Worried householders on Yarm riverside feared their route to the Tees faced disruption after officials from the Environment Agency commenced talks on closing off floodgates with one long flood wall.
But a meeting on Friday afternoon between a residents group, Yarm town councillors, and the Environment Agency found common ground – with homeowners told their access to the river would be kept.
Relations between the agency and Yarm residents has been strained in recent months after the government body started a review along the river in February.
Agency officials launched the probe after finding some of the floodgates were deteriorating just four years on from 30 of the devices being replaced.
But concerns about the approach taken in the consultation and worries access would be lost led to the formation of residents’ group “Riverside Access Gates of Yarm” – made up of 17 households to date.
Correspondence between Yarm Town Council and the Environmental Agency revealed frustrations and concerns of residents in April.
The letter listed worries over suggestions gats would be replaced with “solid brick walls” – as residents feeling the Environment Agency was “not listening” and claims some felt “intimidated” and “disrespected”.
Costs of the repairs were also listed as a concern.
A reply from the agency denied the conversations had been disrespectful or intimidatory – and that no decision had been made on the future of the gates yet.
Jamie Fletcher, regional operations manager for the Environment Agency, said: “Our absolute priority for this project is securing the best possible flood protection for Yarm.
“Each of the gates on an individual property are very unique – just like each of the homeowners’ needs are unique. The best course of action was to speak personally with all of the homeowners to understand their requirements and discuss the operation of the gate on their property.
“Residents have played a key role and we appreciate all of the information provided and have taken on board all feedback. Our appraisal of all of the options for each gate is still ongoing and we will let residents know as soon as final decisions are made.
“I’d like to reassure residents that we want to work with them to find the best possible solution for both them and the wider community. I am meeting with representatives of the group this week to discuss and clarify the points they have raised and look forward to making progress on the scheme.”
Residents came away from Friday afternoon’s meeting at Yarm Wharf far happier with what they’d heard.
Householder Alan Moffitt said the meeting went well.
“They have decided to replace the gates instead of bricking them up,” he added. “They’re going to ask people with two gates if they can manage with one and ask people with big gates if they can manage with a smaller one – but they are definitely replacing them. I’m very pleased – it’s what we wanted all along."
A spokesperson from Riverside Access Gates of Yarm believed it was a victory and the Environment Agency had been honest.
The spokesperson added: “Things seem to have changed. It must be a consequence of residents making it clear how they felt. They have shifted their tack – the tone of it was completely different and they’ve guaranteed that residents can maintain their access.
“We also got them to acknowledge, especially for the older ones who felt vulnerable, that if they needed accompaniment when visited, they could do that.”
Coun Alan Gallafant, chairman of Yarm Town Council, was also pleased with how the meeting unfolded. Let’s not look back on what was said or not said, let’s look at where we’re going,” he said. It was very positive.”
He was also keen to work with the Environment Agency on the state of the riverside path.
Coun Gallafant added: “We do want to open that path up as an attraction – our long term aim is to get tourists back to the town. It’s an asset which is free but we have to make sure the path is safe and walkable.”