A Question of silt

Eureka! Sandwell council having finally been asked by the ICO to respond to an FOI request I made in July have finally responded. This concerned so called “trash screen inspections” of Smethwick Hall Park. I am still a little mystified as to what these actually are, who caries them out , and what is done with the information when they are processed. To which manager at the Oldbury Kremlin are they presented, and then what does he or she do with them if they call for some action to be taken? Having also spoken to several park staff employed by SMBC, they claim to have never even heard of them, or are they just bullshitting me or have been told not to give me any information- well it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that has happened would it?  😆

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The blocked “trash screen” at Smethwick Hall park, which directly flows to The Birmingham Mainline canal.

Perhaps lack of managerial action in light of the remarks recorded  is the reason why this request was not answered in a timely manner, but whatever the reason, the supplied information did not have with it a reason for the delay , or a reason for failure to conduct an internal review when this was not answered within the timeframe of 20 working days as required by law. Nor did it provide all of the information that I had asked for, records of site inspections going back to January 2013.  On this point I am going to write to the ICO again, without asking SMBC to conduct an internal review, as I do not believe this would even be answered or conducted, and again I would have to write to the ICO anyway.

The supplied information, consisted of scanned file sheets for the site in question for each month between January 2018   and July 2019. It is hard to see the cost of retrieving and scanning these as “excessive” in terms of not supplying the full request time period I had asked for. There was also no order to the zip file, meaning that to get the picture of what was being observed and recorded, (and not acted upon by management), required some resorting. But as I like jigsaw puzzles, below I set out the full chronological order of observations and comments for site 24 Smethwick Hall Park in the relevant screen shots.

The first thing to note about these is the subjective tick box exercise of whether the site is regarded as “good”, “fair” or “poor”. Anyone familiar with this site, and the appallingly blocked grid condition that it was in between these two dates would be hard pressed to see how anyone would have believed this site to be in a “good” condition- but there we are!  :roll: The other is why someone would tick “YES” that the grid was clear of debris, and then contradict that by saying that they couldn’t even reach the middle of the grid to clear the debris!

JANUARY 2018 

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FEBRUARY 2018

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This appears to be the first in a series of comments about how access to the middle of the grid cannot be reached.

MARCH 2018

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Another comment made about being unable to remove debris from the middle.

APRIL 2018

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The third consecutive month where a record of not being able to clean the middle of the blocked grid is made.

MAY 2018

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This comment records that the water level has dropped by between 6 to 8 inches. This I believe refers to the level of the water behind the build up of crap that was blocking the front of the grid. It was to reach even higher , as photographic evidence will show later.

JUNE 2018

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What exactly was done, and how? Did the water level drop as a result of work that was done, and what effects did this have on the lake and its bird life itself?

JULY 2018

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A “plan” is called for as to whether man or machine is required to “clean grid properly”. So this appears to admit that it wasn’t being cleaned properly. This period of time corresponds to when the first dead and ill birds were being reported at Victoria Park Smethwick.

AUGUST 2018

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“Reported birds in pond/not to touch pond until report on birds”

What does this mean and what report is referred to here? Were dead birds observed at this pool at this particular time, as this is the first that I have heard of dead birds being present at this site, when they were also being reported at Victoria Park. Who in SMBC had instructed the compiler of this sheet to not touch the pond? How long were the birds, if dead left rotting in here without being removed, and what effect did leaving these dead birds in the pool have on others. APHA guidance on leaving dead birds in situ is quite clear in that it will make botulism cases worse.

SEPTEMBER 2018

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Once again only the side of the grid appears to have been cleared of litter.

OCTOBER 2018

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Surface litter was removed from around the top of the pond around the edge of the grid.

NOVEMBER 2018

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“Still waiting for mechanical clean out”

DECEMBER 2018

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“Still waiting machine clean out”

JANUARY 2019

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“Still waiting on machine clean out”

FEBRUARY 2019

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“Need long reach mechanical to clear debris from grid”. 

For the fourth successive month , it is clear that the job of properly clearing this grid had not been done properly. But which manager at SMBC had failed to act on these comments for this amount of time?

MARCH 2019

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The debris is claimed to have been cleared, but I am quite aware that it had not been cleared sufficiently as the below pictures testify. The claim that the grid is clear is a pack of lies.

Picture taken 20/4/19 showing extent of blockage of grid and debris surrounding it.

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Mike gets the weak flaccid winged bird from the blocked outlet.

The picture above was taken around 23/4/19 and shows the debris surrounding the grid and the fact that Mike was able to walk on this solid mass to get the ill goose sat on the edge of it.

APRIL 2019

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The comment on 26/4/19 is now described as “all clear”. This coincides with the raw sewage pollution which I reported , and had involved the fist ill birds observed on site a few days earlier. I believe Max Cookson at SMBC was responsible for arranging the hasty removal of the silt and debris blocking this grid. But who had failed to act in allowing this situation and the many statements made in the inspections about it being blocked?

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Picture taken on 25/4/19 when Hills contractors were clearing out the feet of silt and debris blocking the grid.

Tonnes of material were removed from this one small area, and it was quite clear that this was months worth of debris that was blocking the grid. The level of the water was at least one foot below the level of the crap blocking the grid. This event in relation to lowering the water levels in the height of hot weather and faecal pollution incident that was still occurring was an absolutely disastrous kneejerk decision that should not have been taken. The fact that the silt was present with months worth of debris that had not been removed, but had diligently been reported is one which needs to be scrutinised!

MAY2019

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JUNE 2019

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No comment is made here, but note the comments made about the site at Cemetery Road!

JULY 2019

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Once again, the site at Cemetery Road has a blockage, and once again this had been reported a month earlier but nothing done.

MEETING OF 26/11/19

As reported in the last post, this meeting was supposed to update on proposed actions that would be taken. I was eager to see if Severn Trent water and SMBC were going to cough up the money to desilt the pool. Present at the meeting were several SMBC managers, Severn Trent, the RSPCA and the APHA where the birds had been taken for post mortem.

  • Severn Trent set out their version of misconnections with a map of the catchment that they had  been looking at. But I spoke out about how little had been made of the fact that this sewage incident had directly contributed to the dire conditions in the pool. I raised information obtained from an FOI request about NIRS incident reports from the EA, one of which I had reported in January- REF 01672260 06/01/2019. There appears to be great discrepancy in Severn Trent’s statements regards how long this issue of sewage has been affecting the pool. At the meeting, one officer claimed that it would have been a matter of “days” that the sewage had been going into the pool from the so called “unmapped asset”, but if you look at the incident in January, they are themselves aware that sewage was the issue, and smelt it themselves!

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“08/01/2019 S. Roe (EA)  rang STWL for an update. Informed that a crew attended and a strong sewage odour was observed. Ammonia readings at the weir were 3.7 and 4.5 at end of lake.”

They were also aware that the levels of ammonia, a strong indicator of sewage were very high. 

The blocked unmapped asset story does also not add up, as a local resident who used to work for the parks at SMBC brought up. Why would this private operator not know about assets that had always been known about historically?

  • The representative from the APHA gave a report on the number of birds received at Shrewsbury from the three parks. As I set out in a previous post, two of these birds from Victoria Park had confirmed botulism, but it still appears that despite the many birds from Smethwick Hall that had died, only four of poor quality had been submitted by SMBC. A discussion on botulism outbreaks at other venues across the country was raised. This occurrence should not detract from the fact that causal factors at this site are very much attributable to the poor water quality and presumed illness and deaths of the birds. It was stated that most of the botulism cases that the APHA had looked at had occurred in town areas. I would out the case that these sites probably have similar sewage and “misconnection” issues.
  • Deaths on the parks had slowed down in recent weeks. This could be due to the fence that was erected at Smethwick Hall, and also increased water levels and colder weather.
  • A couple of “unusual” flukes had been noted on the post mortem of cygnets from West Smethwick Park
  • The RSPCA confirmed that only one cygnet of the three they had taken away from West Smethwick park had survived. No explanation of why they had earlier stated that the family at this park would be taken away, but were not was provided. I stated that I had made a formal complaint to the RSPCA about this, and the lack of information that the organisation had provided in connection with this issue.
  • SMBC revealed that they had approached contractors with regard to desilting. Unfortunately this does not appear to be the whole pool, and only the area to the first island and  an area near to the trash grid at the other end of the pool. This would be mechanically removed and not via vacuum truck. The water level would be dropped in the lake to achieve this. The favoured option was to bury the material on one of the football pitches, and the park would have to be closed off. The cost would probably run into six figures.
  • Concern was expressed by myself as to the operation to desilt the pool without isolating the birds from the contaminated area. I suggested putting in stop planks to prevent birds from getting into the area, and so that the water level could be kept as high as possible.
  • Severn Trent enquired if SMBC had sought any clarification from the EA as to whether this waste would be allowed to be stored on site, or if it would be regraded as “special waste”. SMBC said that they had not.
  •  I stated in the Express and Star that cabinet Maria Crompton had said.

“We are actively seeking a resolution to this matter and will continue to do so. It is the responsibility of Severn Trent to address any contamination entering the pool and when this has been rectified we shall seek appropriate reimbursement for any remedial work required.”

  • I asked if indeed Severn Trent would reimburse the council, to which they did not answer. SMBC via Max Cookson stated that that was between Severn Trent and SMBC.

I have to state that I was not very impressed with what I heard from either Severn trent or Sandwell council at this meeting. That SMBC consider this to be a matter out of the public domain probably means that it will be the taxpayer, and not Severn Trent who have to foot the bill for this long time parks managerial utter failure. This on top of the destruction and spiralling costs of the Londonderry playing fields for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games aquatics centre, where some trinagular shaped humans will have five minutes of fame, shows where SMBC put their priorities. Green flags are false flags.

It was also noted that not a single councillor was present at this meeting, including the three who claim to represent the area in question. What that says speaks volumes to me.

The desilting exercise is I am afraid just an apparent repeat of the disaster which took place in April. It is all very well doing “something” when they have failed to act, but not even half of this pool will be desilted, and the risks to the birds are unacceptable. There are no plans or mitigation currently to stop the birds at the site being exposed to the same contaminated silt that they have effectively been isolated from in recent weeks. Unless something is done, when the water levels are allowed to drop, the deaths and illness will restart, and it won’t be SMBC who do anything about the ill birds will it?

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