Victory on the horizon

THE fight to salvage Morpeth’s flood defence scheme looks set to be won.

The Environment Agency has provisionally allocated £2million for the project in 2012/13.

If this amount gets final approval from its board, it will complete a remarkable turnaround for the scheme as it was in danger of being shelved earlier this year.

Campaigners are now hopeful that the works, including new alleviation walls and an upstream storage system, will be completed within the next three years.

A national reduction in the money provided for flood defence work meant there was greater competition for funding in 2011/12 and the Morpeth project did not have a high enough score to get its expected £4million allocation.

But changes to the process, which allow other organisations to make significant contributions, led to Northumberland County Council committing to spend up to £12million.

The new threshold score to meet will be around 120 per cent and the £21million town scheme has been given a rating of 122 per cent.

Morpeth Flood Action Group Chairman Alan Bell said: “It’s a great relief that it looks like the scheme is going ahead, something major would need to take place to stop it from happening.

“We have been told that the ideal plan is for construction work to start in Autumn 2012 and it will be carried out over two financial years.

“Before then, we will ask the Agency to make sure that Morpeth residents have an input on how the scheme will look to ensure it is appropriate for the whole community.

“This would not have been possible without the contribution of Northumberland County Council and we’re thankful to it for showing such great commitment to Morpeth.

“We’re also grateful to the regional Environment Agency team for its work, the media for keeping the issue in the public eye and our local MP Ian Lavery for pressuring the Agency and the county council to push the scheme through.”

Under the provisional plans, a further £6.5million would be allocated by the Environment Agency in 2013/14 and £750,000 would be spent in the following financial year.

The project has already received more than £1million and £350,000 has been set aside for detailed design work and ground investigation during 2011/12.

Officers from the Agency and the county council are working towards the submission of a planning application and the project board is aiming to hold a public consultation within the next six months.

Mr Lavery, whose Wansbeck constituency includes Morpeth, said: “If this money is confirmed it would be fantastic news for the people of Morpeth, who absolutely deserve this flood defence scheme.

“It shows what can happen if people pull together for the benefit of everyone in the town and congratulations must go to Northumberland County Council for providing some of the funds and the Morpeth Flood Action Group, in particular Alan Bell and Trevor Walmsley, for their hard work.

“We are virtually across the line and now we need to push those final few yards to make sure construction work starts as soon as possible.”

The Herald led a campaign earlier this year calling for the scheme to begin as a matter of urgency and almost 4,000 people signed our petition.

Works to address surface water issues and improve the Cotting Burn and Church Burn were recently added to it – they were originally planned as separate projects.