Posted by: westlancashirerecord | June 13, 2018

Burscough Still Fighting Against Foul Flooding Injustice

What sets Burscough residents aside from the rest of West Lancashire? By all accounts it is United Utilities  view of their need to be educated in the disposal of bum paper, pee, and poo in their foul drains. And if you believe that it appears to be true because it took a two hour lecture by a United Utilities employee to tell them so. So what do we who don’t live in Burscough and don’t have many problems with foul drains do that’s different from Burscough? Nothing. Our foul drains generally cope adequately. UU does drains in Burscough and elsewhere, and the difference is, what creates the stink is of UU under-investment in foul drain capacity. 

“Burscough Flooding Group offers this [truncated] local report on the Bum Paper, Pee and Poo Public Meeting with WLBC, LCC and UU – Chaired by UU 5th June at Briars Hall Hotel. The meeting was a follow up to the public meeting chaired by MP Rosie Cooper in 2017 in which West Lancashire Borough Council  (WLBC), United Utilities (UU) and Lancashire County Council (LCC) had received severe public criticism for their sewer failures from residents and BFG and UU were accused of under recording sewer flooding. This sparked an investigation from OFWAT (who were in attendance), OFWAT later dropped the investigation after discussions with UU and did not appear to take into account the evidence that BFG provided.

“5 UU staff, 5 LCC staff, 1 WLBC staff, and 3 local councillors attended the meeting chaired by the Wastewater Network Strategy Manager UU. There were approximately twenty members of the public in attendance including three Councillors.

“An introduction was made by the UU representative, who chaired the meeting, in which were shown a map of flooding in Burscough that ignored the flood maps provided online by the EA and the information known by LCC. Attendees were asked to keep questions until the end and there followed a two hour lecture by UU on the 3ps (only paper, poo or pee to be put down the foul drains), supported by slides then a brief outline of the recent works done in Junction Lane, Gower Gardens and Alexander Close which they loosely described as investigations.

“UU said that they were enhancing the flow model of Burscough with real data but they planned to reduce the minimum standard of flooding protection for Burscough from a 1 in 30 year return period to a 1 in 10 years as flooding in Burscough was almost one third of the national average. Obviously, this begs the question why, if they were correct and there wasn’t a flooding problem, do so many residents say otherwise and why does the local plan highlight the issue?

“UU’s presentation showed a map of flooding which omitted many of the places known to flood: the sewage pumping station outside the waste water treatment works at New Lane which flooded the farm land and the railway crossing with sewage in 2012 and 2015, the large number of surcharges which repeatedly happen on the A59, Junction Lane, Richmond Avenue, Truscott Estate. Manor Road estate etc. In addition to this, BFG’s data (attached) maps approximately 25 places that weren’t shown on UU’s maps. At this point interaction with BFG and the rest of the public and councillors started and it is difficult to report exactly who said what when but here is the BFG summary of what happened.

“Asked why, following their intervention in the Gower Gardens and Alexander Close problems, UU weren’t looking at New Lane because its sewage pumping station there had the same spectacular failures as those in Alexander Close along with the much less spectacular but very frequent discharges onto the A59, UU’s response was to say that it needed residents to telephone them before they would act and gave a very clear impression that they didn’t have to do anything about these problems anyway!

“LCC then took over from UU and said that LCC were currently undertaking investigative work in Burscough but upon being asked where was unable to identify any of the places where investigations were being carried out. LCC said that Burscough was lacking a flood action group and, when his mistake was pointed out, he went on to say that that he hadn’t realised that we were a flooding action group when he met us (in 2016) as BFG representatives LCC, UU and BFG agreed that LCC and BFG should talk to BFG about being a flood action group.

“This sparked a lot of polite but angry comments from BFG members all of whom had met him before. From this point onwards, every time LCC got into trouble with their answers UU took over answering the questioner. At times the chair was rude, speaking over the questioners until one member of the public insisted that he have some manners and allow him to speak as a flood victim without interruption as the chair had been allowed to speak without interruption during his presentation. The LCC Team Leader and Principal Officer in the Flood Risk Management Team LCC intervened and said she would work with BFG provided it was a properly constituted group. An agreement to meet her was arranged.

“There then followed a more wide-ranging argument in which it was stated that, when compiling its S19 report, LCC had ignored the 2015 Boxing Day flooding reported by the public in BFG’s report and that meant that flooding problems weren’t being recognised, investigated or fixed. To which UU and LCC jointly stated that they wouldn’t take any evidence collected from the public by BFG and they would only take evidence provided directly by the public.

“The problems with this are obvious to BFG as we knew that UU had put an answer-phone message on directing people to the wrong agencies for over a week during the 2015 Boxing Day floods and prevented anything but persistent callers reporting only internal sewer floods. In addition, at that time LCC had no auditable method of reporting flooding and that is why its records are poor.

“UU followed this up with some venom by saying that someone had said UU were under reporting in the meeting organised by MP Rosie Cooper [at which point Mr Rattray politely put up his hand to say that it was him, the meeting having descended to such a point]. The arguments continued with Mr Rattray arguing at one point with both the UU chair and with the UU stakeholder manager simultaneously. The chair threatening severe consequences if I and the other member of the public continued and the manager arguing that the telephone operators had gone home for shift change and demanding to know who from UU had told me that the telephone operators had gone home, obviously most of them went home once the answer-phones were set!

“Later the arguments ranged further and I was able to ask UU why they thought changing their operating criteria from the sewers to 1 to 10 years was acceptable, to which I didn’t receive any answer, and can only assume UU is lowering its standard of service because it can!

“Finally, the meeting petered out with the UU chair summing up the 3ps message almost under his breath. We were asked to draw a line under LCC’s S19 report on the Boxing Day floods to which we agreed provided it was discussed to our satisfaction how lessons would be learnt and that problem would not be repeated.

“LCC , by denying meeting BFG, and questioning the constitution of the group and WLBC, by also questioning the constitution of the group in a public meeting in Halsall, led me to perceive that some or all of the FRMAs were paving the way for an alternative flooding group to be set up headed by someone sympathetic with their aims (or lack of budget). Had sufficient members and sympathetic members of the public not been present they would have succeeded.

“Because we live in Burscough and collect data from residents about all sources of flooding, we know that external sewer flooding is common and incidences of internal flooding are much higher than indicated by UU’s historical data and therefore cannot agree with UU’s assertion that flooding is one third of the average. Given the problem identified locally and the scale of local development we cannot agree with UU’s plan to lower operational standards to a third of the industry standard.

“LCC refused to include data in its S19 report showing the widespread foul and surface water flooding in Burscough caused by Storm Eva on Boxing Day 2015, including: A5209 blocked, School Lane blocked Pippin Street blocked and Higgins Lane blocked and the lower parts of Crabtree Lane underwater for two weeks. We know that the S19 report misrepresented the effect Storm Eva had on Burscough during the flooding and came to the strangely incorrect conclusion, based on no evidence, that there were no groundwater flooding issues in Burscough. So, it is no wonder that LCC are asking BFG to draw a line under its S19 report. LCC are preventing data from being used to improve the health and well-being of Burscough’s residents. Its public statement that it won’t use any BFG data shows an alarming disregard for comprehensive data compiled at the request of the BPC with the specific remit of gaining an accurate picture of the flooding issues in Burscough.

“UU’s public statement that it wouldn’t accept flooding evidence from residents’ groups but only that from flood victims telephoning their flood line, and that it would not use BFG’s evidence provoked no objection from the LLFA or the LPA present. By this lack of comment, LCC as the LLFA and WLBC as the LPA have given tacit permission to UU to ignore a large quantity of accurate flooding evidence and therefore stopped it from being used to prevent flooding and improve the health and well-being of Burscough’s residents.

“UU’s public statement that it will reduce the flood protection standard from 1 in 30 years to 1 in 10 years provoked no objection from the LLFA or the LPA present. By this lack of comment, LCC as the LLFA and WLBC as the LPA have given tacit permission to UU for them to implement that policy.

“Gavin Rattray – Secretary Burscough Flooding Group”

What is clear to UU watchers is how consistent its dividends to shareholders rise year on year, from 36.04p per share in 2014 to 39.73p in 2018. The moral of this story is buy some UU shares and take the Burscough grievance to the top management, shareholder meetings, and fund managers who invest in the company. 

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