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Anger over flood siren compromise

PUBLISHED: 15:17 14 July 2009 | UPDATED: 14:24 03 July 2010

FLOOD defence campaigners have been left unhappy by a compromise decision which could allow warning sirens to continue - but only if parish councils take them on and pay for them.

FLOOD defence campaigners have been left unhappy by a compromise decision which could allow warning sirens to continue - but only if parish councils take them on and pay for them.

Norfolk County Council's fire and community protection scrutiny panel today recommended that the council stop operating the flood sirens, but allow town or parish councils to make a case for keeping them. If they succeed they will have to take on the ownership and maintenance themselves.

But the sirens have got a short reprieve, with a recommendation to switch them off on August 1 amended to give councils more time to take them on.

David Russell, senior flood warden in Sea Palling, said: “I am not very happy. Eventually the parishes are going to have to pay for them. Our parish hasn't got enough money.

“The one good bit of news is that we have got the sirens for a while yet.”

Mike Strong, the author of the Wells flood plan, said: “I am just appalled and disappointed. We just want to warn our residents.”

The county council's head of emergency planning, John Ellis, said that the county's emergency planning officers believe the sirens are unreliable and “not fit for purpose”, and that their sounding could cause confusion and panic.

The Environment Agency and Norfolk Police are also unwilling to use the sirens, preferring the Environment Agency's Floodline Warnings Direct system, which sends warnings by phone, text message, email or fax.

At today's meeting, Tony Tomkinson, county councillor for Clavering, proposed the successful motion which said the sirens should be withdrawn from service “within a reasonable time”. The original recommendation to the committee was that they should be turned off on August 1, without giving parishes a chance to take them on.

He said that the county council might be able to use the provisions of the Sustainable Communities Act to secure funding for parishes to look after the sirens, and that the act might even be able to compel the Environment Agency and police to use the system.

Bertie Collins, county councillor for Gorleston, said that Yarmouth people wanted to keep the sirens. “The new system was tried in 2007 and it was not a success.”

Steven Dorrington, county councillor for Hingham, said he was concerned about the effect on Walcott of losing the sirens. “This reminds me of the scene in only Fools and Horses when they are waiting for the chandelier to drop and while they are looking at that the other one crashes to the floor. We are concentrating on Yarmouth and Walcott will fall.”

Liberal Democrat David Callaby said he was “very disappointed”, especially because the Conservatives had pledged in their June manifesto to keep the sirens.

Green Andrew Boswell said: “It is quite irresponsibly putting lives at risk before they have got a better system in place.”

The decision will have to be ratified by the county council's cabinet, which will make a decision about the time frame for removal of the sirens

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