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Stay of execution for flood sirens

PUBLISHED: 23:51 27 July 2009 | UPDATED: 11:06 06 July 2010

Norfolk's embattled flood sirens were handed a six month stay of execution today instead of being switched off at the end of this week.

The three year dispute over the future of the sirens continued at Norfolk County Council's cabinet, where leader Daniel Cox said the number of questions submitted for the single item agenda, a total of 12, was one of the most on record for any one issue.

Norfolk's embattled flood sirens were handed a six month stay of execution today instead of being switched off at the end of this week.

The three year dispute over the future of the sirens continued at Norfolk County Council's cabinet, where leader Daniel Cox said the number of questions submitted for the single item agenda, a total of 12, was one of the most on record for any one issue.

At one stage campaigners feared the sirens could be switched off on July 31. This then looked as if it would be moved to October 31, but after a long debate the cabinet agreed to a new date of January 31, 2010.

Leading sirens campaigner and county councillor Marie Strong, just one of many of today's questioners, asked for an extension of more than a year to October 31, 2010.

The extension will allow town and parish councils to be consulted on the possibility of them taking ownership of individual sirens, an idea put forward earlier in the month by the county council's fire and community protection panel.

In parallel with this, the county council will try to use Sustainable Communities Act legislation to compel the police and Environment Agency to work with local communities to establish how the sirens should be used in the future.

The Environment Agency have repeatedly said the sirens are unnecessary because of their alternative phone based floodline warnings direct system and the police have insisted they would not use the sirens to evacuate because they are old and unreliable.

These stances have infuriated people living in the threatened communities and many of their political representatives, who feel the sirens, if updated, would form a vital line of defence against flooding.

That anger remained clear during the cabinet meeting, especially when the subject of the floodline warnings direct system was raised.

Wells flood warden Mike Strong said: “Floodline warnings direct is not fit for purpose in the areas it is most needed, it does not do what it says on the tin.”

Richard Price, North Norfolk District councillor for Waxham, said people “do not have faith” in the process or in the Environment Agency.

Mr Price accused the county council of giving “too many flannel answers” to key questions and said: “We are just getting waffle, people are laughing at the answers.”

Fellow district councillor Lee Walker, who represents nearby Happisburgh and Walcott, which was hit by serious sea flooding in November 2007, said: “The phone system does not work. You have a partnership with the Environment Agency and the police which is not working, somebody has got to take responsibility.”

Harry Humphrey, cabinet member for fire and community protection, said he had been made aware of concerns about the floodline warnings direct system and these had been passed on to the Environment Agency.

Mr Humphrey repeated a number of assertions about the weaknesses of the sirens, including that if the wind was blowing in the wrong direction they might not be heard by some people and also that people did not have a clear understanding of exactly what the alert meant.

The cabinet also agreed there should be more assessment of the floodline warnings direct system.

The decision today means the planned annual sirens test on Saturday morning will take place as planned. Sirens will be sounded for five minutes between 9.30am and 10.30am. A steady note of 30 seconds on and 15 seconds off will be repeated for four minutes and 15 seconds.

A legal challenge to an earlier decision about the future of the sirens has been handed to the county council's deputy monitoring officer.

The council's standards committee will consider whether or not Harry Humphrey, Alexander Byrne, John Perry-Warnes and Tony Tomkinson should have declared prejudicial interests during the most recent fire and community protection panel because of their membership of Norfolk police authority.

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