Floods Minister Thérèse Coffey praised the ‘gold standard’ Morpeth Flood Alleviation Scheme during her visit to see a key part of it this afternoon.
The main defence project was completed in 2015.
It includes a new flood wall, embankment and flood gates at High Stanners, works to improve protection in Middle Greens, Pretoria Avenue, Mitford Road and the areas around St George’s Church and St Robert’s Church.
The minister saw the upstream storage area and dam on the Mitford Estate that can store up to 1.4 million cubic metres of water when river levels are high.
A total of £27million was invested to build the scheme. It has been delivered by the Environment Agency in partnership with Northumberland County Council, which provided £12million of the funding.
Both organisations worked closely with the Morpeth Flood Action Group and the wider local community to make sure the scheme met the needs of local residents.
The final piece of work – a further upstream storage area on a smaller scale to the one on the Mitford Estate to reduce the risk of flooding from the Cotting Burn – is expected to be finished in the spring.
Dr Coffey said: “Morpeth’s new flood defences are certainly impressive, with flood embankments longer than 24 double decker buses and enough water storage to hold 560 Olympic swimming pools.
“But most crucially, 1,000 Morpeth homes and businesses are now better protected as a part of our investment in defences across the country to help protect people from extreme weather and flooding.
“The Environment Agency, Northumberland County Council and Morpeth Flood Action Group are very proud of this scheme and I can see why as it’s certainly of gold standard.
“The principle of the scheme is to allow water to flow through to the town centre, but at a maintained rate that is manageable.
“Other aspects of the scheme that I’ve been told about today sound innovative and although flood defence projects will vary depending on the locations, ideas can be picked out to help schemes in other parts of the country.”
It has also greatly benefitted the local environment as it includes the creation of 17 hectares of new water-dependent habitat for local wildlife and 3,500 endangered white-clawed crayfish, Britain’s only native freshwater crayfish, were safely relocated upstream during construction.
Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said: “We know the devastating impact that flooding can have on lives and livelihoods, which is why last year we completed more than 130 schemes – better protecting over 55,000 homes around the country.
“Morpeth is a shining example of a scheme that mixes traditional flood defences with natural flood management measures, such as storing flood water upstream which meant we did not have to build three metre high walls in the town centre.
“I’m delighted to be here today and having spoken to people living in the town, it’s great that they have been able to sleep more easily since the scheme was built.
“Our close working relationship with the local community and Northumberland County Council has resulted in a scheme that not only reduces flood risk, but also enhances the environment.”
The agency and the council worked closely with the Morpeth Flood Action Group and the wider local community to make sure the scheme met the needs of local residents.
As well as the funding from the Government and county council, Dransfield Properties donated £400,000 to the building of flood wall in the Low Stanners area.
Coun Ian Swithenbank, the county council’s cabinet member for local services, said: “The Morpeth scheme is a great example of agencies working together on a hugely ambitious engineering project, which has safeguarded thousands of residents.”
He added: “We have now developed proposals to better manage surface water as part of the final phase of works to manage flood risk in the town.
“The plans, which have been developed in partnership with Northumbrian Water and agreed with the Environment Agency, will improve drainage at six high risk locations across Morpeth.
“We’re looking to begin construction in April for completion by February 2018.”