4,000 voices must be heard

A FANTASTIC response has been given to our campaign for Morpeth flood works, with just short of 4,000 people signing the petition.

A total of 3,915 signatures were collected in just three weeks as the community rallied to call for the promised flood alleviation project to be reinstated in the 2011/2012 Environment Agency budget.

Shops, businesses, churches and community groups all showed their support by taking petition forms for people to fill in, and the Morpeth Flood Action Group set up a stall in Sanderson Arcade to collect signatures on two Saturdays.

Local schoolchildren were not to be left out as they penned letters about their own experiences of Morpeth’s 2008 flood and the need for defences to be installed without delay.

The Herald launched the campaign last month following news that the £17million Morpeth flood alleviation scheme was not included in the Regional Flood Defence Committee’s budget following a 17 per cent cut in the Environment Agency’s flood management allocation.

However, in the aftermath of the September 2008 flood, politicians and officials said a flood defence project for Morpeth was a priority and funding would be available, with construction scheduled to start this year.

Morpeth Herald Editor Paul Larkin said: “We asked for those promises to be kept and the phenomenal response to our campaign shows that the community agreed. The fantastic support and moving letters from schoolchildren proves how important it is to everyone. We now demand action.”

The petition and children’s letters were handed over to Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery on Friday for him to take to London, with copies for Environment Agency Chairman Lord Smith, Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who previously pledged support for the Morpeth scheme during a visit to see the flood damage, and Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Caroline Spelman.

Mr Lavery has already met up with Lord Smith to present him with his copies and the MP said they were welcomed.

“Lord Smith was very pleased to receive the petition. He understands the situation in Morpeth and he understands the concerns of local people and businesses that have suffered greatly because of the flood,” said Mr Lavery.

“He understands the need for flood defences and says his view hasn’t changed, it is essential that the work is done. He is working hard to ensure that the flood defence scheme will happen.

“Because of the finances not being available, Lord Smith is not sure when that will happen, or whether it will be done on a stage-by-stage basis, but he understands the problems that everyone is facing and the anxieties that people have.”

He added: “The message is loud and clear, we need to continue to campaign. We need to continue to ensure that the message is loud and clear that this scheme needs to take place.

“It is essential for everyone in Morpeth and we need to continue to keep it at the very top of the political agenda and the agenda of the Environment Agency.”

Morpeth Flood Action Group Chairman Alan Bell was pleased with the response.

“We had a very good response to the petition and our letter writing campaign and we hope it has the desired effect,” he said.

“We were very pleased to see the schoolchildren’s letters, it is generating a lot of interest in the town. It is encouraging that children who weren’t flooded know that it affected the whole town. With Morpeth being the way it is, everybody knows somebody who was affected and it is good that the community recognises this.”

l More children’s letters, P5