, with cracks in the concrete, they are no longer fit for purpose.
“We know there will be a lot of development in the next few years so we have been trying to identify with the county council the number of houses that will likely be going ahead in the next ten years. Morpeth has growth point status and the Northern Bypass has got funding now so that will open up the north of the town. All of the new houses’ sewage will need somewhere to go.
“We are aware of the implications for the treatment works so we are developing the capacity. We are trying to future proof here. This is a £9million project. We awarded the construction contract to BAM Nuttall in November last year, we started on site in April this year and we are due to complete in September 2014.”
At present, the works serve more than 7,000 homes, with more than three million litres of wastewater passing through every day.
As it runs into the site, off Green Lane, the waste passes through screens, designed to remove any items other than sewage. However, the ageing equipment can become clogged when bulky waste flows through. Items can also sometimes get past the screens, causing problems further through the system. Needless to say, the resulting maintenance work is no popular task.
Waste such as this is shredded and put into a skip for landfill. The Morpeth site fills a skip about every four months and across the region Northumbrian Water spends almost £400,000 a year disposing of such rubbish — something that could be avoided if people only put paper down their toilet. Wipes, nappies, cotton buds, pads, applicators, dental floss, contact lenses, plasters, bandages and other bathroom waste should all be placed in a bin instead.
As Morpeth works on an old combined sewer system, with surface water joining the waste, once through the screens, a series of storm tanks are in place to control the flow through the rest of the treatment works during heavy rain.
The wastewater is then passed through primary settlement tanks. In 2008 Northumbrian Water started adding ferric sulphate to the process at this stage to help with the removal of excessive phosphorous from the wastewater.
From there, it goes to secondary filter tanks and then finally to a humus tank, before the treated water is released into the River Wansbeck. The whole process, which runs on hydraulics, would normally take about five to six hours. The upgrade of the plant, which has substantially extended the site, will include new inlet works and screens, two replacement primary tanks, three larger filters to replace the existing four, and the addition of an extra humus tank to increase capacity.
Redundant equipment will be demolished after it is replaced.
Northumbrian Water Project Acceptance Engineer David Phillips said: “The new inlet works should solve about 90 per cent of our problems because they will stop grit going into the tanks and they will prevent waste bypassing the screens. They will be much more robust.
“The tanks really needed to be replaced because the concrete is cracking. The ground is subsiding and we think there used to be a tip here because we keep finding old bottles, but there are no records of that.”
The project has been a lengthy process, with years of negotiations to buy land for the expansion and secure access, and the need to move power lines before any construction work could begin.
Detailed discussions have also taken place with the Environment Agency about measures to reduce flood risk, such as the creation of a drainage channel.
And with about 50 people a day working on the construction site, space is tight so as much work as possible has been done to prepare materials off-site. Gradually the new facilities are taking shape.
Mr Thompson said: “Northumbrian Water is a big organisation with a lot of facilities, but there are none quite as bad as Morpeth at the moment. It is a lot more about replacement, rather than just an upgrade here. There are very few greenfield sites where people are building extensions to sewage treatment works, which shows the need there is in Morpeth, although Northumbrian Water is re-investing in a lot of its assets.
“We want to get this work finished as quickly as we can to reduce the impact on local residents. The sooner we can get off site the better for everyone, but it will be a while yet. I have to say so far the residents have been really good with us and we have been in consultation with them.
“This is a lengthy process of investment in the site to make it better, but when we have finished this upgrade we hopefully won’t have to come back for another 10 to 15 years.”