Less talk and more action

MOVES are under way to find up to £10million from council coffers to fund Morpeth’s flood works.

Members of Northumberland County Council say less talk and more action is needed to secure the town’s proposed £17million flood alleviation scheme — even if that means substantial funding has to be provided by the authority itself.

Coun Glen Sanderson, who represents Chevington with Longhorsley, says both residents and councillors are getting frustrated with endless reports into the importance of the project and now is the time for the council to take a lead in coming up with the necessary funds.

“It seems that we are being flooded with reports and advice and forms to fill in and long projected visions about the way forward and we are not getting much action,” he said.

“The point I think we now need to be talking about seriously as a county council is what realistic role we can play. The time has come for us to play a leading role and begin to find some of our taxpayers’ money to actually start this project.

“People are getting fed up with spending significant periods of time putting forward the arguments and justification for the scheme to go ahead when what we actually need to do is come up with the cash.”

The Environment Agency was planning a two-pronged approach to address flooding in Morpeth, with town centre defences and an upstream floodwater storage reservoir to hold back any deluge.

Construction work was due to start this year, but due to changes in the national funding system it is now unlikely that the Morpeth project will be fully financed from a central pot and about half the cash will have to be found locally.

Coun Sanderson said: “We really need to move forward with this.

“The county council can borrow money if necessary. There are various ways of raising capital funds, it is a question of whether we think it is a priority. Anyone who lives anywhere near Morpeth knows it has to be a priority for us.

“Obviously, we will need to be cautious to ensure we get value for money, but it is something we have to be talking seriously about in the council. It needs some leadership now.”

He will be raising the issue with fellow members and officers and may put forward a formal motion to the full council.

However, Morpeth councillor and Executive Member for Corporate Resources Andrew Tebbutt said work is already under way in the authority to identify ways of securing the money.

“We understand that under the new arrangements the local area will have to raise the money for the flood alleviation scheme and if Northumberland County Council doesn’t do it, nobody else is going to,” he said.

“There are a number of things we have to look at in the medium-term financial plan to see how, but we can make sure money is available for priorities and clearly the Morpeth flood alleviation scheme has to be a priority.

“At the moment we are talking about finding about £10million, but we wouldn’t need to do that in one year, we could spread it out over two, three or even four years. In the next few weeks we are going to look very carefully at whether or not we can write that into the plan.

“It is not in the plan as a priority at the moment, but I don’t think any political party believes that we should leave the flood alleviation scheme because of the potential damage that could be caused if we have another flood.”

He added: “How we find the money at this stage is open to discussions, but there are various options. We need to make sure the money can be found, but that might mean something else doesn’t get money.”

Morpeth Flood Action Group Chairman Alan Bell said the organisation is looking to the county council to lead the way.

“We need the council to be the lead partner in finding the shortfall in funding because obviously that sort of money cannot be raised by the community,” he said.

“If we don’t get the money then the whole scheme just won’t go ahead. It can be spread over three to four years, but there would have to be some sort of commitment, almost a bond, that it will be there.

“How the council finds the money is up to the council. It could be in the form of Section 106 agreements from development around Morpeth, or through Community Infrastructure Levy.

“I can’t see us getting full funding from the Government now unless there is a delay in implementing the new funding arrangements, but we have been writing our letters to keep the issue in the public awareness.”

A council spokeswoman said: “Funding is set aside by the county council for maintenance and small flooding improvement schemes. Large flood defence schemes will be funded by the Environment Agency through the local levy.

“The council’s capital programme has been carefully planned and budgeted for. If money were to be diverted from this programme to spend on any large-scale flooding scheme, this would be a political decision and money would have to be taken away from other areas such as schools, libraries and roads.”