Lichfield MP writes to Prime Minister over safety of Chasewater dam

Chasewater. Pic: <a title="View profile" href=

Chasewater. Pic: Bruce Kain and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant has once again challenged the Prime Minister over the potential danger posed by Chasewater Reservoir’s failing dam.

Despite being critical of Gordon Brown’s response to his question in the House of Commons, Mr Fabricant has written to the Prime Minister outlining the problems.

In his letter, the Conservative MP said:

“If there were a breach in the dam, it is estimated that it would seriously threaten the lives of up to 80 people and affect 2,000 homes.”

He also revealed that the cost of repairing the dam is likely to be in the region of £3.5million.

Mr Fabricant said of his letter:

“The letter was sent on Monday (January 25) from my House of Commons Office so the Prime Minister should have received it on Tuesday.  I don’t expect an instant reply, but I hope that I will receive a constructive response in due course.

“Interestingly, Hillary Benn – the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs – also asked me to send him a copy ‘to be kept in the loop’ so I may be hearing from him too.”

Mr Fabricant’s letter in full:

Dear Prime Minister,

Further to my question to you in the Chamber of the House of Commons on Wednesday 20th January (Hansard column 300) and the briefing I gave your office the previous day, you invited me to write to you about the Chasewater Reservoir and its dam sited in the Lichfield constituency.  This is a large Category A reservoir.  It is over 210 years old and was inherited by Lichfield District Council following a boundary change in 1994.

It is a key piece of regional infrastructure and is the main supply of water for approximately 69 miles of the canal network through Birmingham and the Black Country conurbation including Walsall and Wolverhampton.

Since taking on responsibility, the Council has actively fulfilled its obligations under the Reservoirs Act 1975.  As part of this commitment, the dam is regularly inspected.  Recently its Inspecting Engineer has identified urgent works that are needed to ensure that the very real risk of the dam failing is drastically reduced. A major worry is that the reservoir is probably unlikely to be able to withstand the effects of a major storm and there are increasing concerns that the leakage that is currently observed from the dam will lead to prolonged internal erosion and hence to catastrophic failure.

The Engineer states that these repairs and safety improvements should be made ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’.  If there were a breach in the dam, it is estimated that it would seriously threaten the lives of up to 80 people and affect 2,000 homes. The Council have published the enclosed briefing note which provides more detail as to its predicament.

It is estimated that these works will cost at least £3.5m, which is a sizeable sum for a small district authority.

In typical circumstances, a reservoir is built to provide water to help an organisation carry out its functions and so these costs will be built into the normal business planning processes.  But in this instance, the 1957 Conveyance provides that British Waterways have the sole right to draw water from the reservoir to supply its canal network, without any requirement to contribute to its upkeep.

In consequence, there is little opportunity for the district council to generate sufficient income from the reservoir to meet the costs of maintaining and improving it.

The district council believes that it is not right that the responsibility of funding all of the costs of providing such a major piece of regional infrastructure rests with just the 40,000 council tax-payers of Lichfield district when the benefits of the water are felt right across the West Midlands.  And I agree.

I understand that the Government Office of the West Midlands have been most helpful and they have convened a meeting to ensure all of the regional agencies and local authorities are aware of the extent of the engineering works and the possible regional impact.  Those invited include the 8 councils through which the canals flow, the Regional Development Agency, the Environment Agency, British Waterways, Natural England and the M6 Toll Company.

The Council is also seeking financial support for the engineering works through the Region from the Regional Funding Allocation and would welcome support from Government on this approach.

Longer term, the issue of the responsibility for the reservoir residing with the District Council needs to be addressed, but the immediate need is to resolve the prospect of a small number of council tax payers carrying the entire financial burden for these critical engineering works.   Your help in this, in whatever way you can, would be greatly appreciated.

Yours,
Michael

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Founder of LichfieldLive and editor of the site.

5 Comments

  1. Steven Norman

    1st February, 2010 at 12:36 am

    Well let’s hope that he doesn’t reveal that the Tory administration inherited capital receipts of over £38 million in 1998 when they won back control of the District Council!

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  4. chasewater boy

    16th February, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    I am surprised by this. Legally the Council is responsible, howvwer what has been missed is the defacto that the water belongs to someone else, British waterways, so the dam holds water ? Water belonging to British Waterways, so drain the reservoir, make no repairs to the dam and if the Council is forced by Waterways to fill it, they repair the Dam first?

  5. johnthemon

    17th February, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Better still as I have suggested before, drain the pool to a level that it does not require a dam to hold back such a volume of water. Unless there is plenty of money to throw away that is.