Conversations With A Dinosaur Borough Council Part 3

Our trilogy on flooding in Burscough concludes with the thoughts of any reasonable flooded out resident of West Lancashire

a) that by living in “flatter Burscough” rather than in “steeper Parbold and Appley Bridge” and that b) the Burscough surface water drainage infrastructure is less easily understood than rapid surface water run-off in Parbold and Appley Bridge which was resolved by use of Environment Agency “Grant in Aid”, then residents of Burscough have been, and will continue to be, discriminated against by WLBC.

Readers might conclude that measures for protecting a total of 162 steeper located residential properties from internal flooding has received activity not bestowed on Burscough despite the existence of the almost 10 year old “Burscough Flood Studies Investigation”. Of course, the end of the Burscough nightmare is far from over.

WLBC Principal Engineer 8 January 2020 “I am glad you found the ‘Planning Applications – Drainage, Flood Risk and Sustainability’ guidance of use. The guidance is due to be revised this year and I hope to be able to further heighten awareness of SuDS and related benefits. The guidance will hopefully encourage owners of all developments to recognise the need to do more, which is also the purpose of the forthcoming of the Sewers for Adoption 8th Edition (SFA8). I understand that 60% of Industry professionals think that SFA8 will be very important in ensuring flood resilience in the UK. This document is a step closer to the adoption of SuDS which I certainly welcome as do many LLFAs across the country. I am hoping that in England we will soon follow the example of Wales and introduce SuDS Approval Boards and have tighter control over developers with regard to sustainable drainage and mitigation of flood risk.

“I am sorry that you feel that West Lancashire Borough Council (WLBC) is trying to absolve itself of all responsibility. In recent years WLBC has worked hard to resolve pressing flooding issues in Parbold and Appley Bridge where the surrounding topography is steeper resulting in rapid surface water runoff which has flooded large areas of residential property in the past. The measures needed to resolve the flooding issues in Parbold and Appley Bridge followed studies commissioned by WLBC using funding obtained through ‘Grant in Aid’, which is managed by the EA. The schemes were designed to protect 122 houses in Parbold and 40 houses in Appley Bridge respectively, from internal flooding. In Burscough the area is much flatter and the surface water drainage infrastructure is less easily understood. To gain some understanding of the surface water infrastructure funding was again secured to enable WLBC to procure the ‘Burscough Flood Studies Investigation (July 2010), often referred to as the ‘secret’ report. Due to a number of factors, including the enactment of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, the findings of that report were not acted upon at that time. Nonetheless, that report now informs the LLFAs eagerly awaited Surface Water Management Plan for Burscough.

“Flatter catchments, such as Burscough, usually result in slower flows through the various drainage systems that in turn leads to increased silt deposition, particularly in open watercourses. Wherever a watercourse is in council ownership I try to ensure that WLBC fulfils its responsibilities as a riparian owner. I am currently reassessing the maintenance regime of drainage assets in WLBC’s ownership, and an important part of that process is to know where the culverts are located. As I am sure you are aware not all owners of such assets keep a record of where their culverts are located and I feel that within Burscough there are more to find. So, I am sure you will agree that it is difficult to understand how the surface water runoff from one part Burscough impacts on another. Thus, in answer to your question relating to the “light brown water” I agree that it is not possible to exclude the Yew Tree Farm Site as the source of this flood water, but I don’t think it is possible to exclude other areas upstream of Crabtree Lane either.

“Thank you for your concern regarding my current workload. To the large part any drainage issues raised internally, by the general public or councillors are directed to me. I am also the main point of contact for the various RMAs to contact in relation to flooding and coastal matters. I have also contributed to Local Planning Policy as well as the council’s Strategic Flood Risk Assessments Levels 1 and 2 in relation to sustainable drainage and flood risk. Other individuals within the council do have some knowledge of drainage systems, but more often than not they approach me for advice.

“I have gained considerable local knowledge of various surface water catchments across West Lancashire in the four years I have been at WLBC. I am keen to help wherever I can as various flood action groups would testify. However, I am yet to meet with the BFG despite confirming that I will be open and honest. As you know the LLFA is well versed in producing SWMPs and is a statutory consultee in relation to major developments. I for my part have extensive drainage expertise and am consulted on both minor and major developments in relation to flood risk. Therefore, may I suggest that your group invite both the LLFA and myself to BFG meetings to discuss the problems associated with the existing drainage systems in Burscough with a view to reaching a common consensus, and work together in securing funding for practicable improvements”.

BFG Response 29 January 2020 “Actions speak louder than words. WLBC have no doubt done many things in other areas, but you seem to be acknowledging that WLBC have achieved nothing in Burscough. WLBC was aware of the lack of sewer network capacity in Burscough in 2008, because UU told it straight many times, yet WLBC is still racing ahead with Burscough’s expansion after witnessing UU’s failure to get funding in 2015.

“We won’t ever stop communicating with WLBC, however, in order to meet our terms and have a technical meeting with us, you should acknowledge that you had met with BFG at UU’s public meeting at the Briars Hall on the 5th June 2018. You sat in the audience and refused to answer questions about flooding. You did provide support to LCC and UU and clearly stated that WLBC would not accept Burscough Flood Record Report. As did UU and LCC. The EA didn’t attend. No reasons were given for not using our report and none could be extracted by BPC Councillors or BFG.

“We now meet with LCC because they rescinded their statement. WLBC haven’t. In addition, WLBC are currently treating everyone except myself, because I won back my FOI rights at a GRC Tribunal, as though they are vexatious and denying them FOI rights to ask questions about flooding and drainage in Burscough.

“We would need to see WLBC rescind your public statement; and allow everyone else in the world but me their legal FOI rights to ask about flooding and drainage in Burscough”.

WLBC Principal Engineer response same day “I did attend the meeting you refer to but I did not formally meet with the BFG as I was not a member of the team presenting the meeting. As I recall it was queried by a member of the audience why neither the EA and WLBC were not present. I felt the need to make my presence known and made it clear that I was observing the proceedings and that I would not comment on behalf of the planning authority on any planning matters. Nor do I recall refusing to answer questions about flooding, it is my area of expertise and I would have answered any queries directed at me. Furthermore, I do not recall ever saying that WLBC would not accept Burscough Flood Record Report. In fact any information I have received from the BFG before and after the meeting has been processed through to the LLFA.

“I do remember discussion about the collation of information by the BFG and did support the view that the information should be passed to UU and the LLFA in the first instance, during the flooding incident if at all possible. This would then allow timely investigation of flooding mechanisms. As you will see from a weblink to Council Meetings previously provided to the BFG, WLBC has a policy not undertake flood investigation unless it relates to WLBC owned land, or planning enforcement issues. Notwithstanding, I have made it known on a number of occasions that I am willing to assist the BFG by providing the benefit of my drainage expertise.

“In closing, I am not going to agree to rescind a public statement I don’t recall making, but am willing to be of continuing assistance to the BFG and others in drainage and flood risk related matters”.

BFG same day “I am sorry you do not recollect everything that happened during the meeting. Are WLBC going to a rescind their blanket denial of FOI for information about flooding and drainage in Burscough, as that would be of great assistance?”

WLBC Head of Growth and Development Services 12 February 2020 “I have been passed your email below to Dave Owens, to address your latest query “Are WLBC going to rescind their blanket denial of FOI for information about flooding and drainage in Burscough, as that would be of great assistance?”

“As far as I am aware this Council has never issued a “blanket denial of FOI for information about flooding and drainage in Burscough”, and so there is no such “blanket denial” to rescind.

“You may be referring to the fact that the Council considered you vexatious due to the number of overlapping FOI/EIR requests that you made over time regarding flooding and drainage in Burscough. As you are aware, the First Tier Tribunal of the General Regulatory Chamber found in your favour in relation to Appeal Reference EA/2018/0219, and so the Council provided you with the information you had requested related to that appeal. As such, you are able to make appropriate information requests under FOI or EIR legislation, so long as you follow the Tribunal’s advice on making such requests, as set out in paragraph 62 of their judgement:

“Finally, we think that  John Crawford would do well to think carefully before having further recourse to the freedom of information legislation. We would suggest that before any decision to present a further request for information he should ask himself in particular the following questions. (a) Does the proposed request repeat, or overlap (to any extent) with, any previous request? (b) Is the information reasonably necessary for the purposes of furthering any legitimate goal or objective? (c) IS the information available from some other source? (d) Does the proposed request for any other reason expose him to a real risk of being legitimately accused of a misuse of the freedom of information provisions? (e) Even if he is satisfied that the proposed request is proper in principle can it be improved by (i) making it more concise and/or (ii) narrowing its scope and/or (iii) clarifying the language in which it is couched?” I hope that this is helpful”.

BFG Response same day “Thank you for your email dated 12 February 2020. The judgement of the first tier tribunal to allow my appeal was unanimous and in paragraph 58 of its judgment, it found WLBC were making a blanket denial of FOI, “we are troubled by the logic of the Council’s case, which it does not shrink from expressing in plain language, that the door must now be closed on any further request for information related to flooding risk in and around Burscough. That logic runs counter to the entire spirit of the freedom of information legislation. It seeks to deprive Mr Rattray and, by extension, other concerned individuals who might be seen as associated with him, apparently for ever, of an important constitutional right to seek information in order to hold a public body to account on a matter of obvious public significance.”

“WLBC’s troubling logic denied John Crawford an FOI in November 2017. It incorrectly asserted that he was a member of BFG to the Information Commissioner; and it incorrectly asserted that John Crawford was acting for me after WLBC had incorrectly asserted I was vexatious in October 2017.

“As you must be aware WLBC is continuing to deny John Crawford his November 2017 FOI. Therefore, denying him his right to ask about flooding and drainage in Burscough. As Council are still applying the same troubled logic identified by the judges, because WLBC have shown no contrition and publicised no improvements. I have to ask what evidence do WLBC have that they won’t be applying their troubling logic indefinitely to any individual, because they can, thereby leaving residents unable to seek the information they need to take WLBC to account.

“Finally, John Crawford wrote to Kim Webber on the 8th July asking for his FOI again and WLBC responded to say that his case was closed. This is a further confirmation that WLBC, even though it lost the appeal, is still depriving a concerned individual who might be seen as associated with me, apparently forever, of the right to FOI related to flooding risk in and around Burscough. AKA a blanket denial”.

Interesting to find also that UU payments include “Rainwater removal-The cost of taking away rainwater that drains from your home and the public highway. If your rainwater doesn’t drain to the sewer you can claim a reduction at UU Utilities”. Fill your boots?

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