Fight for flood funding clears the first hurdle

A COUNCIL bid for flood funding has successfully negotiated the first hurdle.

A report by officers of Northumberland County Council to seek approval for up to £12million to be allocated from its capital budget to the Morpeth flood alleviation scheme has been passed unanimously by the authority’s Executive Board.

The decision leaves the way clear for the plan to be accepted by the full council at a meeting next week.

The project was due to begin this year, but it was deferred when Environment Agency budgets were slashed and the Government has since warned that full central funding for the scheme is unlikely to be available.

If approved, the council’s allocation could provide half the total amount required for the work, giving the scheme a better chance of getting the go-ahead at an Environment Agency Board meeting in October.

Council Executive Member for Infrastructure and Environment Isabel Hunter said: “We are not going to get 100 per cent funding from the Government. The Environment Agency is working with us and we have to make this commitment.

“It was 2008 when Morpeth suffered the flood so we need to move forward with this. The people of Morpeth are frightened we are going to get another flood.”

The Executive will recommend to the full council that between £7million and £12million is set aside for the scheme, depending on a detailed business case being prepared, as part of a £42million additional spending package in the Medium Term Capital Programme.

Other projects to be supported from the extra funds would include the development of a new Ashington leisure centre and community hub, school backlog maintenance and the Morpeth Northern Bypass (South East Northumberland Link Road).

The development of the road, which would link the A1 to south east Northumberland, has been accepted in principle by the Department for Transport, but it does not have enough cash to support all of the projects in its development pool so councils have been told they must stump up at least 30 per cent of the cost of schemes in their area.

Final bids for Government support will be submitted in September in a competitive process.

The county council’s five-year capital budget was initially set in February, but it has been amended following reviews of national spending priorities.

Council Chief Executive Steve Stewart said: “These schemes will not happen unless the council takes this action.

“In the case of two of them, what has happened is that following the Comprehensive Spending Review the previous expectations of 100 per cent funding for the flood scheme and bypass have been amended to a point where the Government and its funding agencies are only prepared to contribute a proportion of the funding.

“This means that if the council doesn’t agree to provide the balance figures then these projects are unlikely to happen and the Government is unlikely to formalise its commitments later in the year for contributions to the road and flood scheme.”

Morpeth councillor and Executive Member Ian Lindley was pleased to accept the proposal to use additional council funds and said the Government’s new system for allocating funding for flood works could be beneficial to the area.

“I’m a big advocate of prudential borrowing and, if we can afford the repayments, we should be investing in our communities,” he said.

“Under the previous regulations for central spending on flooding, if the Morpeth scheme had failed it wouldn’t get anything.

“We are fortunate that the new Government process is formulated so that it does give something to most schemes.”

Morpeth Flood Action Group Chairman Alan Bell welcomed the Executive’s decision to support the flood alleviation project.

“This is the first step, the second step is getting it through the full council and the third step is persuading the Environment Agency to stump up the Government’s part,” he said.

“We still can’t be certain about that, but obviously if it gets through the full council next week we will be on the way.

“The scheme has technical approval now, but it depends on whether there are still funds available for it next year.

“We are fairly optimistic, but we can see possible problems. Because they have deferred so many schemes it might be a case of first come, first served.

“There is also the problem that if it doesn’t happen next year there are aspects of the scheme that might not be available in the future, for example the land for the storage system might not be available.

“The quicker it gets approval, the more likely it is that it will go ahead in the form that was proposed.”