£42m to be set aside for leisure centre, bypass and flood works

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COUNCIL chiefs have approved plans to increase the amount of funding they are prepared to pay towards building new flood defences in Morpeth, a bypass around the town and a replacement leisure centre in Ashington.

Northumberland county councillors last week endorsed a decision by executive members to increase capital expenditure by £42m between 2011 and 2015.

Among the schemes earmarked to have that cash spent on them are a northern bypass for Morpeth and long-awaited flood alleviation works in the town centre, both highlighted as being of “major strategic importance”.

According to a report presented to last week’s full council meeting, if the local authority increases its contribution to the two schemes to £22m and both initiatives are approved, it is likely that about £38m of government funding would be secured.

The proposed bypass would aim to provide a link between the A1 and south east Northumberland, helping relieve congestion in the town and also potentially attracting new investment to the county.

The scheme was put on hold just over a year ago as part of the coalition government’s cost-cutting drive, but the county council now believes it could go ahead after all if it can come up with 30 per cent of the total cost, around £11m.

Morpeth has been prone to flooding since 1839, with the biggest recorded flood hitting the town in September 2008, affecting more than 1,000 homes and businesses.

Work has been ongoing with partners including the Environment Agency to reduce the threat, but again funding had proved a stumbling block.

An £11m scheme has been drawn up which would see new defences constructed at Mitford Road, High Stanners and around Oldgate Bridge, with the existing defences in the town maintained and extra storage of water provided upstream on the Mitford Estate.

If approved, it is likely that the government would contribute £10m towards the cost.

The rest of the £42m capital expenditure is accounted for by the £6.8m needed to address a backlog of maintenance work in schools across the county and the £20m earmarked for a new leisure and community centre in Ashington.

The report said: “The existing leisure centre at Ashington is facing significant backlog maintenance issues and is beyond economic repair and hence needs to be re-provided.

“In addition, the existing library, customer services facility and registrars’ facility require significant investment to be fit for purpose, which means that newly-combined provision may be a better option for the future.”