CaRT provides ‘complete assurance’

Published: Thursday, 04 June 2020

SOME six months after the near collapse of Toddbrook dam, Canal & River Trust provided ‘complete assurance’ that its reservoirs were in safe condition, writes Allan Richards.

Just two months after that assurance the Sunday Times gave us this:

Government sources are understood to be “highly concerned” about the condition of the other 71 reservoirs across the UK currently maintained by the CRT. One Whitehall source said: “This report shows a worrying lack of urgency for important repairs that were recommended, in some cases for years, by inspection engineers.

“We are taking steps to ensure this is not the case with the other reservoirs maintained by the Canal & River Trust.”

January board meeting

On 30th January CaRT held a board meeting . This followed a board trip to Toddbrook and Bollington the previous day.  The bundle of board papers published more than two months after the meeting contains a chief executives report (Trust460). Section 1.2 of this report reads:

The follow-up to the Toddbrook Reservoir incident, and in particular the response to the two independent Reviews, continues to take a large proportion of the Executive team’s time.  The position, and the work to ensure lessons are applied to all other Trust reservoirs to provide complete assurance that they are in a safe condition, is described in a separate paper.

However, the ‘separate paper’ (Trust454) was not included in the bundle of board papers published some months after the meeting . Thus any assurance provided is meaningless as far as the public is concerned.  How can you provide ‘complete assurance’ whilst, at the same time, withholding the report that provides such assurance?

Information request

Asked to provide Trust454, here is CaRT’s response to a request to review its decision to withhold the information:

‘While the Trust holds the information you have requested, I can confirm that we are withholding this in accordance with Regulation 12(4)(e) of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 which relates to internal communications. This is because the TRUST454 report was merely an internal update for the board of Trustees by Simon Bamford.

I have carried out the public interest test in respect of the application of this exception.  Factors in favour of disclosure include that there is a general presumption in favour of disclosure and in authorities being open and transparent in their actions.

Factors against disclosure include that there is likely to be a negative effect on internal deliberation and decision-making processes if this information is released; the Trust needs a safe space to develop ideas, debate issues, and reach decisions away from external interference and distraction. The release of the information is also likely to inhibit free and frank discussions in the future, and the loss of frankness and candour would damage the quality of advice given by our employees and lead to poorer decision making. I have therefore concluded that the public interest falls in favour of withholding the information you have requested'.

Left wondering

One is left wondering if CaRT’s executive were trying to mislead its own board into believing that it was publishing information which would assure the public that it was taking the necessary steps to make all 72 reservoirs safe.

With three reservoirs (Toddbrook, Barrowford and Whitemoor) now known to have levels lowered due to safety concerns, CaRT has fallen back on blaming the weather for closures and restrictions.

Perhaps they should blame Defra. It would make a change from weather, vandals and terrorists.