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Flood victims round on Port Authority

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UNHAPPY homeowners from Havens Head and Lower Priory vented their anger and frustration at Pembrokeshire County Council and Milford Haven Port Authority at a special meeting of a Council scrutiny committee this week.

Chair Rob Summons convened the extraordinary meeting of the Council’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee for Tuesday (July 21), after a report into devastating floods which struck the hamlets near Milford Haven in November 2018.

Cllr Summons’ wanted to allow residents, who did not get the report in time for the Committee’s June meeting, to contribute to the Committee’s discussions.

Neither the Port nor the Council is prepared to accept any responsibility for the flood. The report’s content focussed, therefore, on possible preventative measures to avoid a repeat of them.

CAUSES IDENTIFIED
The report concluded a combination of a rapidly rising watercourse, silting in the pills, high water levels in them after heavy and sustained rainfall, the low capacity of the culverts, and high tide levels all contributed to the floods.

The report notes the drainage system’s complexity and the poor condition of much of its infrastructure.

The local authority reviewed a report prepared for the Port Authority by civil engineering firm Atkins last June. Atkins’ report recommended the Port Authority should significantly increase the width of the culverts to cope with increased volumes of water run-off.

At the time, several councillors asked if, as the Port Authority claims, the existing culverts are adequate and fit for purpose, why Atkins recommended their size should be increased to handle three times the volume of water for which they’re currently designed.

LOCAL FURY
Ian Bannister, who lives in Lower Priory addressed Tuesday’s meeting.

He said critical assumptions made in the report about the extent of the previous flooding were flawed. Mr Bannister said in the week before the events of November 7-9, 2018, the pills were already full to overflowing. Water in the Lower Priory Pill was at such a level, Ian Bannister said, the footpath leading to Havens Head was inundated.

He also told committee members that repeated requests to open the sluice gates to reduce the flooding’s severity were ignored and one of the sluice gates supposed to release water from the pills had been broken for ten years and was only now being repaired.
Neither the Port Authority nor Council Officer Darren Thomas was having any of it.

Rocking back and forth in his chair, hands behind his head, and staring at the ceiling while answering questions was not a good look for Mr Thomas, in particular. He gave the unfortunate impression of not being much interested in anything Mr Bannister had to say.
Metaphorically patting the Council on the back for its response to the flooding appeared confused by Darren Thomas with a proactive role in preventing it.

Appearing on behalf of the Port Authority, Chair Chris Martin and Chief Executive Andy Jones, determinedly stuck to the line that it wasn’t them, guv.

Acutely aware of the litigation risk it faces if it concedes even an inch, the Port Authority’s approach is to brickbat any suggestion of contributory fault on its part. Conditions of the culverts were less than ideal but had no effect on the flooding. A valve in the system which didn’t work properly had nothing to do with the backflow of water. A failure to drain the pills over the preceding days, of little or no effect. Defective sluices and failure of water measurement equipment, nothing to see there.

 

Emotional moment: Ian Bannister from Lower Priory clearly upset by the damage caused (Pic: Herald)

REPORT DID NOT PLAY BLAME GAME
While Ian Bannister might have felt like he was banging his head against a brick wall trying to get to the heart of the matter, getting to the heart of the matter was something the Capita report didn’t address and an issue which its authors were not asked to address.

Capita was not asked to assess who, if anyone, was to blame; presumably, in case they could and were able to apportion it.

Sticking to the narrow technical criteria of their brief, Capita conducted flood modelling, produced options based on that modelling, costed those options, and provided conclusions accordingly.

And it was the conclusions which took some swallowing; especially the one recommended to the Council.

Although the report recognises engineering options could be used to help alleviate the flood risk it notes the options for doing so are expensive and would require further justification to the Welsh Government to secure funding.

Capita’s economic assessment says a flood alleviation scheme would be difficult to justify over and above what it describes as ‘Business as Usual’.

That option involves sustaining the current Welsh Government Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management arrangements including routine maintenance or inspections of flood and coastal defence systems, or doing the (bare) legal minimum where there is a statutory requirement to continue them.

It accepts flood risks affecting several residential and commercial properties but does not take into account rising sea levels, the increased frequency of extreme weather events, or the continuing development at Milford Haven Docks.

As Ian Bannister pointed out, the area of land on which the Port Authority wants to build a car park for its proposed hotel development was flooded by raw sewage washed down from the pills in November 2018. That does not appear to have been factored into the Port’s hotel plan, dealt with in the drainage assessment for the development and relayed to the Council’s Planning Committee.

The report concludes, however, the potential exists for a flood alleviation scheme in Milford Haven as there are economic benefits of undertaking one. It recommends further work is to cost a scheme and refine one’s economic viability.

COUNCILLORS TAKE AIMAT PORT AUTHORITY
When the time came for councillors to respond to the report and what they had heard in response to residents’ concerns, questions became even more pointed.

Cllr Viv Stoddart said she wanted to look at potential solutions.

Referring to a recommendation in the report, which suggested replacement of the existing Havens Head culvert section with a slightly larger circular concrete culvert of and building a new section to discharge into the Port, she asked for confirmation of the works estimated costs.
Responding Council Engineer Emyr Williams confirmed the cost estimate was £3.4m but added he regarded that as an optimistic cost because of the poor state of the made-up ground. She asked whether some form of joint-venture would be possible.

Based on her local knowledge of the areas affected, Viv Stoddart drew councillors’ attention to the content of a sentence in the report’s conclusions: ‘It can be said in summary that the culvert is the primary cause of flooding in Havens Head and Lower Priory’. Mrs Stoddart said it was her view and other residents’ views going back many years that the culverts were inadequate and could not cope with periods of very heavy rain.

Cllr Stoddart drew attention to the extent of backfilling at Goose Pill, going back as far as the 1970s and assumptions made in an appendix presented to the meeting which said were unsubstantiated assertions. Viv Stoddart said, in her view, liability rested with the Port Authority and its predecessors in title over the land it now owned. She added to rely on insurers declining to pursue the Port Authority as evidence the Port Authority was not liable ignored the litigation risk and cost of pursuing proceedings against it.

Cllr Mike Stoddart suggested the backfilling of the pills was a substantial issue. Backfilling the pill, he said, inevitably increased the pressure on the culverts and reduced their effectiveness and moving water. He added the original culverts were much shorter and their increased length was necessitated by the effects of backfilling which reduced the pills’ ability to handle excess water. Mike Stoddart compared the effect of backfilling reducing the capacity of the lake to sinking six concrete blocks in a bath and watching it overflow in short order.

Cllr Stoddart drew members’ attention to an alteration made to both the direction of the Havens Head culvert and a reduction its width. Emyr Williams said he agreed the hydraulics of the system were ‘less than satisfactory’. Mike Stoddart suggested that work be commissioned to see if the diversion of the Haven Head culvert to discharge directly into the Docks would – at least – partly address the flood risk.

He pointed out the Port Authority had done very well out of its ownership of the land, as had the previous Milford Docks Company. The Port Authority, he said, should not be allowed to ignore problems which arose as a result of its actions or inaction.

COMMITTEE WANTS MORE INVESTIGATIONS
Cllr Rhys Sinnett raised an ‘easy win’ the report identified, which suggests artificially and permanently lowering the pills’ basins, to create an increased storage volume.

Capita’s representative, John Greenier, said that option was part of a suite of solutions which could have a considerable cost.

Cllr Stephen Joseph said had it not been for the Fire Service pumps removing 14,000 litres of water a minute from Havens Head, the buildings there would have been inundated at an extraordinary cost. He pointed out the Fire Service were not there as an insurance policy for a landowner which failed to act to protect its own property. He observed that modern practice built-in flood attenuation as standard and infill, as took place in the past, would not happen now.

Cllr Joseph added the report needed to go back to Cabinet to find out what money was available for further investigations and the ‘business as usual’ recommendation should be rejected.

Supporting the suggestion, Cllr Di Clements said the Cabinet needed to put its money where its mouth is and commission a fresh look at the problems.

Cllr John Preston said a number of agencies were involved and each was passing the buck. He said ‘business as usual’ was what created the problem in the first place.

Cllr Rob Summons moved a recommendation that the Committee send the report to Cabinet for further action and examination of options.
The Chair’s recommendation carried unanimously.

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Primary school teacher described as ‘touchy-feely’ on day two of trial

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A HAVERFORDWEST primary school teacher, accused of sexually assaulting his pupils was “very touchy-feely”, Swansea Crown Court heard on the second day of his trial.

James Oulton, 34, of Haverfordwest would put his hands around students’ waists and touch their bottoms, an ex-female pupil said in a video interview played to Swansea Crown Court.

The defendant denies 30 charges of sexual assault at a primary school in Haverfordwest. The alleged offences took place between 2012 and 2018.

On the opening day of the trial, court heard that Oulton said the case was a “witch-hunt” and that he always behaved appropriately with children.

On Tuesday, the jury watched the video interview with one of Oulton’s former pupils, who said he was a “friendly person, very chatty and sociable and quite outgoing and wanted to know everything that was going on.”

She added: “Mr Oulton often wanted to know a lot of details on what we had done over the weekend, where we had been, and also who they had been with.”

“At the time I just thought he was trying to be really friendly but now when I look back at it now, it does seem odd.”

The witness also described the defendant as a “very touchy-feely teacher”.

She added: “If he was marking your work or if you approached him to ask him a question, he would put his hands around your waist or around your bum”.

“If he was standing by his desk, he would, like, motion to his knee, so he wouldn’t ask you directly to sit on his lap but he would tap his knee.”

Swansea Crown Court heard that the witness eventually came forward and told her parents parents after she heard them speaking about Mr Oulton being suspended from his job.

“Did you feel under pressure to say something had happened to you?” asked Mr Clee.

The witness answered “No”

Oulton, of Richmond Crescent, Haverfordwest, previously told the court he had behaved appropriately.

He also believed letters were sent by Pembrokeshire County Council to parents which encouraged “deliberately false evidence” and collusion between pupils.

The trial continues.

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‘We don’t want it’: councillors object to HGV tanker park plans

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PEMBROKE DOCK town councillors have objected strongly to plans to build a HGV tanker park in the town.

The tanker park would be located on the south-western side of Criterion Way, behind the ASDA petrol station.

However, at a meeting of the town council’s Planning Committee on Tuesday, April 13, councillors were in agreement that it would create more problems for the town.

Councillor Jonathan George said: “I’ve noted the public input on this and they don’t seem very happy about where it’s going to be put.

“It is close to a small park area and I don’t think it’s suitable to put this here. I won’t be supporting this.”

Cllr George Manning added: “There are many aspects of this which are totally inappropriate for Pembroke Dock. There are many other sites available but they haven’t looked at any of them.

“This does not do anything for the Future Generations act and it will bring more disruption to the town.

“This does not bring about any improvements to the existing transport infrastructure. There are lots of things about this, we don’t want it. I don’t think they have looked into it in enough detail.”

Cllr Gordon Goff said that the impact it would have on the public and wildlife would be ‘astronomical’.

He went on to say he was not happy with one of the statements in the application and said they ‘don’t want to be blackmailed’.

One of the documents submitted with the application states that if the development was not approved it would mean that the applicants, Certas, ‘will either have to find a different site’ or ‘will have to cease operating in the area’.

Cllr Terry Judkins said that the Port Authority wanted to ‘use Pembroke Dock as a dumping ground’ and added that he could not support it.

Cllr Maureen Colgan added that she was ‘totally against’ the application and said that the area should be kept for leisure and be developed as an area where people can sit and enjoy themselves.

The application is due to be decided by Pembrokeshire County Council at a later date.

Cllr Paul Dowson has already called in the application for it to be debated by the County Council’s Planning Committee.

In his request he states that it is too near habitation, it is within the Pembroke Dock conservation area and that children have been using the area near the bandstand as play area for over 20 years.

The area had also previously been the subject of an application for a marina and other leisure facilities but that investment was written off in 2017.

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Trial of Haverfordwest primary school teacher starts at Swansea Crown Court

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A HAVERFORDWEST primary school teacher who is accused of sexually abusing eleven children thinks he is a victim of a witch hunt by the police, a jury has heard.

But at Swansea Crown Court on Monday (Apr 12), the Clare Wilks for the prosecution said that the defendant had “abused the trust of parents and staff” by sexually touching children in his care.

James Oulton, denies 30 charges of sexual assault against the eleven children who were aged eight or nine years old at the time.

The alleged offences took place between 2012 and 2018.

The jury heard how the pupils, now aged between 11 and 17, claimed he touched them sexually.

But the court was also told that Mr Oulton claimed he received cards at the end of term, and he believed letters sent by Pembrokeshire council to parents encouraged false complaints and collusion between pupils.

Oulton, 34, of Richmond Crescent, Haverfordwest, told the court he had behaved appropriately.

The jury heard how the alleged abuse occurred while Mr Oulton was working at a primary school in Haverfordwest.

Clare Wilks, prosecuting, said some of the children alleged that they had been assaulted on a daily basis, while others had had given statements to say it only happened the one time.

The trial continues.

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