A raft of ideas to tackle flood risks

The PhD student presentations
The PhD student presentations

STUDENTS from across the UK have been putting their heads together to try to solve Morpeth’s flooding problems.

A group of 32 PhD students travelled to Longhirst Hall for a residential Challenge Week.

The event is held annually around the country as part of the national STREAM programme funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which provides studies relevant to the water industry.

Five universities are involved in the programme – Cranfield, Imperial College London, Newcastle, Sheffield and Exeter – and this year it was Newcastle’s turn to set the challenge.

The students were asked to produce an Integrated Flood Plan for Morpeth following two devastating floods in the last five years.

They were told that although a flood alleviation scheme is under construction to reduce the risk from the River Wansbeck, it will not address issues such as flooding from burns, surface water, drains and sewers.

The group was given a tour of the town, including a visit to High Stanners to see the flood scheme under construction, to show both the challenges and the benefits Morpeth residents have.

It was followed by talks from organisations with responsibility for addressing flooding, such as the Morpeth Flood Action Group (MFAG), Northumberland County Council, the Environment Agency, Northumbrian Water and design consultants for the flood scheme CH2MHILL, formerly Halcrow. MFAG Chairman Alan Bell also gave a presentation on insurance cover.

The students then used studies from Newcastle University and other organisations, as well as what they had learned about Morpeth and their own research, to come up with integrated, sustainable solutions to flooding. Using role play, they also explored the roles of the various organisations to see how they could work better together.

The final proposals put forward by the group included more partnership working and setting up a 1,000 Raingardens project, where people would be encouraged to take simple measures to slow the flow upstream and reduce downstream flood risk.

Challenge organiser Geoff Parkin, who works in Newcastle University’s School Of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, said: “It is a different challenge each year. It is usually something related to water, but this is probably the most ‘real life’ challenge the students have had.

“They rose to the challenge brilliantly. The feedback was good from them in that they enjoyed doing it and everybody got something from it.

“One thing the STREAM students emphasised was that all of the organisations have to involve the public in their discussions. That came across very strongly. They also emphasised that it is not just about building flood defences for the river, it is surface water, burns and flooding from heavy rainfall.”

The students’ ideas have now been passed on to the various organisations for discussion.