Flood gates closures timing to be reviewed

Pictured is the amount of large debris that was stopped by the dam on the Mitford Estate and then removed by a team of Environment Agency workers.
Pictured is the amount of large debris that was stopped by the dam on the Mitford Estate and then removed by a team of Environment Agency workers.

The Environment Agency has confirmed that it will look into closing the flood gates in the High Stanners area of Morpeth earlier if the River Wansbeck level in the town gets very high.

The issues of keys for the gates, surface water problems and the flood defence system chosen by the organisation were also mentioned at the meeting of Northumberland County Council’s central area committee last Thursday in Morpeth Town Hall.

Pictured is the amount of large debris that was stopped by the dam on the Mitford Estate and then removed by a team of Environment Agency workers.

Pictured is the amount of large debris that was stopped by the dam on the Mitford Estate and then removed by a team of Environment Agency workers.

Members agreed to include a discussion about what happened on Monday, January 4 and Tuesday, January 5.

Although water from the River Wansbeck went over its banks at East Mill and the car park at the Morpeth Riverside Leisure Centre was flooded, the closure of the gates and operation of the dam on the Mitford Estate prevented flooding at dozens of properties by the river.

Residents praised the agency for the effectiveness of the defences, but they said there were issues that need to be addressed.

Coun Andrew Tebbutt said there was concern about the length of time it took for staff to travel to Morpeth to close the gates.

In response, the organisation’s flood and coastal risk manager for the North East, Phil Welton, said: “When the river reaches a certain level, we have a two-hour operation window to close the gates in High Stanners.

“We achieved this and we were confident that the two-hour period was not too long because we constantly know exactly what the river level is, but I appreciate that it was longer than what people were expecting and there is a nervousness in the town given what has happened in recent years.

“Therefore, we will review whether we should reduce this operation window.”

When the issue of the number of people with keys for the gates came up, David Clark, flood risk management officer at the Environment Agency, said some of the operations personnel who have been trained to use them live in or near Morpeth.

Town resident Peter Chambers said: “I was surprised by how high the river was on the Tuesday night. Surely the operation of the dam needs to take into account what the River Font is doing?”

Mr Welton said: “We did look at the option of having a flood defence system that was also linked to the level of the River Font.

“In this scenario, the dam would have been smaller than the one that was built.

“This would have been a more refined solution, but it was the more complicated option and there was more scope for things to go wrong, so we decided to build a larger dam to simply the procedure.

“The worst case scenario for the River Font was taken into account when building the dam.”

Residents in Mitford Road and Bennett’s Walk in Middle Greens said more needed to be done to address surface water problems in these areas. Firefighters were required to pump water from the streets into the river.

Mr Welton said a culvert issue may have affected Mitford Road and all relevant information will be passed on to the county council and Northumbrian Water, which are developing plans to tackle the remaining surface water flood risk in the town.

Coun Richard Dodd, who chaired the meeting, said a full report about what happened will be discussed at the committee’s next meeting in Morpeth, which will take place in May.