THE highest tides for the next ten years are expected to hit the region's coastline this weekend - putting homes at risk of flooding.

Last night, the Environment Agency issued an alert for the North-East and Yorkshire, which could see tides more than three metres high.

It also warned that many people living in vulnerable spots had failed to sign up for advance flood warnings.

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The high tides are forecast from Friday to Sunday, as well as September 9 to 11 and October 7 to 10.

Officials said they could reach 3.08 metres high in coastal towns such as North Shields and Whitby.

It was not, they said, due to global warming, but general atmospheric conditions.

Asghar Akhondi, regional flood forecasting team leader with the Environment Agency, said: "These tides are not predicted to be as high again until 2015.

"The height does depend on the weather, but we are asking people to be alert to the possibility of flooding."

Mr Akhondi said the tides were an opportunity for the agency to test out sophisticated computer systems that could more accurately predict potential flooding.

In March, it opened a flood forecasting centre in Leeds to monitor flooding risks.

An estimated 262,000 homes in the region face an all-year-round risk of flood damage.

About 80 per cent of them can sign up for a free flood warning service which, in the North-East, covers a number of towns and cities including Darlington, Durham, Hexham, Morpeth, Newcastle, Redcar, and Sunderland, along with large sections of the Tees Estuary.

The service sends messages to landline phones, mobiles or fax machines, but take-up has been poor.

A spokesman for Northumbrian Water said it was aware of the high tides alert and was improving its systems to minimise the threat flooding poses.

l For details on flood warnings call 0845 988 1188 or go to www.environment-agency.gov.uk