Fresh concerns have been raised over the future of a key structure at Humford Country Park in Bedlington following a site visit.
About 2,000 people signed a petition opposing any move to demolish Humford Dam after a document from the Northumberland Rivers Trust (NRT), dated January 2017, was leaked to them in April.
It mentioned Environment Agency funding being allocated for potential works to remove the significant concrete weir.
This appeared to be off the table when the group of residents leading the campaign said there was a commitment to go with one of three alternative options – improving the existing fish pass, building a new fish pass and providing a fish by-pass – at a meeting between them and representatives of the two organisations in the summer.
However, what was said at the recent site visit has led to five of the residents writing to Oliver Harmar, area director for the North East at the Environment Agency.
The letter by Keith Miller, Ann Pattison, William Marley, Philip Temple and Tony Rugman-Jones includes the following: ‘Residents expected to hear of progress in relation to the agreed options, but instead had to listen to a lengthy re-run of the so-called case in favour of demolition.
‘Asked about the three agreed options, the only response from your officials was that a number of options were being considered, with an added seemingly ‘throwaway’ comment that a new pass, for example, would cost half a million pounds and would not get funding.
‘Interestingly though, when asked about the estimated cost of the demolition scheme, there was no answer.
‘May we ask please that you confirm that the Environment Agency does not intend to support or provide funding for the demolition of Humford Dam and that you seek to put matters back on the agreed track?’
Robbie Stevenson, fisheries technical officer for the Environment Agency in the North East, said: “We have met representatives of the community twice recently to share information and ideas as we try to reach a solution.
“As we’ve said previously, our surveys provide evidence that show Humford Dam is having a major negative impact on the fish in the river – it disrupts the migration of the critically endangered European eel, trout, sea trout and possible salmon, making it difficult for them to thrive.
“There is somewhere between 50 and 75km of potential habitat upstream that fish could have access to, which would lead to ecological benefits and hopefully a more natural river system for people to enjoy now and in the future.
“But we entirely understand the position of the community.
“The views of local residents remain central to the discussion and we will continue to work together with them in order to try to find a suitable option.”