FLASH flooding advice has been issued to Morpeth residents over concerns about local burns.
The Environment Agency has produced leaflets advising householders that their area is at risk of flash flooding and urging them to plan for such an emergency.
The leaflets warn that water levels around the burns may rise suddenly, giving little time for emergency services to reach affected areas.
However, Morpeth Town Council says the agency must be wary of scare-mongering as only small pockets of residential areas around the burns are likely to be at risk.
At a meeting of the full council, Sarah McCrea of the Environment Agency told members that it is important to get safety messages across.
“If you get a rain cloud in the wrong place no amount of land can soak up that amount of water so we are looking to raise awareness of flash flooding among people around the burns,” she said.
“People should know what to do should there be a flash flood and be able to move to safety. If it is going to happen it may happen very quickly.
“The issues are mainly going to be for people in bungalows and people who are vulnerable.
“There is nothing we can do to change the emergency response so people will have to look after themselves because it is going to be so quick.
“Really it is a self-reliance message that we are trying to get out without panicking people.
“We are encouraging people to think about it like an emergency plan.”
The warning leaflet urges people to watch for signs of flash flooding, such as heavy rain, rising water levels with churning, dark water, and a build up of debris in streams. They are advised not to drive or walk through flood water, but to plan where to go to safety, either moving upstairs in their own home, or finding shelter in the nearest two-storey building.
However, town councillor Les Cassie has doubts about the distribution of the leaflets over concerns it could create unnecessary fear.
“I’m not sure you should do this in Morpeth,” he said.
“We had a major flood and one of the big issues people had was they didn’t get warnings in Middle Greens. The Environment Agency, Morpeth Flood Action Group, Northumberland County Council and emergency services have worked like crazy to reassure people that now the system is in place to give them warnings and there is the flood warden system and everything else.
“I’m not sure I would feel very good about having a leaflet through the door that says your area is at risk of flash flooding, you will get no warning and it is dangerous.
“It is not a safety message, it is a panic message. The safety message is that there is this great system in place and the only thing missing is we haven’t built the flood defences yet. In the meantime, these are the things you can do to protect yourself.
“The number of households at risk from a flash flood from the Cotting Burn or Postern Burn is very limited. It feels like the Environment Agency should do something very specific for those people, not something general like this which could worry people.”
Ms McCrea said flash flooding would be focused around the burns, but a map could not be produced showing specific areas at risk as has been done for the River Wansbeck flood warning zones.
“We are aware that we haven’t got people from the burn areas in the flood warden group so the issue is how we tap into this group of people because they won’t get any warning on the burns.
“However, there is an overall picture of flooding in Morpeth and we don’t want to worry people,” she said.
Coun David Parker was worried that the leaflets may give the impression that insurance premiums would be reduced for people who take action to reduce their flood risk, saying this is not the case.
“It would be wrong to give people the impression that if they do something it is likely to reduce their insurance costs. If you say that you are misleading people,” he said.
“I’m not against encouraging people to do the work, but I wouldn’t want to say that if you do it is a possibility that your insurance will be reduced because I don’t think there is any possibility at the moment. The Association of British Insurers has agreed that insurance companies do not reduce premiums because of these protective measures.”
For further information about flash flooding visit www.environment-agency.gov.uk