Death knell for Norfolk flood sirens

A campaign to save Norfolk's flood sirens looks to have failed - with the death knell for the ageing war devices being sounded for the end of next month.

A campaign to save Norfolk's flood sirens looks to have failed - with the death knell for the ageing war devices being sounded for the end of next month.

After three years of consultation county councillors are being urged to scrap the sirens because they are unreliable, likely to cause panic and are not fit for purpose.

The move, likely to be approved next week, will anger campaigners along the coast who have argued the sirens are an essential back up to the main telephone warning system.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb today said he was disgusted by the decision, which would appal coastal communities, as it ignored a pledge for an independent review which appeared to have been reneged upon.

Norfolk County Council's Fire and Community Protection Overview and Scrutiny Committee will hear on Tuesday that campaigners have failed to make a strong enough case to save the sirens and that funding could be better spent on providing information to the community about what to do in an emergency.

A report by John Ellis, the county's head of emergency planning, says in a report that the legal duty to warn people of flooding lies with the Environment Agency, while the responsibility for evacuating people lies, ultimately, with a group chaired by Norfolk police.

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The report details how a decision was delayed for 12 months at members' request to allow for consultation with coastal communities, and outlines the views expressed by the Environment Agency and Norfolk Constabulary - who both say they cannot see any situation in which they would ever use the sirens.

Mr Ellis' report recommends the committee asks the council Cabinet to withdraw the flood sirens from service on midnight on the 31 July 2009.

That would be in line with the findings of a cross-party scrutiny group which examined the issue last year, Mr Ellis says.

His report says the group concluded that unless MPs could persuade the police or Environment Agency to change their stance the county council could not justify spending tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money on retaining and maintaining a system, which would never be used.

It also says emergency planning officers in Norfolk believed the sirens were not fit for purpose, the system was not reliable, the messages they gave (if heard) were not clearly understood by the community.

'Any sounding of them could cause confusion and panic. This in turn could leave the emergency services to deal with secondary incidents, thus not allowing them to effectively manage an evacuation process," says Mr Ellis.

Harry Humphrey. cabinet member for Fire and Community Protection, said: 'In March it was agreed to give the MPs more time and to make a decision in July. It now seems apparent that the agencies have not been persuaded and therefore the recommendations of the working group should now be followed."