September 22, 2008

‘Agency Would Not Let Us Stop Flood’

By Brian Daniel

PEOPLE in a Northumberland village left with a river running past their homes by flooding hit out at the Environment Agency. Residents at picturesque Ingram, in the Northumberland National Park, are angry the agency has stopped them doing any work to strengthen the banks of the River Breamish on their land over the last five years.

This they say made it inevitable the summer's heavy rain would force the river from its normal course to swamp their land.

Retired Paul and Mil Lemeunier, 73 and 74 respectively, moved to their 20 acre home in The Granary in 1991. They saw the river surround their home and garages and water get into a shed in which they kept a pony.

The animal had to be moved to a neighbour's shed and they also had to relocate their sheep and ducks onto higher ground.

Neighbour Dave Whitehead, 58, who bought Ingram Mill Cottage and 25 surrounding acres in 2002, also saw two to three feet of water swamp his land. Both he and the Lemeuniers, who have a 50-year association with the Breamish valley, had fencing on their land ripped apart by the force of the water, which is still running over their properties.

It has deposited boulders, gravel and silt across their ground, which will render it unusable for the foreseeable future.

The householders, both of whose property stretches to the midway point of the river, were able to do work to the banks on their land prior to 2003, courtesy of a licence Mr Lemeunier held.

They say they spent up to pounds 8,000 between them on such work. But when the licence expired five years ago, the Environment Agency would not renew it and has since refused their requests to do repairs and said they could face prosecution if they ignored that advice.

The agency said the river should be allowed to follow its natural course as it is in a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and that any work could harm its fish population.

Yet both Mr Lemeunier and Mr Whitehead claimed they had found dead fish on their land following the realignment of the river and have had to return to the water many which have leapt out.

Mr Whitehead, a retired firefighter, said: "It has always been about fish, we must protect the fish, but I do not see how this does protect the fish.

"The environmental lunatics have been left in charge of the asylum.

"It is a close-knit community, everybody helps each other out in times of hardship. But with this heavy handed Environment Agency sitting there and not listening to us and threatening to prosecute then it is not helpful."

A spokeswoman for the agency last night said requests to carry out flood alleviation work on the river would come to it, but it would then have to consult Natural England, which may object on ecological grounds.

She did not have records of whether requests to do work had, or had not, been successful. The spokeswoman said the agency was to meet Natural England on site yesterday to discuss what action could be taken.

She said the river was "very dynamic" at Ingram and often moves considerably during floods.

And she said work on the river would have made no difference in the recent flooding, given its severity.

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