Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Crucial meeting held on flooding in our area - much progress made and updates in information as set out in this blog

On Friday 18 November, I organised the second Flood Forum Meeting in the Tyne Valley region at the Community Centre in Hexham. Invited were the key agencies and flood groups from affected areas representing local parish councils and residents. The flood groups came from as far afield as Haydon Bridge to Haltwhistle, Corbridge to Acomb. It is right to put on record the amazing work these volunteer groups are doing for their local communities. All of us understand that the biblical floods of the 5th December last year had a massive impact on the Tyne Valley and we are working very hard to get our community ready for the future and much better informed.

Keeping you informed

I asked the EA to issue area updates to specific Parish Councils – both by email and hard copy – to publicise what they are doing, and to provide contact details to enable easy communication between our communities and the Agency.

I also asked that, before Christmas, the County Council and Northumbrian Water distribute maps to each affected community (via the Parish Councils and/or Flood Groups) showing who is responsible for each individual drain, and similarly providing all their relevant contact details to enable easy communication in the event of any problems.

For the latest published update in your area, please follow the links below:

Bellingham

Corbridge

Haltwhistle

Haydon Bridge

Hexham

Lipwood

Ovingham

Ponteland

Riding Mill

Warden

I accept that Prudhoe does not feature on this list, and will double check on any key updates elsewhere and in smaller communities but, as always, simply email teamoppy@gmail.com and I will try and get you an answer.

In attendance ten days ago were key figures from the Northumberland County Council – Aaron McNeill (Flood Risk Manager) and Kris Westerby (Highways) – as well as Linzie Pendleton from Northumbrian Water, and Leila Huntington from the Environment Agency (EA).

Our real big success is getting these three key agencies working hand in glove. They did this to a degree before, but the extent of integration and co-working now is both remarkable and a real credit to all involved.

Northumberland County Council

Aaron McNeill reported on the proposed flood gate project at Tyne Green. Flooded residents have pooled Flood Resilience Grants and, as a result, the County Council will start work in the new year on a flood gate to protect properties in the future.

Aaron said that the project will need planning permission but that he does not foresee any fundamental problems with permission being granted.

The County Council will be working with the EA and building on work that Northumbrian Water have already conducted on the site. This project is an excellent example of the three individual agencies working hand in glove, co-operating to achieve tangible outcomes that genuinely make a difference.

In addition, Kris Westerby announced the brilliant news that the County Council has received significant specific funding from the central government, including the allocation of £3 million for damaged road repairs. During the evening and during the day we also tried to address a number of ongoing projects and concerns, including the Haydon Bridge to Newbrough road blockage, which I visited on site, and which NCC are leading on with Network rail, and the extra repairs in places like Bywell and Eals.

Northumbrian Water

Linzie Pendleton provided an update on the massive cleaning and repair work that Northumbrian Water has been carrying out in various towns in our constituency. In Ovingham new linings have been put in place, and a flusher has been installed at Corbridge. Cleansing work is now being carried out in these locations. In Bywell a sewer review has been carried out upstream on the Tyne, whilst in Bellingham outflows have been checked.

Environment Agency

Leila Huntington explained that all damaged assets in the floods of December 2015/January 2016 have been restored to their original condition.

Moreover, Ms Huntington and her team specifically addressed Kielder and announced key amendments to the operation of the Kielder Reservoir. Flood alleviation will now start at 80% and more water will be released in the future, resulting in at least 6-7% more storage in the reservoir. This will be an ongoing operation and will also be assessed as it is being done. The EA, Northumbrian Water and the County Council have all said that they will provide an explanation of the Kielder plan on their websites.

Gravel and vegetation

Another, of many, important issues that was discussed at this meeting was the presence of gravel and vegetation in our local rivers. As everyone knows this is a very emotive issue with strong views on many sides.

Leila Huntington, from the EA, spoke at length on the issues of the vegetation in Corbridge which has been addressed, and the extent of the remaining gravel in Haydon Bridge and Warden and the extent to which this increases or affects flood risk.

Some Haydon Bridge residents have expressed that they feel the EA and the County Council are putting obstacles in the way of them removing gravel from under the bridge. The EA denied this, and there was discussion both at the meeting and afterwards by local parish council members and the EA. I have made the case, both in public and private, that we need to be fully supportive of the efforts of the Haydon Bridge PC to address this serious concern. On the opposite side of the argument there are some planning restrictions that are legitimate and the timing of ongoing extraction has to be managed by the EA. We are trying hard to get action and compliance.

Concerns over gravel accumulations at Wark Bridge and Chollerford Bridge were also brought up, as too were fears about gravel and vegetation upstream at Ovingham and down-river at Corbridge.

The EA will be carrying out a dredging impact assessment over the winter, and are reporting back to the flood groups.

Any specific problems I have missed, then please get in touch by email.

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