Hang out the flags, deck the halls, light the beacons. Those damn works are complete, and the contractors appointed to upgrade the dam at Chasewater have left the building, and everything has now returned to normal. Normal, that is, apart from the fact that the lake is still empty. Twelve months later than predicted, millions of pounds over budget and with enough egg on Lichfield District Council’s face to cook omelette for their entire workforce, we finally have the park back.
This is great news. Walkers and cyclists can now access the park from the canal, the dam road is open to pedestrian and bike traffic again, and the South Shore is linked to Chasetown once again. This is good news for all of us – the works are complete, open to be studied and scrambled over and everything is back to how it was before all the unpleasantness began. It’s going to be a long time before water levels are back to normal, and they are currently recovering at a very low rate; bear in mind that despite the PR guff from the authority, the ‘plug’ had actually been in the reservoir since March, 2010, not last autumn, as that was when water was last discharged. The level you see know has taken, therefore, over a year to achieve, and has totalled about 1.5 meters. This is a long journey, and we’re living in a very dry season indeed.
The work itself, in civil engineering terms, has been excellent and is very impressive. Once Staffordshire took over and replaced the bumbling, meandering indecision of the Lichfield period, work progressed apace, problems were addressed and dealt with swiftly. Good engineers looked at what was necessary, scaled back the wilder excesses of the project and created a solution that seems sound, in terms of safety, ecology and longevity. Staffordshire should be rightly proud that they took on an unholy, shambolic mess and brought order from chaos with a decisive, knowledgable approach.
The only issues I have with this is that opportunities have been missed in some aspects of the work, and from the perspective of Chasewater’s users, little has actually improved. Access from the canal basin is still made difficult by a steel post that serves no purpose, blocking easy access by the disabled, those with pushchairs and on bikes. The bottleneck, rickety and slippery when wet steel bridge over the creek in the Railway Causeway remains – with many observers wondering why the new spillway was not placed there instead. The access issue with the post, we were told would be sorted as part of the works, but nothing happened. It would take less than a minute to buzz it off with a friction cutter.
Spinning round the park yesterday, there seems to be a collective madness affecting the people in charge right now. It’s quite troubling. Access over the dam to anything other than the houses has rightly been barred, which is exactly as it should be, and always was until the bypass was built. The steel gate has been re-erected at the rear of the innovation centre. As was always the case, there is access at the side around it for non-motor traffic. Further up the road, someone is obviously and rightly concerned about vehicles parking up in the lay-by by the Nine Foot and canal basin, so a temporary barrier of barrels, steel post and concrete has been erected. All the way across the road. The only way around is to jump it, or go all the way back and use the dam path. Surely it doesn’t have to extend all the way? Utterly daft.
The other example of the sudden and startling brain drain is a peculiar piece of trail maintenance on the north heath. Cyclists here will be well aware of the fun to be had on the marked cycle route over the old pit-mound behind the rugby club. A sharp rise behind the pitch, then a nice, challenging downhill with lot of curves and mud past Fly Pool. If you’re planning to ride this anytime soon, some muppet with socks for a brain has erected a cycle trap. Use it at your peril.
It seems a rectangular patch of trail has been dug away, and filled with course gravel. Why, I have no idea. I saw it at speed, at the last moment. My tyre track can be seen to the left. Fortunately, I was riding a mountain bike yesterday, and mot my usual road bike. If I had, the consequences could be far worse. The prospect of a child with low bike skills hitting this fills me with horror.
What on earth are they thinking? I’d love an explanation from the rangers, or whoever is responsible.
I do hope this isn’t indicative of the a changing attitude from Chasewater’s staff, who have always been excellent. Though sadly, coupled with other recent silliness, I’m not optimistic…