Ensuring that residents are consulted and kept up to date with proposals for the Haugh Head ford is a key concern, a meeting heard last week.
Last Wednesday, a public meeting, organised by the parish council, took place in the Riverside Bar in Wooler, to discuss the proposed removal of the ford as well as other weirs further up Wooler Water.
It followed concerns raised at parish-council meetings and was attended by a decent number of residents as well as representatives of the Environment Agency (EA), Northumberland County Council, Natural England, the Tweed Forum and the River Tweed Commission.
Summing up the general mood of the public, Dominic Naylor, farms manager at the Lilburn Estates, said: “We want to believe the EA, but it’s railroading ahead without local knowledge.
“It’s about the natterjack toads or the fish, but we care about the people that live here and the people that try to make a living here. Let’s start seeing some evidence.
“If you rush this through and get it wrong, it will be years and years of suffering for everyone who lives here.”
Neil Smith, the project manager for the EA, said that they ‘are not going to rush’ and Claire Pattison, the Agency’s geomorphology expert, added: “We are not going to steamroller ahead.”
Earlier in the meeting, Mr Smith had pledged the situation would continue to be assessed even after completion: “We don’t see the project stopping at the point that the works are delivered.”
He added: “The EA will not progress a scheme if there’s any concern that we are increasing flood risk. I would like to stress that point.”
But those at the meeting still had a large number of fears, exacerbated by the fact that many feel they have not been informed or consulted. There was also alarm that the aim is for work to be carried out in July and August this year.
However, it was also made clear that this meeting formed part of consultation which would be taken into account before a preferred option is drawn up.
The EA’s representatives said that following extensive survey work and studies, it was now time to incorporate local knowledge and concerns into the scheme.
In October last year, we first reported that a number of organisations were working together to try to find a solution to the all but redundant fish pass at Haugh Head, which is affecting salmon and sea trout.
Concerns raised by residents at the meeting included flooding to properties near the ford, the impact on the river further downstream and therefore the properties on the riverbank, the changes to vehicular access which is particularly key for agriculture, and the potential loss of the footbridge.
The area’s ward member, Coun Anthony Murray, also complained that despite numerous requests, nothing has been done to remove the build-up of sediment down near Wooler itself, which has impacted on the banks.
“I believe that work should be done and the ford should remain,” he said.