Posted by: westlancashirerecord | April 4, 2018

If Thou Know Thine Enemy And Know Thyself

Then you need not fear the result of a hundred battles…”Sun Tzu, The Art of War” .

Local wars and battles are being fought in modern West Lancashire, the success of the Aughton Residents Group 2012 in fighting off the Parrs Lane developers being one of them. But Parrs Lane cannot even scratch the surface by comparison with the appalling flooding and consequences of it that affects homes in parts of Burscough, Ormskirk, Halsall and other communities too.

There is no easy way to describe it, earthy language is inevitable. Who wants to find crap, raw sewage, in their home and garden on a regular basis? What can residents do to fight it? We’ve asked the question before, so we’ll ask it again now, why are there different standards of service when we all pay the same levels of service charges?

Who are the enemy? They are the statutory players in the water supply and sewage disposal business, the politicians who introduce local plans, their planners who allow substandard conditions for new infrastructure on land developments, and the developers themselves who want the best profits regardless of existing poor infrastructure in older parts of villages and communities. Perhaps the worst enemy of all is the water utility company  that hides its incompetence behind the industry regulator. And, unbelievably, there are the people who threatened to take 79 year old Bob MacDougall, who lived in Gower Gardens, to court as he was simply trying to prevent his home and his neighbours from being flooded with foul effluent.

Burscough Flooding Group (BFG) knows its enemy well. It fights long and hard for an end to sub-standard sewage services. It objects to United Utilities telling them “there is a five year business plan which we submit to our regulator, Ofwat for approval. It is this that ultimately determines the acceptable levels of expenditure required to make improvements to reduce the risk of flooding whilst also taking in to account what our customers can afford to pay on their bills. It is unaffordable for us to address all flooding issues and we have to prioritise work based on a number of different factors such as the number of properties flooding in an area, the number of times the flooding has happened and also the scale of the flooding and how often a property may have suffered internal flooding. Taking this in to account and also what we understand of the flooding in your area, it remains unlikely that we will be able to fund any major work in the near future. We are, however, currently investigating the issues of sewer capacity in Burscough with a view to understanding in more detail and at what cost addressing any shortcomings of the current sewerage provisions would be. This information will be used to guide any interventions including potential upgrades to the network for our next 5 year business plan which runs from 2020–2025”.

Imagine being on the back end of that business plan for another seven years while crap surfaces in YOUR home and garden? Well, the war might be changing direction. Parts of the Burscough battle field, Alexander Close, Junction Lane and Gower Gardens, were dug up over a period of several weeks (possibly a month or more) following United Utilities embarrassment in front of OFWAT at the public meeting on flooding organised by MP Rosie Cooper  on the 3rd November 2017.

A resident reported that United Utilities had been doing various surveys above and below ground and concluded that two drainage systems did occur. One was the combined sewerage and surface water drain which led down to Junction Land and away that way. This, on filling with rain water, backed up the sewage into people’s homes and to their toilet bowls threatening to overflow. Some of the gullies led to a surface water drain leading to a drain at the back of the houses leading to Ellerbrook eventually. The foreman said his work was in blocking the gullies by disconnecting the pipes which led rainwater into the combined sewer. On being told that that action would not in itself cure the drainage problem, he seemed to be saying that then the problem would rest solely with United Utilities exonerating LCC from any further responsibility.

Gavin Rattray of BFG wrote “I believe that the LCC have disconnected many of their road drain connections into the combined sewers in the Junction Lane and Gower Gardens areas of Burscough and redirected them into surface water drains to the Ellerbrook and thereby reduced the load on the combined system in Gower Gardens. We think that it is inconceivable that UU and LCC would have got together to try and address the problem at the exact time they did without the intervention of OFWAT; and that OFWAT wouldn’t have intervened had Bob Macdougall and BFG, along with many angry residents from other places as well as Burscough not caused the agencies so much embarrassment in the November 2017 public meeting attended by UU, LCC, WLBC, EA and OFWAT.

“It is perceivable that OFWAT agreed to stop their investigations into under-recording of sewer flooding, which we believe is systemic, in exchange for the agencies getting together to take useful action on one of the many flooding problems in Burscough. We are happy for OFWAT to make a difference, however it comes about and it would appear from reading B2 of OFWATs letter that UU are acknowledging that YTF is of particular concern and that may ensure that from now on the agencies keep a better eye on the drainage conditions for YTF sites and the additional drainage provision that UU needs to install.

“Finally, talk is coming from WLBC recently about having a surface water management plan [SWMP] to improve Burscough’s problems. You might be interested to know that the idea wasn’t the councils but instead came from BFG in November 2017. Please see the attached letter which has not been answered. Whilst SWMP is a way forward, a concern with WLBC having a SWMP is that, because WLBC and LCC are so secretive about flooding, there would be no effective public scrutiny of the information used to inform the SWMP and this could lead to continuation or worsening of the current problems. For instance in 2008 WLBC undertook an investigation into many of the flooding problems in Burscough and that report, paid for with public money, disappeared for nearly ten years. It should have been used to inform the Local Plan along and the SFRA”.

“BFG have always campaigned fairly but aggressively against the secrecy, wrongdoing and failures of the flooding agencies. LCC and WLBC are currently attempting to label BFG as politicised and neither will meet with us or correspond with us. LCC and we believe WLBC are currently also attempting to deny us access to future meetings which all the other flooding groups can attend. If you could get across the point publicly please that this is unfair bullying, as we are probably uniquely unpoliticised amongst flooding groups through not allowing Councillors to be members of BFG. We have always done this because we believe that Councillors may seek to influence and monitor residents flooding groups, because political parties use flooding information (like everything else) for political ends”.

  did make a difference as Gavin Rattray wrote “Dear Emma Hart. I want to sincerely thank Ofwat for taking an interest in the sewer flooding problems in Burscough. Whilst the outcome may not appear to be what Burscough Flooding Group wanted, within a matter of weeks of the public meeting with Cathryn Ross, many holes were being dug in Burscough around the Gower Gardens area to solve the sewer flooding problem there. This is exactly the sort of result we want. Prior to Ofwat taking an interest, United Utilities (UU) had refused to address the Gower Gardens sewer flooding problem in such a way that indicated that, “there was a frequent systemic problem with the way it was carrying out its duties” and in addition UU’s flooding partner West Lancashire Borough Council (WLBC) was helping them by threatening to take 79 year old Bob MacDougall, who lived in Gower Gardens, to court as he was simply trying to prevent his home and his neighbours from being flooded with foul effluent. Hardly what you would call the result of their secret “making space for water meetings…designed to provide a holistic and collective response to flooding issues within the Burscough and Halsall areas”.

“Ofwat’s interest in UU’s governance meant that the problem is being resolved by UU working in partnership with Lancashire County Council (LCC) the Local Lead Flood Authority (LLFA), rather than silencing the complainant. I realise that we are an amateur group with little chance of fighting billion pound companies like UU but it is heartening that your interest has had such a result. I hope that Ofwat will continue to listen to residents who are struggling to be heard by UU and the other flooding partners; and in addition I hope that Ofwat will try and use its power to prevent UU continuing to meet with the rest of the flooding partners in secret, so that residents can see for themselves that agreements they make are in the interest of residents”.

We leave the last word today to Sun Tzu, The Art of War “If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant”.

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