STW shaft Smethwick Hall Park and “broke” Sandwell council

The longstanding saga of this heavily raw sewage polluted pool and its incompetent management took a new twist last month which appears to throw a spanner in the works for Sandwell council’s theoretically  planned “remediation.”

For newcomers to this story, (where have ya bin?), in April of 2019 the pool was contaminated with raw sewage caused by Severn Trent Water’s poor monitoring of its assets which led to an unknown quantity of faecal matter entering the pool.

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An FOI request that this was one of several incidents over the years where pollution had occurred via the Severn Trent Water inlet to the pool and via their network. They are a region wide disgusting environmental polluter, and have been for many years as a private water company.

Sandwell council, who had failed to adequately manage this pool over many years, then made the disastrous decision to suddenly “care” in the spotlight of bad publicity, clearing out a trash screen, which this blog revealed through an FOI request had not been done for many months. This led to the “perfect storm” of conditions for an outbreak of botulism which caused devastation for birds at the pool, and likely the cause of mortality at two others in the area.

The only thing that stopped the sluice of deaths was our suggestion of erecting a fence to prevent the birds accessing the lower sediments and contamination in the Margaret Gardens end of the pool where the inlet comes in.

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We organised and handed in a petition with the help of the community park users of Smethwick, and an online petition to both Sandwell council and Severn Trent Water, even going to their headquarters in Coventry, where Sandwell Gooseman and co made their presence known.

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There were plans for improvements when as a result of this, we met with senior officers, Alan Caddick and councillors (Maria Crompton, now acting leader), as well as Severn Trent officers at the park. The two parties responsible for the mess also had private meetings. I cannot say what went on at these, yet we were assured that everything was in hand to make the situation right. STW were also investigating misconnections over a wide area, which also as far as I am concerned was their failure over many years to solve these issues, as another FOI revealed as to past pollution incidents. The scale of the silt in the pool, and the frequent contamination appear to have been causing issues at the site for many years, as already highlighted.

We were encouraged that STW had suggested to SMBC to put in a bid to their “community fund”, in fact this was suggested by CEO of this company Liv Garfield in her response letter to our petition.

From this, SMBC officers put in a bid for £250,000, the maximum, and a positive report was written and presented to cabinet, but this was bizarrely deferred by the now former leader, and I don’t really believe the explanation I was given as to why.

Fast forward to now and it has been revealed that STW have turned down the SMBC funding bid! What this means now for any project at this site is currently unknown, though a scaled back approach apparently will take place- details and discussion further on in this post.

Unfortunately and without explanation, SMBC prior to this announcement appear to have cut down trees on the islands at this site, and around the pool itself, whilst planting trees on Londonderry Lane at the fence line. Are they trying to hide what is going on from the roadside?

I made representations about this when I heard about the planned work, as a similar hatchet job had occurred at Victoria Park Tipton, where most of the willows and willow leaf bearing branches- the only natural food of birds at the park were removed, as well as the swans nest. But they went ahead with this anyway.

What this means is that the area that had previously been fenced off at Stony Lane is now open again from the air for birds to land in. There is virtually nothing stopping the geese flying over the tennis court net fence.

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hatchet job

 

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Indeed, sport it seems is what drives SMBC and the Commonwealth Games aquatics centre white elephant now looms behind where the treeline has vanished. No expense is apparently spared with this inflated money guzzling machine, yet the environmental issues at the site just around the corner remain submerged in doubt.

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As for Severn Trent Water , I always knew that they were full of shite. The PR exercise of meeting us at the site was just that, indeed their PR man  Adrian Fairburn is well acquainted with such endeavours. As for the operations manager Ross Stokes, I am baffled as to why he keeps putting “legally privileged” information on every email response that he gives to my questions.

I have to state, that I have not and will never sign any confidentiality agreement, and I am not bound by any laws preventing me reporting information which comes onto my radar.

Of the bid he stated

“legally privileged

I’m afraid the application was rejected this December by an independent panel, not Severn Trent.  (When we set up the scheme, we deliberately established an independent panel to make the final decisions on which projects are funded. It can be frustrating because we don’t have control, but we think it is the right thing overall.)

Nobody should have told you that the bid would succeed.  It is not in our power to make the decisions once the applications have gone to the customer panel.

I know how much work went into the bid, and how committed you are to what is an excellent scheme, and so I can imagine how you best feel.

I’m afraid the panel’s decision is final, but I can arrange for our funding officer to call you to provide feedback and discuss potential other routes, if that were helpful?

Meanwhile, we have approached the council to ask them about their plans for the park.”

To this I would state, that as I had nothing at all to do with this bid, and it was Sandwell council who put in for it, I know nothing of what was even involved with it, so there is no point me speaking to anyone else who is going to waste my time from Severn Trent Water PLC.

There are theoretical scenarios surrounding this bid and why it was rejected.

  1. The bid was no good and did not meet the criteria.
  2. Who are the members who make up this STW panel, and how are they appointed?
  3. When we know the answers to the first 2 questions, we may be able to deduce whether there is any political context to this, eg Tory councillors on the panel who don’t want to give anything to Labour shite areas like Sandwell, or for personal interests for funding their own pet projects in their own areas.

As for the the council, here is what Maria Crompton , acting leader had to say to me in response to this.

“Hi Ian

 Thank you for your email regarding the Severn Trent bid being turned down.  I am totally gutted – they encouraged us to enter this bid as they said we had a good chance of getting it.  I now feel it was to possibly deflect us from making a claim directly to them for their contribution to the contamination of the pool.

 I don’t quite know how we are going to get the work done on the pool but I am committed to doing everything we can.

Kind regards Maria”

Yes, I certainly do sense a “deflection”, if not a defecation. It appears from conversations that I have not been privy to, that SMBC and STW have had another meeting, and that SMBC intend now to only remove silt up to the first island of the pool, and the current barrier, and to partially remove some of this island which is allegedly allowing the silt to gather in this area. The crap, in every sense of the word will be left on site.

STW who have supposedly been checking on misconnections for the last year and a half will pass on details of things they found to SMBC for possible enforcement action, due to the current “pandemic”, which it is claimed has prevented STW from carrying out more work. They will apparently be meeting “more frequently” with regards to this pool and planned works.

It was stated to me that STW will be inserting some form of interceptor into the inlet into the pool, at their cost- which should have been done years ago as far as I am concerned.

The council stated that they do not have the money to progress the current scheme, without the STW money, though when questioned about this, the figures even with this bid do not appear to add up to the amount that it is now being stated that it would cost.

I have  serious concerns about this latest proposal, which I fully communicated to Maria Crompton and SMBC officers, as a partial job, and lowering the water levels and circulating silt known to have been previously contaminated with human excrement is not a good idea, unless it has been tested to determine current pathogens, and that it is also stopped from contaminating the larger area of water that will still have the silt in that part retained. I asked for stop planks to be put in place at the barrier, but am not hopeful that this will be followed.

Sometimes the best that can be done is potentially the worst, as happened when a mechanical long arm digger appeared in this site and caused the issues of death in 2019.

Council finances.

Though the council may claim to be broke having been turned down the £250,000 STW grant, the figures for carrying out this scheme combined with the employment of the two “waterbody technicians”, see below, don’t appear to have added up in any case, with a suggested shortfall. Certain SMBC produced statements however question just how broke the council really are, when there are large amounts of section 106 money, granted by housing developments apparently unspent and just resting in the council’s accounts for another year.

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Over £2 million has been sat on and is unspent.

Why , I would like to ask is this money not being spent, if this issue is so important to SMBC? Some of this money has been lying around for 8 years or more, and I think its time the developers, as well as would be politicians started to ask why it has not been spent?

As I have already highlighted, they had already set aside £342,000 for this project, which I believe also included the funding for the two posts in the water team- one of which has already been internally recruited. So how much of this was actually going to be spent on the Smethwick site itself? 

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A precedent has already been recently set for diverting money they had stashed for one scheme into another for the white elephant West Smethwick park centre. I think a question of priorities is needed when this is a public health, as well as environmental issue with what is known and has been proven to have contaminated a pool a quarter of a mile away!

“Waterbody technicians”

If you can “read and write”, which probably excludes many in Sandwell after 40+ years of failed governance, you might be in with a shout at this 37 hours per week job.

Waterbody Technician in Taylors Lane Depot, Oldbury B69 2BW – 86504 | WM Jobs

 

WT1

 

There is one glaring concern I have about this job description, and that is the mention of pesticides and qualifications in using them, as this has nothing to do with water at all, and no pesticides should be being used near to water in any case. I specifically put in another FOI request to SMBC in 2016 about their use of the likes of the cancer causing Round-up , and they responded by stating the following.

(iii) Are pesticides/ chemicals used near children’s play areas, areas of open water or are there any areas where they are restricted from use- and for what reasons?

(iii) “Grounds Maintenance use chemicals around the fencelines of children’s play areas and do not use them near running water or brook courses to help to prevent glyphosate from getting into the water. Estate Services responded: The products have various usage restrictions, as per their product labels/licences etc, however applications on or near water (within 1m of the bank) requires permission from the Environment Agency. Sandwell Valley (Parks and Countryside) stated We aim to keep pesticide use to a minimum at Sandwell Valley Country Park as well as the Local Nature Reserves that we manage. We aim to restrict our applications to the edges of footpaths, in order to prevent grass encroachment into the substrate of paths which will detrimentally affect them. We do not spray near water.”
(iv) Are they employed for use in any of Sandwell’s judged Green flag
parks?

(iv) We do not use chemicals in our Green Flag Parks unless in exceptional circumstances.

Does the pesticide qualification therefore mean that the two staff will also be being diverted to undertake other grounds maintenance duties as required, as that sounds like a diversion from the stated job description?

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Specifically excluded from this job however should be doing any foreigners in people’s private gardens within the parks, whomever they claim to be or used to work for. :mrgreen: It has unfortunately been known that some lawns have been mowed by grounds maintenance staff that are not in public ownership and during works time. As a taxpayer, I do not pay for such a service to be given to a privileged few!  :roll:  

 

Replanting

I am informed that SMBC will be endeavouring to put back some island veg at our request, though I am not entirely sure as to the species. Though I am no arboriculturist, I make some suggestions below, which may be best befitting for the islands in question. Certain (former?) individuals that have disgraced the parks department at this council in the past are best known for being responsible for injuring people at firework displays, lying and making threats, stealing tractors and plants, selling off goal posts and shipping containers for scrap via third parties,  memory loss and changing statements at what they said during under caution investigations, as well as senior officers allegedly, (several sources confirming), having extra marital activities with subordinates. And a reliable source even tells me that a certain gentleman with a background in horticulture, even used to trim the bush of a lady councillor! One might say that preferment on the park casting bench at SMBC appears to go by the letter and not by the law! What an “outrageous profanity”!

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Incidentally, the hiring of bikes and keepy-uppy volleyball competitions took place down the valley.

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Let’s get Sandwell planting this Spring!

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