Fears were raised but defences ‘did their job’

A fire crew pumps out surface water from Bennett's Walk back into the river. Picture by Jane Coltman.
A fire crew pumps out surface water from Bennett's Walk back into the river. Picture by Jane Coltman.

Morpeth residents and councillors have praised the emergency services and the Environment Agency following the flooding in the town on Tuesday night.

But they have said that the communication of what was happening could have been better as events unfolded.

Warnings were issued for parts of the town, the East Mill area and the villages of Bothal and Sheepwash, which suffered from localised flooding, on Tuesday.

An Environment Agency spokesman said that its regional incident room was open for more than 36 hours to manage its teams and flood defences.

In regard to Morpeth, he added: “As the River Wansbeck level rose, we closed the flood gates at High Stanners on Tuesday morning.

“The flood scheme in Morpeth, completed in summer 2015, is designed so that the flood gates at High Stanners close first, then the upstream storage area at Mitford operates automatically when the river reaches set levels to protect the whole town.

“The upstream storage area at Mitford operated for the first time on Tuesday night as the level continued to increase. It peaked at 10.15pm on Tuesday night and the flood gates at High Stanners were re-opened on Wednesday morning.

“On Tuesday, we received reports that some outbuildings in East Mill, east of Morpeth, experienced some flooding.

“As a former mill site, these properties are at risk of flooding and have been adapted to minimise the impact of flooding.”

There were also big and deep puddles caused by surface water issues, including on Dark Lane by the traffic lights and entrance to Morrisons.

There was a build-up of water at Bennett’s Walk in Middle Greens. Alan Bell, of the Morpeth Flood Action Group, explained that the water in this area is unable to flow into the river once the river reaches a certain height.

He added: “High Stanners would have suffered from a one-in-10 or one-in-15 year flood event if it hadn’t been for the flood gates.

“The alleviation scheme defences did their job and we’re very grateful, although we do have concerns about some of the logistics of the responses.”

Morpeth Town Hall was on stand-by as a centre if people were evacuated and councillors were in the town centre on Tuesday night to see the situation develop.

Mayor Alison Byard said: “Residents were very worried as the river level rose and they asked us questions when they saw us to find out if we had some information for them.

“Thankfully, it didn’t get to the level where it affected many properties like in 2008 and 2012.

“We would like to thank the Environment Agency, police, firefighters and Northumberland County Council officers for their efforts on the ground.

“We will now talk to our partners to find out exactly what happened, so we can take things forward together.

“It was the first test of the new flood defences and they worked effectively, although many people felt there wasn’t enough communication as the situation developed.”

Coun David Bawn, county councillor for Morpeth North, said: “It is very reassuring that the flood defences held last night after a very worryingly high surge in the river.

“Praise must be given to the Environment Agency staff who did their jobs and protected the Town.

“However, one lesson to be learned was the difficulty in getting information disseminated to affected residents. With sometimes contradictory messages being sent out about the dam’s operation and when it was closed.

“I am sure a review of the operation of the system in light of the issues raised during this incident would be sensible.”