Saturday 7th January 2012

Newspaper headline from January 1992

There is a resonance from past times over the current parlous state of St Peter's Pool and the Bourne Eau in South Street which have both almost dried up because it is exactly 20 years ago this week when a similar occurrence brought a dramatic condemnation from local councillors over the continued extraction of water.

The problem had been a major worry for many years and the situation came to a head in the summer of 1991 when several youngsters narrowly escaped death after sinking into the deep mud of the exposed river bed. The council was also concerned about the rubbish which littered the surface and the smell which emanated from it and the following January they issued an appeal to the National Rivers Authority which then had overall responsibility for the taking of water from our rivers and underground sources, to "stop draining the town dry".

Councillor Peter Garner told the Lincolnshire Free Press (14th January 1992): "We have got to start fighting for our environment. The town council has got to lead the way and even take legal advice over whether Anglian Water can take our water for commercial gain. They are sucking Bourne dry. Water is basic to this town and without the Eau and the Wellhead, the settlement of Bourne would not exist. The fact that we have a drought does not mean that we should lose our amenities. Anglian Water should not be pumping so near the town centre and the Wellhead. If the water table beneath Bourne continues to fall, trees in the town will die and in the long run there could be a risk of subsidence."

Other councillors were equally incensed. The mayor, Councillor Ray Cliffe, told the newspaper: "The heritage of Bourne has been taken away and we want it back", while Councillor John Kirkman said that he found the situation "most upsetting" and had been told  by the NRA that remedial work was being investigated but the solution was a matter of money. "This is totally unacceptable", he said. "A scheme has been produced to replace water in the River Slea at Sleaford and I can see no reason why a similar scheme should not be produced for the Bourne Eau."

The complaints were accepted by the NRA whose environmental manager, Bill Forbes, said: "I know there has been disquiet about the lack of flow in the Bourne Eau but this is due to a combination of abstraction and the worst drought this century." But he added that the river was not on the list of those which would have their flow supplemented.

The National Rivers Authority which existed between 1989 and 1996 issued licences for the abstraction of water which is now the responsibility of the Environment Agency of England and Wales. But the current situation affecting St Peter's Pool and the Bourne Eau is similar to that of twenty years ago and has again brought protests from townspeople who are blaming the drought conditions of last summer coupled with the continued extraction of water to supply a wider catchment area.

Anglian Water, which is directly responsible for our water supplies, insists that it is not to blame. A spokesman told The Local newspaper (2nd September 2011) that they did pump water from aquifers below the town, including the Bourne Eau, but added: "The drying up of the pool is not related to our water abstraction. Instead, it is likely to be a natural phenomenon. Groundwater levels will typically be low at this time and will be lower this year due to the cold, dry winter and exceptionally dry spring. The water we borrow from the environment comes from a mixture of rivers and boreholes. In Bourne, the groundwater from our boreholes is taken out of naturally occurring underground stores some 40 metres beneath the surface. We continually monitor all our water sources to ensure they are used in a sustainable way."

This all sounds very plausible but Bourne has been a water bonanza from the earliest times. In 1894, for instance, one borehole alone was sunk to a record depth of 134 feet to supply five million gallons of water a day which was then piped for a distance of ten miles to supply the Spalding area. By 1969, there were 130 boreholes at various points around the town which shows how this valuable natural resource has been exploited and although most of these have now been sealed, all remaining sources are administered by Anglian Water.

The current situation in Bourne is similar to that in many other parts of England and was recently highlighted by The Sunday Times which stated quite categorically that our rivers are being diminished as utility companies drain billions of gallons from vulnerable waterways to service a soaring demand (18th September 2011). This wholesale extraction of water has caused many to shrink and stagnate, putting wildlife at risk, killing fish and reducing some tributaries to puddles.

The authorities such as Anglian Water pay for licences at each of the sites where they drain from a river or aquifer and all claim that they are operating at below agreed levels although the terms of many of these permits were set decades ago and are currently being reviewed in an attempt to address the worst cases of over-abstraction.

Environmentalists are therefore calling for the licences of the worst offenders to be revoked. Other measures such as reducing consumption by the compulsory installation of water meters in all households and the repair of leaking pipes may help but the building of new reservoirs appears to be the answer. In the meantime, there can be no doubt that water usage during dry spells causes problems because supplies are not being replenished from natural sources and if it were not being extracted from our aquifers and waterways at such an alarming rate, then it is quite obvious that St Peter's Pool and the Bourne Eau would be in a much healthier condition than they are today.

The poor state of the river through Bourne has been a constant problem for many years. Empty beer cans, bottles and fast food containers can often be seen along the waterway in South Street because many people still find this a suitable and convenient place to chuck their rubbish, despite the large number of litter bins that can be found around the streets. This stretch of the river is among the most pleasant places in the town yet there are those who persist in spoiling its appearance, either deliberately or by thoughtless behaviour, and the result is there for all to see, most particularly visitors who arrive in large numbers at this time of the year hoping to see a typical Lincolnshire market town and all that it has to offer.

This is not a new problem and a report in the archives from forty years ago  indicates a similar concern but it also revealed the existence of a worthy organisation called the Bourne Saturday Club lead by a local clergyman, the Rev Tony Sparham, curate at the Abbey Church. It consisted of thirty boys and girls who had volunteered to keep our town spick and span and in the summer of 1972, they mounted a clean-up project, wading for hours in the thick mud and slime to remove every offending item until the river was devoid of rubbish. But the work they carried out did not last long. The Stamford Mercury reported the following year on Friday 23rd February 1973:

“The Saturday Club would have been disheartened had they seen the Bourne Eau a few days ago, littered with cans, papers, empty cigarette packets and other rubbish. The shallow river, in gentle flow along South Street, adds greatly to the town's scenic beauty as a foreground to the Memorial Gardens. For travellers from the south, it is a pleasant invitation to Bourne. It is difficult to catch the miscreants in their acts but a little vigilance and co-operation from Mr John Citizen would help the police to land the offenders.”

We are now into a new century and yet litter in the streets and along the Bourne Eau is still often a problem but the youngsters who were sufficiently civic-minded to help improve the environment are no longer available. This is a pity. Groups like that inspired by Tony Sparham are an asset to any community and given such encouragement, I am sure that schoolchildren would come forward to help today. It is not their job to pick up other people's rubbish but while offenders persist in such anti-social practices, and the police and the local authorities continue to ignore the problem, then it is up to those who take pride in their town to seize the initiative. Bourne would benefit from a Saturday Club but who out there will be its inspiration?

There has been some disquiet in recent years about the standard of public consultation concerning issues that directly affect the community to which it refers and that the process at local government level is not always beneficial to the people but is designed to favour unpopular policies or schemes they do not wish to be held up by too close scrutiny.

Public consultation, or simply consultation, is a regulatory process by which the people's input on matters affecting them is sought, its main objectives being to improving the efficiency, transparency and community involvement in large scale projects or laws and policies. It usually involves notification to publicise the matter to be consulted on, the consultation itself, usually a two-way flow of information and opinion exchange, as well as participation with the involvement of interested groups in the drafting of policy or legislation.

Although the policy is acceptable in theory, it is not always so in practice but public participation is usually so sparse that the organisations involved often proceed without question. But that is not always the case.

Three public consultations directly affecting Bourne are currently being carried out by South Kesteven District Council and all involve planning applications, namely the establishment of a one-stop centre for community services at the Corn Exchange, the redevelopment of Wherry's Lane and the siting of a filling station, public house and restaurant close to the Elsea Park roundabout in South Road.

Not everyone is happy with the way they are being carried out and this has resulted in a letter of complaint published by our two local newspapers, The Local and the Stamford Mercury (December 30th). It was written by Joyce Stevenson of Obthorpe Lane, Thurlby, an outspoken critic of all local organisations who appear to transgress and this is no exception because she claims that the schemes are being rushed through without the proper consultation procedures being observed. Her letter said that the statutory three-week period concluded immediately following the twelve days of Christmas, on January 6th and added: "These major developments, if approved, will have a permanent impact on the local residential and business community. Each application deserves a considered response but this is not a viable option during the extended holiday season."

She pointed out that the applications were available for inspection at Bourne Town Hall during (holiday) opening hours, with responses and comments by email, through the council web site or by writing to the council offices. "It is nearly ten years since the first planning application was submitted for one of the developments", she said. "Why are the latest plans being rushed through without genuine opportunity for public consultation?"

Joyce Stevenson seems to have done her homework, even quoting the relevant reference numbers for all three planning applications, and she has made a valid point, raising sufficient alarm in the process to deserve an explanation from South Kesteven District Council. This would appear to be a golden opportunity for the council leader, Linda Neal (Bourne West), to address this issue now that she has her own column in the Stamford Mercury. Failing that, perhaps the council itself will make a statement. Certainly, there should be a response.

Thought for the week: Consultation in a nutshell is about communicating with our residents and listening to what they have to say. There is no point in talking to people if we don’t listen to their views and ultimately take action. The value of involving the public through consultation must not be underestimated. We realise the perception of local government can be affected by poor consultation activity. - from South Kesteven District Council's Consultation Strategy document for 2008-11.

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Past diary entries during 2011
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September   October   November  December

NOTE: All previous entries of the Bourne Diary from November 1998 to December 2010 
can be found in
A Portrait of Bourne

 
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