A celebration of community perseverance

Morpeth Mayor Nic Best seen at Morpeth Peace Garden.'REF 1108143631
Morpeth Mayor Nic Best seen at Morpeth Peace Garden.'REF 1108143631

It’s been a long wait that people in Morpeth have anxiously and patiently endured for nearly seven years, but one that will be over in just a few days when the flood alleviation scheme is officially declared open.

Ever since the clouds drenched Morpeth in a few short hours in September 2008, residents and businesses have longed for the day when they could feel that the threat of flooding had been eased.

The relief will be plain to see on the faces of people who have fought so hard for so long to see the day happen.

On Monday they are being invited to a ‘celebration’ in High Stanners to mark the completion of Morpeth’s £27million flood alleviation scheme.

I am not sure if ‘celebration’ is the right word to describe the event, during which people will be offered a bus ride to the Mitford Estate to see the upstream dam. What I am sure about is that the relief will be plain to see on the faces of people who have fought so hard for so long to see the day happen.

Many will no doubt think back to that fateful day when more than 400 had to be rescued or evacuated from their homes and businesses, around 1,000 of which were swamped. Many spent months out of their homes or premises, and the cost was immense.

It was the following year when I first became the Member of Parliament for Wansbeck, and Morpeth’s flood problems have almost constantly been among my top work priorities. Action to prevent a recurrence of the flood was in doubt as Government cut-backs saw the Morpeth scheme fail to score highly enough on its criteria.

However – and pardon the pun – the tide of local pressure, largely driven by the Morpeth Flood Action Group, was such that funding was allocated in 2012 through the Environment Agency. Praise must also be given to Northumberland County Council for a £12million contribution that perhaps tipped the balance in the town’s favour.

Three years on the dam is operational, flood walls have been built along the length of the Wansbeck through the town, and existing defences have been strengthened so that hopefully people living or working in Morpeth can sleep easier whenever the storm clouds approach.

There is still work to be done to reduce flood risks from the Cottingburn, as well as Hepscott, and I will continue to exert pressure to ensure these problems are dealt with effectively and quickly.

Pressure must also be maintained on the Government and the insurance industry to ensure that home and business owners, not just in Morpeth, but around the country, can get affordable insurance cover, again something the flood action group has taken a lead on.

Over the past six years I have lobbied the Government and spoken in Parliament pressing Morpeth’s case, as well as listened as Ministers like Richard Beynon praised the people of the town for channelling their distress in a positive way.

That should be the over-riding message at the ‘celebration’ event. Yes, let’s thank the powers-that-be for getting the work done, but let us not forget the contribution of so many not to let the scheme be pushed onto the back-burner.

I was proud to attend another event that demonstrated what can be achieved when the community works together.

Until a few days ago Pegswood had no memorial to remember local folk from all walks of life. Not just a war memorial, but one remembering those who had made a contribution to the life of the village.

Now there is a beautiful inscribed stone in the grounds of the Methodist Chapel. It is a place where people could spend a few peaceful moments, remembering a loved friend or colleague.

It has been made possible through funding from Coun Alan Sambrook, Potland Burn, Welbeck Estates, Banks Mining and Pegswood Parish Council. What a tremendous gesture and one I am sure the people of Pegswood will appreciate.