Costs of keeping Buckshole Reservoir safe put big strain on council finances

Urgent safety improvements to Buckshole Reservoir in Alexandra Park still haven’t been completed despite approval to do so being given more than a year ago in January 2020.

And the works are now set to cost more than originally planned. Members of Hastings Borough Council’s (HBC) ruling cabinet heard at a meeting earlier this month that tenders for the work are much higher than were expected.

Buckshole Reservoir is a category A dam, meaning there is likely to be a loss of life if it were to fail. That means HBC must inspect the reservoir every year as well as every ten years against national standards and flood risks. Inspections are made by Stillwater Associates, the council’s contracted specialist reservoir engineers

Any recommended remedial works must be completed within a certain timeframe: the council has until Spring 2022 to carry out the latest batch of works, the original 2020 deadline having been delayed as the council was able to show it was committed to a scheme of works.

At the cabinet meeting of January 6th 2020, the cabinet all agreed to the scope of works for the project and allowed the Director of Operational Services to work with the Sussex Procurement Hub to obtain and let a contract to deliver the agreed programme. They also agreed to a programme capital budget of £837,000 and a revenue budget of £62,775 per financial year.

A team for the project as well as a board were set up and a planning application was made with permission being granted in January this year.

One of the slipway channels that needs to be widened.

Issues around cost have been given as the main reason for delays councillors were told: “The UK construction market has been impacted by the pandemic and it is well reported that costs are predicted to increase dramatically over the next few years.

“In Summer 2020 the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors forecast that tender prices could rise by 30 per cent. Material prices could increase due to difficulty in obtaining materials due to Covid-19, oil prices, tariffs on imports and Sterling exchange rates. Labour costs could also be affected by the increase in demand as the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted and due to restrictions in the availability of European labour due to Brexit.”

The report goes on to detail ‘legacy assets’ that are the council’s responsibility to maintain, such as reservoir and also the cliffs, the report says: “Buckshole Reservoir is another legacy asset, which is no longer needed for drinking water, but still costs millions to maintain.

“The cost of maintaining these assets is not recognised in the funding the council receives from the Government as it is not a cost pressure many councils have to meet. The council’s current finances mean that having to spend vast sums on this, mean funding is not available to support other projects that could improve the quality of life of residents or the regeneration of the town.”

HBC has written to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs seeking more support for both the costs of maintaining the reservoir and the cliffs. They suggest to the Secretary of State that this work could be funded through a ‘ring fenced grant’ (a grant that can only be used for a specific purpose) due to the number of council’s facing cost pressures for so-called ‘legacy assets’ being low while still having a massive impact on the finances of these councils.

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