It’s unfortunate that this borough has a political situation at present which rivals its many toxic swamps. In the chaos of the single infighting group and their childish squabbles, who are split into two bitter warring camps, this means that little is being achieved, and very little scrutiny apparently visible either. The situation with the pools in Smethwick , appears to mirror its elected officials.
In March, I was quite positive that the abysmal raw sewage/botulism situation at Smethwick Hall Park was going to be tackled, largely as a direct result of lobbying by park users and local residents in a petition of 400 names being submitted to the council. A site meeting was held where we were as good as told that the situation was in hand and it seemed a sure fire thing that the report that had been written recommending action would be waived through.
Then at the cabinet meeting where this was supposedly going to happen, out came a bizarre question from the now ousted ex leader of the council Yvonne Davis, of “Should we defer this item, in the light of the “crisis” we are facing?” Watch from about the 18 minute mark.
It was quite clear that both the cabinet member, and the senior officer were left quite perplexed as to what she actually meant, whatever spin they put on it, the silent pause was a clear non scripted moment.
This referred , at least I assume to the current covid-19 issue, and I read the statement as “I wonder if we should spend this money on a pool” (with a very series human health related issue, i.e human raw sewage in the lake causing illness by a direct pathway to receptors- birds and potentially people), or use it to wipe bone idle people’s arses instead in free hand outs- as this council does best?
I queried this bizarre moment, as it was far from clear as to what outcome had been arrived at in the meeting, and what was meant exactly by “deferring” the matter, and received this response from Alan Caddick- SMBC Director Housing and communities
Please let me clarify what was approved at yesterday’s Cabinet.
Cabinet approved the recommendations in the report, the main one being to procure a contractor to carry out the works at Smethwick Hall Park. As explained to you at the site visit we made, the works will see the silt removed from the entire pool and then being reused within the pool area to reduce the total area of open water by 50%. These works will be put out to tender in the normal way. The Leader did ask a question as to whether the works should be deferred for three months due to the current situation we are experiencing with corona virus. My response to the Leader was that it would be prudent to go out to tender and get the tenders back in; at such time we could then review the position with corona virus and agree a suitable way forward as to when the works start.
In addition, the installation of aerators in our pools and the establishment of a Pools Maintenance Team has also been agreed, and as Cllr Crompton says in her email we are going to do these things as soon as we can.
Whether you accept it or not we, and the country as a whole, are in an emergency situation and we are having to conduct our business in different ways, as demonstrated by yesterday’s Cabinet that was completely in line with the Council’s constitution.
We will continue to work with you and update you on progress, but you will have to bear with us as we have significantly reduced staffing resources at this time which may result in some delays.”
I don’t accept that we are in “an emergency situation” and never have, we are in an engineered situation, and for some people that means a much easier life and a situation where that people who want to do things are being held back by those who wail neurosis and anxiety as an excuse for doing little.
So as this so called “crisis” unfolded, and continuing as some council staff appeared covid-awol, as volunteers, myself and Baz from scared animal wildlife rescue have basically been doing the job of the water team that was also supposed to be created in the March report. We have retrieved dead birds, rescued sick birds, made a nesting raft, put in a platform to help birds back onto an island, reported pollution incidents and deployed booms paid out of our own pocket. Oh and I also delivered some free food parcels to the birds, but didn’t feel the need to make some promotional video about it, FFS!
In summary, 2020 has been an abysmal year to date for incidents of environmental pollution, mainly hydrocarbons.
Last month saw one of the most serious pollution events at Sheepwash Nature Reserve in Tipton, where we had to rescue a whole family of swans that were laced in some form of hydraulic fluid from off the River Tame.
Severn Trent were actually on the ball with this one, and had traced the pollution back to an industrial concern in the Tividale area, but most of it had by this time done enough damage, and by the weekend had reached beyond Wednesbury, affecting wild bird along the river the whole way. A duck had to be caught at Hydes Road, scene of another major spill in February.
All these birds were fine, and have now been released after being diligently cleaned by Scared Animal Wildlife Rescue.
Then came another scare immediately after this with another pollution issue at Hydes Road. It was clear that this was a so called “misconnection” where someone has hooked a washing machine into the wrong network resulting in it gushing crap into the surface water channel which flows into the pool.
We had a testing kit which showed that there was high levels of ammonia and also elevated phosphate, consistent with these type of issues.
Once again we contacted Severn Trent and the council, and I believe that some misconnections were traced back, and that these people will be receiving letters to put right the issue.
Then back to Smethwick Hall Park and a different type of pollution to the usual in the form of diesel/turps type solution which came following a deluge of rain, and once again required over 20 birds to be rescued that had become covered in it.
Severn Trent were already aware of this and were trying to trace where it had come from, but that was all they appeared to be interested in, except putting a boom across the other side of the lake to where the main bulk was sat- which was still a substantial amount that would have covered more birds that had landed on the site. A vacuum truck that had been called for was not used because of “health and safety” , and we waited around for some time before it was concluded that not much was going to happen from the up to ten high vis jacketed phone users. They had not even informed Sandwell Council of the issue, I did.
We totally ignored their advice of “leaving it to them”- which would have been nothing and we quickly deployed the limited pads I had bought from a spill kit, after the February Hydes Road pollution, and they left behind some of theirs, and it was quite clear as to the amount of pollutant that had just settled in the fenced off “botulism” /raw sewage shallow area.
And we also put in a boom across the water. By now Severn Trent had gone, and were no seen again.
The following day, an army of volunteers and local residents also acted for the sake of the birds and deployed another makeshift boom across the water in the form of straw and netting.
This stretched right across the pool, anchored in a V shape off the island.
After a phone call to the now acting leader/ deputy leader of the council, Maria Crompton and Sunish from the Sandwell Valley, we got the most help of this situation with a massive bail of straw which we used to try to contain the area of pollution within the booms. And much Worzel Gummidgery was had by all. 😛
It basically worked and controlled and contained the worst of it. Unfortunately the botulism fence had already started to push over, and another torrent collapsed it. Once again we took to the water and put it back up, and it is now more secure than it was before.
The following week the new SMBC contractor , who seems like a can do type of guy , and the sort that we want to work with, arranged for the removal of the soaked straw and the installation of new booms.
All under the watchful eye of “Donatello” the resident terrapin who appears to have seen it all at this pool over the last two years and was using the old one as a resting point.
The pool once again lies in situ awaiting a plan to remove the contamination.
After contacting my MP Nicola Richards about the situation, this response came from the CEO of SMBC David Stephens. There’s not much new here, but on we wait…..
One can only hope from this that something will finally happen with this pool, though I’m not sure about the others, as the countdown to The Commonwealth Games 2022 looms with the spiralling cost of the aquatics centre swimming pool being built less than 400 metres away from this cesspit. I wonder, “Should we defer this item, in the light of the “crisis” we are facing?”