Most readers will be aware of how passionately I’ve supported Brian Stringer and his crusade with the Back the Track crew to reopen the former South Staffordshire Railway cutting through Brownhills as a traffic free cycling and walking route for the whole community – well, the project has taken a very odd turn and I’m not happy with it at all.
It seems that over the past few weeks, Brian and the bike activists have been investigating just why the former railway cutting and site of the old Brownhills Railway Station behind the Smithy’s Forge pub is so wet, and it turns out that the constant flow of water is due to a number of open, historic land drains into the former trackbed, mainly from the Hussey Estate and Holland Park.
After having challenged Walsall Council on the matter, Brian has had to concede that the drains will cost many thousands of pounds to sort out, money which nether the cash-strapped Council nor the cycle campaigning group have at their disposal.
Brian contacted me a couple of weeks ago and said:
Monday saw us in the pouring rain pushing on towards Pelsall but the heavy downpour did us a favour in a way because it showed the the extent of the water rushing in and at last confirmed where most of it is coming from. We suspected a broken drain from Pelsall Road as it was bubbling away like crazy. I went to Clean and Green at the Council to get somebody to have a look but got the old buck pass and fob off, so gave Councillor Ken Ferguson a ring. He promised to look into it and came back yesterday with the news that he looked at plans with the Highways guys and apparently it is an ‘allowed’ drainage for the Hussey estate.
I suppose permission would be granted when adequate drainage was in place but since they have been ripped up we are left with the mess we have.
Since then, matters have come to a head, and Brian has informed me that Back the Track, Brownhills Community Association and Brownhills Local Committee have had a rare joint meeting and decided there’s only one way forward – and thats to allow the cutting to flood, and make a feature of it.
I am horrified by this suggestion, as I’m sure many of you will be, particularly those living on the Watermead Estate and Pelsall Road, as well as people down the former line near Seeds Lane, Deakin Avenue and further afield.
The plan the town elders have come up with is startling – they are planning to build a dam under the Watling Street Rail tunnel, and allow the cutting to backfill with water as far as Bullrush Close, just to the east of the Swan pub on the Pelsall Road.
Brian said in a subsequent email:
We’ve had no choice but to admit we can’t swim against the stream and have decided to go with the flow instead. It’s obvious we can’t sort the drains, but the water is running clear and fairly pure so we thought the best thing to do was make a huge new feature of it.
The water is currently draining downhill towards Hammerwich and going to waste, so I’ve spoken to Doug Birch who knows a thing or two about civil engineering and he thinks it’s practical to build a dam into the Newtown Rail Tunnel which goes under the Watling Street/Chase Road Junction. We could incorporate a small hydroelectric generator into it, and let the water flow into the canal.
Consultants working for a very reasonable hourly rate have suggested this could generate several hundred kilowatts every week and would help resolve the current disagreement between the Canal and River Trust and Staffordshire County Council over Chasewater.
This electricity would effectively be free and for the community, so Gerald Bickley from the Committee has got together with Janet Davies at the Community Association, and they think we can use the power to solve several pressing issues troubling Brownhills.
Bob, I read your Facebook group and it’s obvious that people want Jigger’s lamp lit, and at long last we would have free electricity to do that. We’re also seeking designs for an electric turntable to place Jigger on, rotating him slowly, once every twenty four hours, thus resolving the arguments over whether he’s facing the right way or not. Barrie Poxon thinks that would turn him also into a sort of mechanical sundial that would be the envy of Aldridge, but every time I think about that I get a headache. Mainly because Barrie shouts so much.
Finally, we could at last get a tall, living Christmas tree with as many lights as possible, ending the moaning about that for good. If we had a cold Christmas the new waterway would freeze and people could ice-skate upon it by the light of the tree. It’d be like we used to do in the parlour at home in Clayhanger during the Christmas floods of 1952.
I am shocked and disappointed, to be perfectly honest that a project that started as a worthwhile and practical walking and cycle route has suddenly been turned into some kind of green energy power generation scheme, and after the failure of the wind turbine plan on the common, these things seem to create mistrust in the community.
The water, being very deep, will present a huge drowning hazard to people disposing of used shopping trollies. Anglers fishing off the Miner Island bridges will hold up traffic constantly, and block the footpaths. Beer at the Smithy’s Forge and several other local hostelries will be even closer to water than it is now. Properties along the embankments may well be at risk of rising damp.
But the thing that’s annoying me most, as a cyclist, is the loss of a potential traffic free route that would have allowed people travelling from Lichfield to important, worthy and much nicer places like Pelsall to pass through town without having to interface with the locals hardly at all. It would have been like the proposed Brownhills Bypass was, but just for cyclists.
When asked about the cycling issue, all Brian would say was ‘I rode through deeper water in Clayhanger as a kid, and anyway, after spending several months in a cutting with cyclists like Mick I’ve gone off them a bit. Grown men in lycra. Ugh.’
Most angry of course, are the rail buffs who still hold a candle for the restoration of a rail service to Brownhills. Annie Rack, of the Brownhills Rail Action Group said in an email:
I know that rail is a difficult prospect in Brownhills – we’ve only just found out that British Rail didn’t remove the line in the 80s, it was the Jones crew from Harden who weighed it in for scrap.
We think a 700v third rail system could deal with that in future, or at least make it more of a challenge.
Attempts to flood Hammerwich in 1961 were thwarted by the fact that the village turned out to be on a considerable hill.
We’ve raised petitions signed by loads of train spotters, we’ve done feasibility studies – all my friends think rail is an excellent idea and this proposal to flood the cutting is a backward step.
Negative people keep talking of high costs but no price is too great to see a passenger DMU rattling down the line again from Lichfield. Besides which, they already tried flooding the track in Hammerwich by breaking the old watermain and look at the mess THAT made.
Do you like marmite sandwiches?
I can see some advantages to this – after all, canals and water have been a feature of Brownhills life for centuries and as weekend floods have shown, Brownhills rises to the challenge and has now started water-polo sessions on Holland Park tennis courts and Walsall Wood’s bowling green sees regular synchronised swimming sessions staged by game and well lubricated lads from the Football Club.
I welcome the potential resolution to the Jigger’s lamp and directional issues. But I can’t help feeling this will all end badly.
After all, lots of local people recently paid good money in aid of Back the Track and were forced to endure Brian playing the ukulele at them, which is enough to test any relationship. Several are still traumatised.
What do you think about this proposal? Comment here or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.