Fight is on to salvage flood project

TOWN councillors will write to the Government outlining the necessity of a Morpeth flood alleviation project.

Last week, the Herald reported the anger and disappointment at news that funding was unlikely to be available to begin work on a £17million flood alleviation scheme this year.

Today community groups, businesses and council leaders will meet Environment Agency officials to try to find ways of salvaging the scheme, including the possibility of securing funding elsewhere.

And Morpeth Town Council has decided to write to the Government, giving a full breakdown of the concerns, risks and financial implications if the work is delayed.

Coun Derek Thompson said: “We have to write to the Government and tell it in no uncertain terms of the devastating effects that this decision will have on the lives of many people in this community.

“They have already been traumatised and been through a horrible experience from the 2008 flood.

“Some were out of their homes for a year or 18 months and it is a matter of urgency that the scheme is implemented as soon as possible.

“Delaying this scheme may save a little bit of money in the short-term, but it is going to cost a lot more in the long-term if it isn’t done and we are flooded again.”

The action was agreed after members were updated on the latest situation by Coun David Parker.

He confirmed that the Environment Agency will continue to press ahead with work to seek technical approval for the project, which will include upstream floodwater storage reservoirs and town centre defences, and said officials were not giving up on the scheme.

However, he warned that the project was unlikely to progress without alternative sources of funding being found, and it could be scaled down to reduce costs.

“I don’t think the Morpeth scheme will go ahead if we are unable as a town to find a variety of ways for funding to be secured,” said Coun Parker.

“What could happen is that if the scheme gets formal approval at some point this year then it would be a matter of other funding coming forward in order to top up any funding that would come directly from the Environment Agency itself.

“There may be some top-up funding, or a phasing of the scheme over some time, or a scaling down of the scheme.

“Instead of a £17million scheme we might have a much more modest scheme, which clearly would not be very satisfactory from this town’s point of view.

“It might assist the High Stanners area and the areas most prone to flooding, but it wouldn’t necessarily help the other areas that are not as likely to be flooded, but if what happened in 2008 happens again then they would be flooded.”

Coun Parker presented a motion stating that the council regretted the Environment Agency’s decision to delay the alleviation scheme and was mindful of the urgent need to secure a positive outcome to safeguard the economic and social well-being of the town.

It also welcomed the actions of the Morpeth Flood Action Group in convening a meeting of stakeholders to try to secure a positive decision as soon as possible.

“The Morpeth Flood Action Group has got all the stakeholders on board. We are talking about the county council, Chamber of Trade, the Greater Morpeth Development Trust, Members of Parliament, ourselves and a whole range of bodies in the town that are now hopefully willing to work together to see a way forward. To me that is what this town should be doing,” said Coun Parker.

“We know we have a great mountain to climb.

“In spite of my political allegiances, I still regret the Government’s policy in relation to this and other schemes of comparable importance.

“In the case of Morpeth, this decision, if it stands, could have a quite significant negative impact on the town.”

He also called for Government intervention to ensure flood victims will be able to obtain insurance cover without facing huge excesses and premiums.

The motion was passed unanimously.

Coun Nic Best said: “I welcome the news that the Environment Agency is pushing ahead to get the technical approval of the scheme. The original scheme was extendable so if we are going to get a lesser scheme I hope that the technical plans will be extendable in the same sort of way should money become available for future works.

“Knowing the cost of flood damage and recovery, not just damage to buildings, but also to economic growth and health, not paying for a decent flood alleviation scheme now is going to cost 10, 100 or 1,000 times that in the future. It has to be said, it is not the appropriate approach.”