Lydford sewage treatment works
It seems that the Lydford sewage treatment plant dates from the 1920's. It is situated on a steep slope with difficult access. In September 2008 it became known that South West Water wished to build a new treatment works and were considering spending up to £1 million. A number of parishioners tried to get information and express their views at the parish council meeting held on 16th September and a public event was arranged with South West Water and was held on 7th October 2008. Writing in the October 2008 edition of the parish magazine the Chairman of Lydford Parish Council described news of the proposal as good.
Information available at the public event on 7th October 2008 showed that the SWW preferred option was to build a new treatment works on a field just to the north of the Lydford Viaduct. The existing site was not considered a viable option in the long term but a detailed explanation for this was not given and the suitability of the site would depend to an extent on the technology used. Four other options are said to have been considered and dismissed. A sketch map of locations in .PDF format (opens in a new window) is available.
Use of the preferred location would require sewage to be pumped from a point close to the car park to the new treatment works. This would require construction of a pumping station and the laying of a pipeline along the main street, Silver Street and then down towards Lydford Viaduct. This could be very disruptive to traffic during the construction phase.A sketch map of the route of the pipe in .PDF format (opens in a new window) is available on this website.
The old sewage treatment works
The minutes of the October 2008 meeting of LPC recorded that a consultation was to take place with parishioners and that written representations would be accepted by the council up until 7th November 2008. The topic of the proposed new works was also mentioned in the November edition of the parish magazine and a slip of paper was enclosed with the magazine to allow parishioners to respond to the consultation. Unfortunately the magazine contained no information on what the proposal might entail which means that anyone who did not attend the SWW exhibition at the Nichols Hall might have found it difficult to take an informed view.
The LPC consulation closed on 7th November 2008 with the results collated by an "independent scrutineer", thought to be the then Chairman of the WDBC Standards Committee (LPC minutes October 2008 para 113.1). Why it was necessary to involve this person is not clear. The minutes of the November meeting of LPC give the results of the consultation as being 35 parishioners in agreement with the resiting of the sewage treatment works whilst 14 disagreed. This could not be the whole story as at least one consultation response expressed no opinion either way but suggested that there was insufficient information available on which to base a decision. There must have been at least one "Don't Know".
In fact the December edition of the parish magazine gave a slightly different result to the consultation mentioning 3 returns expressing no opinion. In response to a request made under the Freedom of Information Act the independent scrutineer's report was made available on 16th December. From this it is obvious that the situation is not as clear cut as one might think from the minutes of the November meeting of LPC. It explains that only fifteen parishioners expressed a clear preference for or against a particular site with only five being in favour of site A (SWW's preferred site). At the time the population of Lydford was given on the Parish Council website as 385 so the number actually expressing a clear preference for location A was tiny in percentage terms.
Paragraph 128.7 of the November 2008 minutes record the unanimous passing of a resolution supporting the proposed new sewage treatment works.This specifically mentions the consultation results as being a factor in this decision. Paragraph 126.2 of the same minutes record that a detailed reply to various questions had been received from South West Water and that the information would be appended to the minutes for publication on the noticeboard and the Internet. It also mentioned publishing the information in the Parish Magazine and indeed this did appear in the December edition.
It is not difficult to spot a problem with this consultation. It closed on 7th November 2008 but the minutes to which the detailed information is appended were not circulated until 24th November 2008, i.e. after the closing date for the consultation. How then were people to arrive at an informed decision? It is true that some information was available at the SWW public event held on 7th October but the detailed information subsequently available went much further than that. In fact the scrutineer's report makes the point that many of the respondents felt that too little information was being offered, particularly on why the present site could not be improved.
Most organisations wishing to carry out a consultation would ensure that those being asked for a view have access to relevent information before the consulation starts (or at least before it finishes!). One wonders why the LPC consultation was concluded with such haste, why an "independent scrutineer" was required and why, at such an early stage, the council even considered a resolution supporting the proposed new sewage treatment works. Surely the time to do this would be when the planning application was available and people could see just what form the works might take?
In April 2009 a specific request for information was made to SWW. In a reply they stated that they were awaiting comments from the DNPA planning officer regarding possible sites. Another request was made in October 2009 pointing out that more than a year had passed since the SWW public event. A reply was received but this gave no further information on their plans although it did reveal that a new project manager now had responsibility.
The outcome was that SWW made improvements to the existing site rather than develop a new one. In consultation with the Environment Agency, SWW made changes to the discharge that should permit continued use of the existing site. The changes made included the diversion of the outfall to a soakaway. In effect this provides an extra teatment stage using soil bacteria and natural filtration to further clean up the treated water before it enters any watercourse.
At the time there were further changes proposed to the plant to improve efficiency of the treatment as well as improve safety for SWW workers.
This was probably the best outcome, both for SWW and for Lydford. It seems much preferable to losing a large green-field site to a new sewage treatment works. It is still not clear just why Lydford Parish Council were so keen to see a new teatment works.