MORPETH’S flood alleviation scheme is on track to be built in the next three years.
Regional Environment Agency officials have said that the £21million project is moving forward and they are very confident that it will be completed in the 2014/15 financial year.
It was confirmed at a meeting of the Northumbria Regional Flood and Coastal Committee last Friday that £10.6million of Government funding has been provisionally set aside to add to what has already been spent, with £2million allocated for 2012/13 subject to final approval in February.
This will be combined with up to £12million from Northumberland County Council to provide a one-in-137-year level of protection for more than 1,000 homes and businesses in the town.
Area Flood and Coastal Risk Manager Ian Hodge told committee members it has been calculated that the scheme will have a flood avoidance benefit of £172million.
Of the scheme’s progress, he said: “This is a fantastic achievement and outcome, and comes after what has been some very hard work by a lot of people. We are particularly grateful to our colleagues at Northumberland County Council, both at officer and member level, for their immense contribution. It gives me great pleasure to describe the scheme as one which is moving forward at pace and we’re very confident that we will be able to complete it in 2014/15.
“It’s an achievable programme and as we have been working on the project since 2007, we have a very detailed knowledge of what is required to build the defences.
“The committee has always been very supportive and members share the view of the officers that this is a great outcome.
“There will be some community engagement once formal approval of the 2012/13 funding has been granted and residents will also be able to have their say as part of the planning application process.”
Mr Hodge said that as the scheme needs to go through the planning stage and negotiations are still to be had with landowners, the aim is for construction work to start in winter 2012.
But he added: “We have involved our preferred contractor in the design work to provide a greater certainty about costs and the timescale of the project.
“And it will also enable us to submit a planning application next spring or summer.”
Changes to the flood funding process by Defra have allowed other organisations to make significant contributions and the Morpeth scheme is one of the first in the country to take advantage.
With the partnership between the Agency and county council achieving business-case approval, it meets the new threshold score to receive Government funding.
Northumbria Regional Flood and Coastal Committee Chairman Frank Major said: “I believe this is a pioneering scheme as far as the country is concerned and we should be immensely proud that Morpeth is leading the charge on this.”
He thanked fellow members and Environment Agency officers for their efforts and the Morpeth Flood Action Group for its work in pushing the scheme as a solution to a “continuing threat to the town’s economic and social well-being”.
Leader of Northumberland County Council, Jeff Reid, said: “This is an incredibly important scheme for the community of Morpeth and the council is pleased that, despite tough economic times, it has been able to commit funding to ensure that it goes ahead.
“We are working in partnership with the Environment Agency to develop a detailed design and look forward to final confirmation of the Agency’s funding.”
The project – which includes new alleviation walls in the town centre and an upstream storage system – was in doubt earlier this year when a national reduction in the money provided for flood defence work meant it did not get its expected £4million allocation for 2011/12.
The turnaround has been welcomed by Morpeth town councillor David Parker.
“A lot of people’s spirits will be lifted by this news, particularly those who were sadly flooded three years ago,” he said.
“Hopefully, the scheme will get funding approval from the Environment Agency at national level so it can begin during 2012/13.
“I believe a public consultation event would be useful because people do come up with suggestions and comments which are taken on board by the applicant and it then decides to make adjustments before submitting a planning application.”