Monday, 24 January 2011

Goalposts moved above the floodline

Update from NCC councillor to Town Council

"It was confirmed at the Northumbria Regional Flood Defence Committee that the Morpeth scheme has not scored sufficient points on the Outcome Measures to be included in 11/12 allocation DEFRA's budgetary landscape has changed to the extent that the OM required score of 5 (which Morpeth scheme comfortably achieved) to 14.
This could hardly be more disappointing, especially coming on the back of over 2 years-worth of reassurances.

"The whole committee and officers were devastated and there is a clear determination to progress a suitable scheme for Morpeth.

" The responsibilities and funding landscape around flooding is also in the throes of change. The new Floods & Water Management Act allocates responsiblity to local authorities (NCC) to lead on flood-related matters ('Lead Local Flood Authorities') but with EA retaining responsibility for coast and main watercourses. It also proposes changing the way funding is allocated with fewer schemes receiving full-cost funding and most will be dependent on local discretion - the replacement for the NRFDC (Regional Flood & Coastal Committee) will have more responsibilities and enhanced decision-making (which at the moment is largely restricted, in practice, to allocation of the local levy-funded - relatively small - schemes).

" How this will play out in practice is unknown, but we should share the EA's determination to see this interregnum and the new system as an opportunity."

Not good news then - and it also leaves the Dransfield foodstore application with two dilemmas i) is it really safe without the promise of comprehensive flood defences and ii) their 'community obligation' was to build the flood defences (bund) along the river edge of their site - will that still hold?

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Maintaining the Link

Mark Dransfield is coming to town next week: he’s meeting as many local groups and interested parties as he can over 11th-12th Jan before he puts in the full application for a supermarket on the Dark Lane site. As I understand it. he’s hoping that if he gets permission by Feb/Mar and have builders on site in Jun/Jul for a twelve month build. He says he’ll be announcing the supermarket operator in February – but the strong rumour is that Morrison’s will cross the road, and Waitrose will move into current Morrison site.

It all rather dashes any hopes that follow-through on the outline application would be delayed, but I guess proof is needed that the Dark Lane site is viable to head off appeals over the two edge of town applications. So it’s all to do with mitigation now, and that falls into several themes:

Staithes Lane residents: are not happy about having car parking at the level of their bedroom windows, light pollution, delivery lorries using Staithes Lane – especially late at night and very early morning – and access for long stay car parking. Some residents are also worried about the loss of the Red Bull which would be demolished to give wide enough access to Staithes Lane for the delivery lorries.

Environment: It’s not clear how the proposed re-alignment and partial culverting of the Cotting Burn will maintain its role as a wildlife corridor.
The Wansbeck itself is also an important wildlife corridor, and the riverside walks are a major Morpeth attraction which would be marred by the delivery area of a supermarket backing onto the river. I’m particularly concerned that the trees along the river on both sides of the footpath will be lost. A lot of money has been spent through the Castle, Woods and Water (liveability) programme making the river walk attractive – lets try to avoid throwing all that away!
Then there’s the flood risk: there’s going to be a massive new area of tarmac and concrete – take a walk along Staithes Lane, downstream along the river and back down to Dark Lane from Tommy’s Field to get an idea of the size of the site. Burnside Terrace nearly got flooded from runoff from Lidls and the bus station in 2008, and Staithes Lane got runoff from three directions. Then deep concrete foundations so close to the river must disrupt groundwater flows. It isn’t enough to managing flooding on site, building must be designed not to exacerbate flooding elsewhere.

But the main thing, perhaps, is will the new supermarket damage or support town centre shopping? The real distinction between edge of town and town centre supermarkets is whether they generate ‘linked shopping trips’ with people going to both the supermarket and town centre shops. Obviously Mark Dransfield has an multimillion pound interest in promoting town centre shopping, so he’s going to try to make it work, but I have my doubts. The current Morrisons supermarket is just about managing it. However, I cannot see people parking on the far side of Dark Lane and shopping in a supermarket sited roughly where the vets is now then walking up to the Sanderson Arcade let alone the Market Place to do further shopping. To all intents and purposes, the new site is an edge-of-town site, and having the supermarket right at the back of the site makes this even more so. Maybe we just have to hope that shoppers at the current Morrisons site (whoever is running the supermarket) will increase their ‘linked trips’.