Flood victim evacuation prompts call for apology after concerns at delay

AN apology has been called for from senior council officials over the evacuation of Morpeth flood victims.

The Herald has previously reported concerns from flood wardens, residents and the Morpeth Flood Action Group that no one from Northumberland County Council was at hand to help during the evacuation of High Stanners on September 25.

Flood wardens were left to work alongside police in knocking on doors to alert people to the danger and complained that by the time council staff arrived boats had to be used.

Now Morpeth Town councillor David Parker has made a direct call to county chiefs to apologise to those affected after raising the issue in a joint parish and county meeting.

He said: “I pointed out that on September 25 there was a flood in this town. I said that my understanding was that that situation required the county council to have a fairly senior officer present on the ground, as well as others to support him or her in relation to evacuation.

“The flood wardens alerted the county council, but no officers turned up between 4am and 7am. Flood wardens were left doing the work the county council officers should have been doing. The Environment Agency had advised wardens that they should not be doing such things because they are not covered from an insurance point of view.

“One could say that if it hadn’t been for the volunteers, although the police and fire and rescue service did play a part, a rather difficult situation would have arisen.

“I asked the county council to respond to that and it agreed to do so in due course. I also asked it to make an apology to the people directly affected, by that I mean those people affected by evacuation.”

Coun Parker reported his comments to the town council’s Finance and General Purposes Committee.

Earlier in the meeting he outlined the ongoing flood recovery work. He said that about 45 residents had been flooded, as well as three businesses. A flood recovery group had been set up by the county council and included representatives from the town council and Morpeth Flood Action Group, as well as police, local organisations and charities.

Morpeth Town Hall had been offered as an information point to direct flood victims to appropriate services for their needs.

There will not be automatic council tax relief for those affected by flooding, but Coun Parker said the county authority had delegated powers to officers to make judgements on a case by case basis.

However, Coun Nic Best said: “Council tax relief was virtually automatic when Castle Morpeth was in place. The county has chosen not to put it to members and is leaving it to officers, which is effectively abdicating responsibility for that resolution.”

Coun Parker said more decisions are delegated to officers at county level and he believed cases would be considered sympathetically.

“If a particular householder feels they are not getting the right sort of response from the county council we can take it up as a town council, but I came away fairly happy about that. I don’t feel that anybody is going to be treated inappropriately,” he said.

Coun Best was also concerned that ward members and town councillors had not been involved in the recovery group.

“My perception is that this is very much an officer led thing and the elected representatives, both in the county council and town council, who would be the natural point of contact for most members of the community, are not included in this process, which I think is disappointing,” he said.

A Northumberland County Council spokeswoman said: “County council and Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service (NFRS) officers were in the area from Monday, September 24 throughout Tuesday, September 25.

“NFRS crews were in and around Morpeth responding to emergency calls and monitoring the situation in fire appliances from 4.43am on Tuesday, September 25.

“The county council is looking into what happened, working with flood wardens and the Morpeth Flood Action Group to get a full picture of the effects of the floods.

“Council tax relief will be given to homeowners affected by floodwater following a proper, fair assessment. Town councillors were invited to attend the flood recovery group meetings.”