Hunt is on for flood funding

WORK has begun to try to find alternative funding for Morpeth’s flood defence scheme.

One idea that will be looked at in more detail is the possibility of Northumberland County Council getting contributions from new developments in other parts of the county.

And the Morpeth Flood Action Group (MFAG) is hoping that planning gain money will be ring-fenced for the project if Dransfield Properties’ application for a new supermarket in Low Stanners goes ahead.

Options for different methods of bringing in money for the flood alleviation measures – which currently include a mixture of upstream storage and flood walls – were discussed at a meeting of the Communities & Place Overview & Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday.

Area Flood and Coastal Risk Manager for the Environment Agency Ian Hodge said the latest forecast is that Morpeth would get about £10million from Government funding for the scheme if approved at national level.

This would mean close to £10million would be needed for the rest of the building work and associated costs.

Mr Hodge said alternative funding options included the Northumbria Regional Flood and Coastal Committee providing money from its Local Levy, funds from Section 106 agreements between the county council and developers and contributions from the insurance industry.

The other would see the unitary authority introduce a, ‘community infrastructure levy’ – the legislation came into force last year and it has been applied in other parts of the UK.

This would mean funds from new housing or retail projects above a certain size in Northumberland would not be restricted to a particular site and could be used for schemes that benefit whole communities.

Morpeth Town Council has previously raised the potential benefits of introducing the levy to help the town’s flood defence scheme.

Chairman of the Communities & Place Overview & Scrutiny Committee Coun Glen Sanderson said: “When discussing these options, it was stressed that it would not be reasonable for Section 106 agreements to provide all of the money needed and the general feeling was that insurance industry contributions was a non-starter.

“There was enough interest in the infrastructure levy for us to ask council officers to look at it in detail and report back to us to say if something workable can be introduced.

“We have to find the extra money from somewhere and although it’s not in abundance at the moment, I feel the council should do everything it can to play its part in helping this project.

“If companies are going to gain themselves from getting planning permission for a site, it only seems reasonable to give something back for the good of the population.”

MFAG Chairman Alan Bell said: “The onus seems now to be on Northumberland County Council to provide much of the extra funding needed and it has no money to spare at the moment.

“It is now vitally important that if the Dransfield supermarket scheme goes ahead, planning gain money is ring-fenced for the Morpeth flood defence scheme.

“The community infrastructure levy has its benefits, but it’s my understanding that developers don’t have to provide funding for this until work on their scheme starts, which could be years down the line, and we need money now.”