Private sector could help save £17m flood scheme

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PRIVATE sector funding is likely to be needed to save Morpeth’s £17million flood defence scheme.

The future of the project is uncertain after the originally planned £4million to take it forward this year was withdrawn.

On Friday, the Environment Agency confirmed that its Transitional Northumbria Regional Flood and Coastal Committee has agreed to use £100,000 from the Local Levy programme to fund further development work.

But it admits that other sources could be needed if the scheme is to go ahead.

Flood and Coastal Risk Manager Ian Hodge, said: “We will continue to work hard with Northumberland County Council and other partners to see how we can reduce flood risk.

“Alongside the current proposals we may need to explore alternative options for the town and reconsider the timing of any works as we learn more about the funding arrangements. It is likely that alongside public funding, support will be needed from other sources to deliver the project.

“I know this is a time of uncertainty for Morpeth residents and businesses and I am committed to working with the community to find the best available solution to flooding, which is both affordable and sensible at the earliest opportunity. We will continue to work with the Morpeth Flood Action Group and wider community to ensure everyone knows how and when any progress is made.”

Reforms on funding flood schemes have been proposed by the Government and are expected to come into effect next year.

Additional investment from a wider range of local organisations and businesses would be encouraged.

Mr Hodge said agency staff hope to get directions later this year about what will go ahead so they can have greater clarity on how to proceed for 2012/13.

“At that stage it would then be sensible to have some form of public engagement with residents, whether that’s a meeting or a drop in,” he added.

The current proposals for Morpeth’s scheme include upstream storage and flood walls, which would give a one-in-137 year level of protection — about the same as the September 2008 flood.

Mr Hodge said there has been progress on getting the business case approved as the Large Project Review Group has completed its technical analysis and it will now go forward to the Environment Agency Board.

Committee Chairman Frank Major says members will continue to press as hard as they can for the scheme to go ahead and he has received a positive response from a letter he wrote to the agency’s Chairman Lord Smith.

He said: “The reply was very supportive and mentions that the project will come up for review by the Environment Agency Board in October if not earlier.”

North East MEP Fiona Hall has been lobbying senior ministers for the work.

She said: “I spoke directly with Environment Minister Caroline Spelman recently and stressed the importance of the project. A further meeting with senior officials will take place in the coming weeks.

“It is clear from the extra funding that was announced that the scheme is not dead in the water as had previously been feared. The £100,000 to keep the development work going is an encouraging sign that the pressure we are applying is having the desired effect.

“We are still at a very early stage, but I want to assure residents that a concerted effort is being made behind the scenes to secure the funding for this vital scheme to proceed.”

Morpeth town councillor David Parker said: “It is good to know that the Environment Agency still has the Morpeth scheme very much in mind. Hopefully the agency is able to identify further funding this year, in addition to the £100,000, to ensure that detailed designed work is completed so that the scheme might go ahead next year.”