If You Are Listening, Ray: Rebecca Has An Idea…

Rebecca Harris (Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Conservative Party)

(Rebecca Harris) – I WAS DISMAYED by the proposal to close the older and more historic of Canvey’s tidal pools. 

We have already lost too much of our heritage and local character, and I would deeply regret losing any more – even if this wasn’t such a well used resource. Nor does the fact that we have a newer pool, which the Borough Council say they will improve with a crabbing area, lead me to think: “Oh; that’s alright then.” 

I also have a gut reaction against the words “Health and Safety”. (Although, as a mother, I don’t want to put my toddler at genuine risk however bloody-minded I might feel about the Nanny State). 

My personal view is that we should do everything we can to keep the pool operating as a part of Canvey’s history, somewhere young families can have a cheap day out, and a much-loved aspect of our sea-side. 

I have spoken to the councillors involved in the decision to try to understand what they were thinking. They all clearly came to the decision with real reluctance; several even became nostalgic about their own childhood memories of using the pool or having taken their children or grandchildren there. 

I think they were motivated by two factors, risk and future maintenance costs. I can understand that once councillors, or anyone else put in the same position, are told they may be responsible for serious risk to life – and in this case children’s lives – they  feel very reluctant to second guess expert findings and want to move fast to eliminate the danger. 

I can understand that. 

Due to the state of the public finances, councils are anticipating as much as a 10% funding cut from the current government. So they’re looking to make some tough decisions. Having decided the priority was refurbishing the Paddocks and Waterside and keeping them to a safe standard in future years, they thought they couldn’t afford two tidal pools too, with all the supposed legal risks attached. However, I still think this decision was short-sighted and rushed. 

They failed to make an assessment of the views of local residents and traders – or look into all the possible options. The electorate are no less capable of grasping the issues and deciding if this is something they care about enough to justify the costs to them, the taxpayer. 

Most of Britain’s old tidal pools have closed already over Health and Safety fears, which makes this 80 year old example even more special and valuable an asset for the Island. And anyone familiar with the pools will know that the older one is in fact by far the better of the two. If we could only have one, that would actually be the one to defend! 

I only got in to the Special Town Council Meeting on the pool late (there was a space problem), but I was glad I made it. I was put forward to speak by campaign leader Liz Swann, who knew I was against the closure. I’d emailed the Chairman earlier; but clearly too late for the message to reach the meeting that I’d obtained an assurance from Castle Point Council that they wouldn’t decommission the pool before allowing time for everyone to explore the options. 

This gives everyone a decent window of opportunity to get a “Second Opinion”. The facts can be fully reviewed. We need a proper understanding of the relative costs of maintaining the pool to what’s considered a modern safe standard, to check the quoted costs are accurate, and weigh them against the needs of Canvey as a tourist venue and the finances of our councils. 

Crucially, we can also look at other avenues for money such as Heritage Lottery Funding, which has helped some of Britain’s 1930’s lidos. There might be other ways to reduce the annual insurance costs in these litigious times too. 

The Borough Council have committed themselves to spending £50,000 to remove the pool and improve the beach. On their reckoning it would be only another eight thousand more to put it in good order in the first year, so it’s clearly not an immediate worry about money. But these works would be one-off capital expenditure; the worry is surely how they can find new money each year from a shrinking government grant, to prove to insurers that the pool is “safe”. 

Part of the original plans for the regeneration of Canvey were for the CoastWatch hut to be moved around from its current position near the Port of London Authority jetty to somewhere that they can also observe the beaches; but, as government cash has dried up, this plan is stuck on hold. 

But what if we could get grant money to make this happen again? With volunteers able to view the pool in daylight hours – and all year round – the ongoing insurance costs for both pools would be certain to fall dramatically. There would still be some annual physical maintenance costs to cope with (sea damage etc) but it could make the burden on council tax-payers much more manageable for either the Town or Borough Council. There is even an old lifeguard lookout on top of the Concord Cafe which might be used in the short-term if CoastWatch agreed. This would make the whole of Canvey seafront safer too. 

It still won’t spare local council tax-payers the risk of some drunken idiot breaking his neck there one night and suing us for £3 million, but insurance is about levels of risk and it might make that insurance risk more manageable. 

Maybe Ray Howard can do his usual conjuring trick of finding a pool of capital grant money from somewhere for CoastWatch? 

It might not solve the problem; but it must be worth a try…

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