D-day for flood defence funding

MORPETH’S flood defence scheme should take a step closer to getting final approval tomorrow.

A total of £10.6million in Government funding has been provisionally allocated for the project to provide a one-in-137-year level of protection for more than 1,000 homes and businesses in the town.

Regional Environment Agency officers have set aside £2million for the 2012/13 financial year to help fund a planning application and the start of construction works.

And this is expected to be approved by members of the Northumbria Regional Flood and Coastal Committee at its latest meeting as part of its flood defence grant in aid programme.

The remainder of the funding, up to £12million, will be provided by Northumberland County Council – the authority will spend about £3.3million on the scheme between April 2012 and April 2013.

The numbers were given the green light by officers at the Environment Agency’s national head office and if the Northumbria committee accepts the programme it then just needs approval from the agency’s board on February 9.

Morpeth Flood Action Group Chairman Alan Bell said: “The news that the agency’s head office is happy with the Morpeth scheme’s figures for 2012/13 is a positive step. We anticipate that the funding will be approved by the committee tomorrow and then the board.

“It will give everyone in Morpeth great encouragement to see construction work begin in the next ten to 15 months, although there is a lot of planning still to be done and it’s important that residents are fully involved in the consultation and planning process.

“We need to make sure that the works are right for the town before they start.”

The project – which includes new defence walls in the town centre and an upstream storage system – was in doubt at this time last 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.

But changes to the flood funding process by Defra has allowed other organisations to make significant contributions and the Morpeth scheme was one of the first in the country to take advantage.

In October, Area Flood and Coastal Risk Manager for the Environment Agency Ian Hodge said the partnership between it and the county council enabled the project to meet the new threshold score to receive Government funding.

He added that the aim is for construction work to start next winter and the North East-based officers are ‘very confident’ of getting the project completed in 2014/15.

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery, whose constituency includes Morpeth, said: “It has been a long haul and a bumpy ride, but with the efforts of a lot of local people it seems finally the scheme is going to happen.

“It is going to cost a lot of money and the county council deserves a bit of credit. The Morpeth Flood Action Group has played a great role in this and everybody has pulled together. If they hadn’t pulled together this couldn’t have happened.

“It is good for the community of Morpeth and I’m delighted that eventually we will see some action on a scheme that will cost around £20million and hopefully prevent such a flood as 2008 ever happening again.”