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Bonkers Blog June 2015

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20 June (Part 1) - Save Our Splash Park

Bexley council’s long delayed Splash Park report arrived on my Desktop at an inconvenient time yesterday and required careful analysis. I am not sure this is it but it is certain that more comment will be forthcoming from councillors and campaigners.

It is difficult to justify the length of time it has taken for the report to make its public appearance. The former responsible cabinet member Alex Sawyer was saying in April that it was with council officers but that he had not seen it. The report we now have runs to 22 pages of which seven are preliminaries and the consultant’s branch addresses. Only six can be considered to be an examination of the problems and almost nothing is revealed that was not known already.
The consultant’s PDF report reveals that it was first created on 5th June 2015. If councillor Sawyer was not misinformed, it may have been batted to and fro between author and council a few times to get it right - or biased in the right direction - depending on your point of view.

Much of the report does not look very ‘expert’ to me, it’s quite easy to follow and is mostly a statement of the obvious. It suffers by not having any statistics anywhere, a bit like if you asked the RAC for a report on a second hand car and they weren’t able to start the engine and could only ask the owner if it was a nice little runner or not.

With no water in the park when it was inspected most assessments must be theory and little better than speculation. Very often the report merely reiterates what Bexley council has told the consultant. e.g. “It was reported that soiling from smaller children and babies, especially from the pool area of the splash park, had resulted in the closing of the facilities to enable the Council to undertake an emergency clean.”

No one is absolutely sure of the capacity of the underground water tank or the number of children the pool was designed to accommodate.

The lack of feet wash trays and the “poorly maintained” surface rainwater gullies come in for particular criticism. There was some doubt about the nature of the sand filters but “the operating staff believe” they are of a type which is not effective against Cryptosporidium. By Page 9 of the report nothing new has been revealed but Page 10 is an improvement.

Cryptosporidium is killed by Ultra Violet light but no such devices are fitted. Those who maintain large garden ponds will know how effective they can be. It is also revealed that the babies’ play area traps water all day and so is not part of the circulation system. The rubberized safety surface is acting as a sponge and harbouring bacteria. Both serious problems.

The failure of the system to cope with the demands placed on it causes frequent draining of the pool and replacement with fresh drinking water at considerable cost. This is not a satisfactory long term solution.

The Splash Park design conformed to relevant regulations when it was installed in 2005, thereby exposing those Tories who maintained the park was a Labour party cock-up - as if it wasn’t council officers who reached the decision anyway. It was bad luck that the regulations were discredited immediately afterwards and updated.

To enlarge the filtration system would require a new extended plant room and necessarily be expensive.

The consultant company suggest that the babies’ paddling area should be removed whatever the eventual outcome as the shallow water can get very warm and breed bacteria at an alarming rate. The rubber surface should be replaced too. This is beginning to sound very expensive.

The choice the council has to make is what we always knew it was. To bring the current water treatment plant up to current standards, to switch it to a mains fed facility, or revert back to the original proposal. Close it down and put in a few swings.

In round figures the former would cost between three and four hundred thousand pounds and cost forty odd thousand a year to run. The sort of figures that had Bexley council in a panic at the end of last year.

A mains water system would initially cost around £50,000 less and a little under £40,000 to maintain. The old system was said to be costing around £20,000 a year to run but looks like being an under-estimate. Even £20,000 was seen as a sum worth saving under the council’s slash and burn policy. It was listed in their budget document among many such figures said to be essential savings.

Removing the pool and installing the normal sort of play park would also be expensive, maybe £200,000 capital costs. A big plus for a water play facility is of course that it is difficult to burn down.

Street meetingI have always been a pessimist when it comes to saving the Belvedere Splash Park on the simplistic grounds that Bexley council has never in the six years I have been watching them closely ever taken any notice of public opinion. They slash and burn as soon as they are elected and hope everyone has forgotten by the time the next election comes around.

I have no doubt that Faye Ockleford, the Splash Park’s campaign spokeswoman, will tirelessly continue the battle but the consultant’s report makes no reference to commercial sponsorship which was Anna Firth’s (Conservative General Election candidate) pet idea and Faye is likely to find that negotiating with the new cabinet member, Peter Craske, may be a very different experience to Alex Sawyer. One frequently shows signs of being human and the other doesn’t.


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