Totem poles are at heart of flood defences

A FLOOD defence project is doubling as artwork in a Northumberland town.

A FLOOD defence project is doubling as artwork in a Northumberland town.

Work is finally coming to an end on an £8m scheme to cut the risk of flooding in Hexham.

Part of the project includes a totem pole installation at Sele Park which will double as an artwork and a device to catch trees and other large debris being washed down the Cockshaw Burn.

The aim is to improve trash screen facilities within the Cockshaw and Halgut Burn to reduce the risk of blockages to culverts.

Artist Matthew Fedden was commissioned by the Environment Agency, with the help of Commissions North and Northern Rock Building Society, to provide a structure that would be both robust and practical to maintain, but sympathetic in its use of materials and provide visual enhancement to the area. He came up with a design comprising four oak totem poles. They have been carved and coloured with the use of a blow torch, with two of the poles featuring stained glass and prisms to create coloured light.

All of the design and engineering work at Hexham has taken almost three years.

Main contractor Volker Stevin is moving off site, leaving only the finishing touches – which can’t be tackled until spring – to be completed.

The Environment Agency scheme has also created a culvert, which runs for almost 800 metres from Gilesgate beneath Burn Lane and under the Newcastle to Carlisle railway line, to carry flood water to a new outfall below the town centre at Tyne Green.

The scheme also involved lowering the riverbed and construction of new floodwalls.

Improvements have also been made to Wydon Burn Reservoir, previously owned by Northumbrian Water, creating a new flood water storage area and a fishing lake with 20 fishing platforms and a kilometre of lakeside paths.

The lake will be complemented by new planting and trees and when it becomes established it will be stocked with coarse fish.

The scheme includes public art and other architectural features such as the totem pole-style tree catcher.

Ian Hodge, agency’s flood risk manager, said: “This is a significant milestone for the flood alleviation scheme, which will reduce the risk of flooding to over 100 homes and 50 businesses in Hexham.

“As well as tackling flood risk and the increasing impact of our changing climate, we felt it was important that the design of the scheme complemented the architecture of Hexham and created added interest for local residents as well as environmental improvements.

“We are delighted that the scheme is now operational and to have all but the finishing touches complete before the worst of the winter weather sets in.”

Stephen Marshall, contracts manager for Volker Stevin, said: “ The scheme has been a large and complex undertaking.

“We have been working to construct a large culvert in a busy commercial and residential area of the town. We have had a lot of help and support from local people and businesses during our two years here and we are pleased to be able to finish the scheme on time.”

The Hexham scheme is part of the agency’s flood risk reduction programme, which will see a total of £138m invested in the protection of town and cities from flooding over the next five years across the agency’s North-East operational region.

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