Well, conditioned to expect a big feature on the long-dry lake, I tuned in to the BBC iPlayer on Sunday night to learn all about Chasewater’s draining. As it was, the forlorn reservoir was barely mentioned, and the bit that did make it past the edit was along the Michael Fabricant ‘biblical disaster averted’ pitch.
Neil Turner, the apparently somewhat tense spokesman for the project, is seen talking to John Craven. In the dialogue, it’s made to look like Lichfield District Council are undertaking this task out of pure benevolence and concern for safety, rather than having their hand forced legally after years of closing their eyes and hoping the issue would go away. I note the cost has now risen to five million pounds. All is not well, clearly.
Answers as to why John and Neil are wearing high visibility gear in a public area are welcomed. The helmets are a nice touch, too. Wise considering the size of the gull roost of an evening. Perhaps that’s where Neil keeps his marmite sandwiches.
Meanwhile, over on the Chasewater Dam Blog, the updates are now coming thick and fast, but most reader questions are now met with the standard line ‘We’ll find out and get back to you’. I have repeatedly tried to get an answer as to why the project is so delayed, and as to why basic design aspects hadn’t been finalised sooner. For a project that was supposed to be done and dusted by late 2010, there are some very basic components – like what the filter material will consist of, and where it’s being sourced – undecided.
The last enquiry I posted – way back on the 27th January 2011 – was held in moderation for a month before being deleted. After prevaricating and attempting to subvert the thread in to one of my personal credibility, the team failed to address why Chasewater was drained and had lain idle for nearly a year before works were started. Here’s the simple question I asked:
Come on, you know full well what I’m getting at. I’ll put it plainly.
When Chasewater was drained, press releases and signage on the site recorded that work was due to be complete by ‘late 2010′. Press releases showing Cllr Val Richards somewhat ungracefully manhandling a valve stated that the reservoir would be allowed to start refilling in September 2010. They’re still up on the web, on the Lichfield Blog and various newspaper sites.
What went wrong?
It’s clear the plan collapsed at some point. Only the most naive press office would go to the public, print signage and make reassuring noises without being sure the work was to be completed. Your letter from the Dam Inspector is plainly telling you to open the valves immediately to facilitate work in May. This didn’t happen. Why?
In May, it emerges that you haven’t even got a contractor. December before anything actually happens. A season without water and you claim it’s now about safety. This is just a few months after blindly stating the signs saying the work would be completed late 2010 are correct and that I’m scaremongering.
Now, it’s nearly February, critical design points are still being finalised, you haven’t found suitable filter material and it looks to any observer that we were either lied to, or LDC haven’t a clue what they’re doing.
Which is it? You can answer this on this blog, in public, so all concerned Chasewater users can see it. Please reply to these points here, without prevarication, obfuscation or throwing up smokescreens about myself. This isn’t about me, whether I’m prepared to meet you or what experience I have. It’s about why your statements were misleading and incorrect.
If this isn’t covered, I’m prepared to take it to a Freedom of Information Request. The truth will come out.
If you want to look at the news page on the Chasewater Wildlife Group’s site, Graham Evans has written a wonderful summing up of this situation with which I wholly concur. I salute Graham for his observation. You’d do well to read it.
At first glance, it may not seem too important that there has been a delay. Work is now well underway, and indeed, seems to have reached an almost feverish pitch. However, there are businesses – like the boat club and watersports people – whose members are still paying subscriptions to clubs without their most basic facility. Every month the reservoir remains dry, the longer the hydroecology will take to recover. Every week that passes the damage grows greater – the damage to Chasewater’s ecology, it’s economy, and to the council’s credibility.
Questions need to be answered about why this project was so delayed, why the costs keep escalating, and just why Lichfield District Council claimed the project would be completed when they did. Chasewater’s users and interest groups were either lied to, or something went horribly wrong with the project. Neither possibility can be considered the mark of successful management; indeed, late completion seems to be the order of the day for the council, with the Beacon Park project now running late, too.
I had started out on the subject of Chasewater with the hope that Lichfield District Council were undertaking something openly, in plain sight, with a new-media approach to the public that could later be held up as an example of how to successfully deal with potentially contentious and problematic projects. Twelve months later, I’m somewhat disillusioned. Lizzie has put in sterling work, but the clear management policy of refusing to answer an honest, basic question has saddened me immensely.
I’m currently preparing a set of requests under the Freedom of Information Act, to find out what has gone on. I’ll keep readers updated, and the request will be submitted via Whatdotheyknow.com so that the process is clear and visible to all. Those of us who love Chasewater and it’s wildlife deserve a decent answer.
On a more practical note, the causeway, where the path crosses the creek between Jeffrey’s Swag and the main pool via the little metal bridge, is now closed, and will be so until at least Easter. The swag itself is being lowered to facilitate the replacement of the culvert between the two pools. There’s a long way round, via Norton East Road and a temporary level crossing just south of the Causeway. Take care if you’re on a bike; I was on Tuesday and the slabs of the crossing are just far enough apart to swallow a bike wheel. Supervise any kids crossing there carefully.