FURIOUS flood victims have hit out at a lack of defences after being forced from their homes for the second time in four years.
Their worst nightmare came true for around 90 households early on Tuesday when an evacuation was called due to rising water levels.
It is still unclear how many homes and businesses were flooded in the town, but Abbey View, Challoner’s Gardens, Dawson Place and Copper Chare all suffered damage.
Had the proposed Morpeth flood alleviation scheme been in place, it is likely that some would have escaped. There is growing anger that residents have seen little done to protect them since the devastating flood of 2008.
B&B owner Paul Gillie, of Newminster Cottage in High Stanners, said: “The simple fact is that this shouldn’t have happened. The blame lies firmly and squarely with the Environment Agency as far as I’m concerned.
“All credit to the county council because it has come up with half the money for the flood scheme, but it will be five years from 2008 before it is completed and the Environment Agency has just been talking and talking to buy itself time. It has been caught out now, we have been caught out now and we are the ones who are suffering.”
Edward Pears and his wife June left their home in Challoner’s Gardens on Tuesday, unsure whether the flood would strike again. They were delighted to find that they escaped, but Mr Pears said there is still a constant worry.
“Our hearts lifted when we came through the door because it was still dry and we are very happy about that, but the authorities need a kick,” he said.
“Before, we heard there was a delay with the defences because of the finances. Now they say the finances are there, it is just the planning. In the meantime, we have got to live like this for another two years because the defences aren’t going to be finished until 2014. Sometimes you just can’t sleep because you are just listening to the rain and thinking ‘will it happen or won’t it?’.”
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery also spoke of his fury that the £21million scheme is still not off the ground, four years after the deluge of 2008.
“I feel angry about it, like the residents,” he said. “There isn’t any doubt that this flood defence scheme should have been in place by now and be fully funded. The Government cut the budget for flood defences, which made it virtually impossible for the new scheme to be put in place.
“Thankfully, that has now been overcome, the money is available and the Environment Agency is happy with the planning arrangements, but it is really about time people started pushing this work forward.
“We can’t afford for this to happen again. We should never have had to experience this sort of situation in Morpeth again. People have got to stop dithering and get on with the flood scheme to protect the residents and the properties in this area.”
Flood relief volunteer Rhona Dunn added: “People are very despondent and they are asking why we still don’t have a flood scheme. I would like to think the Government will do something about it now. Let’s not have to wait until 2014.
“We have got the money so why not spend it and save these people from worrying?
“People are upset and angry that nothing has been done and I think that is really sad. These people have enough to worry about without thinking about what is going to happen next week, or the week after, or any time until the flood defences are in.”
Despite assurances in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 flood that an alleviation scheme would be progressed as a matter of urgency, Morpeth did not score highly enough for Government funding for flood defences in the 2011/12 budget.
The Herald launched a petition demanding an immediate review of the decision, but despite 3,915 signatures being collected and presented to Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Environment Agency Chairman Lord Smith and then Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman, nothing was done.
Cash was finally allocated from central funds to the tune of £9.3m after Northumberland County Council committed up to £12m for the works, and a planning application was submitted earlier this month.
The scheme will be a combination of an upstream floodwater storage system and new or improved town centre defences, but it is not expected to be completed until autumn 2014.
An Environment Agency spokesman said: “Since 2008 we have been working closely with Northumberland County Council to get a scheme developed and approved for Morpeth. We appreciate it has taken some time to get the best scheme approved, but subject to planning approval, and weather conditions, construction on the scheme is due to begin in early 2013.
“Morpeth has a long history of flooding and some parts of the town benefit from existing defences, built in the 1960s.
“After the 2008 floods, we did emergency repair work to improve defences costing £3m, including work at the Cotting Burn. We’ve spent local levy money to put in an emergency evacuation track at High Stanners in Morpeth. We’ve also built local defences downstream of Morpeth at East Mill.
“The scheme for Morpeth did not qualify for Flood Defence Grant in Aid (FDGiA) funding for 2011/12 as it did not score highly enough to get full funding. There is now funding in place for a scheme under the Government’s new Partnership Funding model introduced in 2011, and we have applied for planning permission this month.
“Northumberland County Council has approved funding of between £7m and £12m depending on the final cost of the scheme. £9.3m funding has also come from central government. This is a great example of how partnership funding can work to deliver flood defence schemes for communities.
“Over the past six months we have been designing the scheme in detail, working with the Morpeth Flood Action Group in order to apply for planning permission. We know it is important to people in and around Morpeth and we’ve worked hard to incorporate their suggestions.”