Michael Fabricant has released the contents of the letter he has sent to the Prime Minister on Monday 25th January following his question to Gordon Brown the previous week.
The letter reads:-
The Rt Hon Gordon Brown, MP
10 Downing Street
London SW1A 2AA
25th January 2010
Dear Prime Minister,
CHASEWATER RESERVOIR AND LICHFIELD DISTRICT COUNCIL
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.