Storm Babet: Defences hold firm as major flooding in Northumberland towns avoided

A picture of the Mitford Dam taken on Sunday.A picture of the Mitford Dam taken on Sunday.
A picture of the Mitford Dam taken on Sunday.
River levels on the Wansbeck and Coquet were the highest since 2012 after a whole month’s worth of rain fell in 48 hours.

The Environment Agency has confirmed that persistent and heavy rain as a result of Storm Babet meant more than the average monthly rainfall was recorded in many towns across Northumberland between last Thursday and Saturday morning.

However, defences were effective and so major flooding was avoided, although a small number of properties flooded at East Mill, Morpeth, and Felton – as well as a small number of garages in Rothbury.

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The flood gates at Morpeth were closed by Environment Agency staff at 3pm on Thursday. On Friday evening, river levels continued to rise due to heavy rain fall, activating the dam at Mitford.

An image of the Mitford Dam site captured during late Friday afternoon.An image of the Mitford Dam site captured during late Friday afternoon.
An image of the Mitford Dam site captured during late Friday afternoon.

The construction of the dam was completed in 2015 at a cost of £27million. It automatically comes into operation when the River Wansbeck rises to pre-determined levels upstream.

It works by storing up to 1.4million cubic metres of water when river levels are high and could cause flooding. This water is then released slowly when the risk of flooding has passed.

Environment Agency staff closed the flood gates in Rothbury at 8am on Friday in anticipation of the predicted increased rainfall. The river levels peaked between 6pm and 9pm that evening, below the level of the flood defences and 25 properties were protected from flooding.

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River levels along the River Coquet in Rothbury peaked below the trigger levels for issuing a flood warning. The flood gates protected houses in the area, although the agency understands there was surface water flooding that happened behind the flood gates.

Jim Heslop, area duty manager at the Environment Agency in the North East, said: “Persistent and heavy rain brought by Storm Babet resulted in the potential for flooding across parts of the North East over the weekend. The heaviest rain passed on Friday and into Saturday, with a much calmer Sunday when we saw river levels start to recede.

“While we can never completely eradicate the risk of flooding to homes and businesses, our flood defences operated as expected.

“In particular, Mitford Dam, constructed in 2015 as part of the Morpeth Flood Scheme, had its biggest test yet and, together with the in-town flood defences, protected 1,000 properties in Morpeth from flooding.

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“We are aware that a small number of properties flooded at East Mill and Felton, and in Rothbury flooding was limited to a small number of garages. We will continue to work closely with our partners over the coming days to support affected communities.”