Sunday, 15 August 2010

Sunday Ramble, council’s website, drains, blue flags and more.

First I thought I would check the situation with Thanet District Council’s website homepage that I covered last Sunday.

I tried the search box at midday today and neither the search terms “Ramsgate” or “Margate” returned any results, I have tried it a few times during the last week sometimes it worked partly and sometimes no at all.

I am not going to write about all of the things I mentioned in last weeks post see a few of the minor things I mentioned last week have been fixed, but none of the major problems have been fixed properly.

The only fairly large change is that they have removed the strip of picture links to their Youtube channel this was a sensible move as they just haven’t been keeping it up to date.

I have been, I think, reliably informed that the drains in Harbour Parade have been fixed, I will be requesting some technical details about these, I already have an official complaint about them with TDC that I put in a few weeks ago, when I warned them that there could be a problem.

This sort of thing is often difficult and is to do with being an engineer in the head, this is all a bit “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and I suppose that those of you who have read it have some idea of what I mean.

For those of you who don’t I will try some sort of explanation. I used to be an engineer, I won’t humiliate any universities or companies involved here, just say that things were somewhat more flexible in the 1960s and 70s and I got about a bit. Eventually I moved into the world of bookselling and by 1978 I was a charter bookseller running an independent bookshop. Engineering though is a state of mind that means you see things in a different way, you just can’t stop doing this, the complaint to the council was due to a smell of drains where there shouldn’t have been a smell of drains. This suggested to me that the surface water drains were backing up contaminated and needed looking at urgently, the reply that I got from the council’s engineer however seemed to imply that he was treating my observation as though it had come from someone who is not an engineer. All very difficult and I am afraid this may result in the council receiving a bill for compensation, that it can ill afford, from the businesses that were flooded.

I am afraid that the council have had a string of engineering observations from me over the last few years, some have resulted in action, like the bulge in the Pleasurama cliff façade, some just get ignored. This is all rather difficult when say it relates to observations involving a council owned structure that I think may collapse killing people in the process, the councils argument is rather along the lines of, it hasn’t collapsed yet so everything is OK.

Sometimes of course I actually get to talk to the engineer involved and then I get proper answers that I understand, this can even result in helping to identify solutions. As an example of what I mean, I will give you the case of the recent sewage pollution incident at one of out Blue Flag beaches, see if you missed it.

“From a purely engineering point of view, what happened was this:

Pump failure 10 July Military Road pump station, engineer sent; wet well went to high level, 120 to 150 Litres per sec sent to Wetherlees.

Wet weather between 02.00 and 04.30 12th July 7.6mm rainfall. Pump No. 2 failed 02.00 resulting in emergency discharge early am.”

Anyone who couldn’t follow that, please leave any questions as a comment.

So early on the 12th of July Southern Water would have know that there had been a spill of sewage into the sea from the outfall pipe next to Port Ramsgate, as this is between two bathing beaches, whatever the tide and wind conditions this was likely to cause a beach sewage pollution incident in Ramsgate. My guess is that this would have been a problem for up to 48 hours after the discharge, but it’s only a guess testing this theory would be fairly easy.

Now what should have happened is that Southern Water should have contacted Thanet District Council early on the 12th July and the council should have taken down the blue flag and put up a brown one. Sorry I am being facetious or is that faecesious here, what the council should have done is taken down the blue flag and put warning notices at beach access points, tourist information centres and told the life guards to stick up their no swimming flag.

What actually appears to have happened is that as the unglorious 12th was on a Monday this happened to be the day that the environment agency do their seawater quality tests – if this had happened on another day of the week I don’t suppose anyone would have been any the wiser – the test for Ramsgate Main Sands showed high levels of faecal coliform bacteria levels (poo).

When Southern Water and TDC received the result of this test (eight days later, after the problem had gone, the test the following Monday had an OK result) the matter was looked into.

Anyone still reading this should be aware that I am adding to this bit at a time between doing other things, a walk down to Harbour Parade, some games of pool in The East Kent Arms, lunch BLT sarni from Netto etc.

What I am writing is much more about trying to frame questions and recommendations for the EA, Southern Water, TDC etc. and I will put the post up now and probably add some more to it as things occur to me.

Here are the pictures I took during the day so far

Trying to keep on track here I think this is a good place to state my objectives.

1 That people swimming at a Blue Flag beach shouldn’t expect the water to contain excessive quantities of sewage.

2 That Ramsgate and the other Blue Flag beaches retain there Blue Flag status.

3 That 1 and 2 are achieved without considerable extra expense.

What I think has gone wrong here is that although all of the proper things are done at the level of employees who actually do things: the Southern Water engineers have proper warning devices and keep proper records; the environment agency samples are properly taken and the laboratory tests are properly carried out; the lifeguards put up the red flag when they are told it isn’t safe to swim. All of this is fairly expensive and relates to properly trained and qualified people, hopefully being paid fair wages. The problem has occurred at management level, by this I mean we have paid for all of the proper things to have been done to protect us but the administration has failed to put into place a proper system of communication and behaviour ensuing from the communication.


  1. Unfortunately part of the tick box culture that is so loved by tdc and similar organisations. the port and undercliff road was flooded with raw sewage several times a year between 2003 & 2009, but the flag status of the western undercliff beach was never changed and users were not warned.

  2. 8.53 the last poor result I can find for the western undercliff was in 1994, this either means that the tide and or wind conditions meant that the spills you mention went the other way or that these spills didn’t happen just before a test.

    Alternatively the flooding you mention was surface water and not sewage, as I am trying to resolve the issues here it would be helpful if you send me some more details.

    I suppose I should also add that this isn’t an issue peculiar to TDC, as far as I can see this is a problem that effects a great many beaches world wide, here in southern England I believe I have identified a simple inexpensive solution.


Please note comments that may be libellous, comments that may be construed as offensive, anonymous derogatory comments about real people, comments baiting internet trolls, comments saying that an anonymous comment was made by a named real person, boring comments and spam comments, comments in CAPs will be deleted. Playground stuff like calling real people by their time stamp or surname alone, referring to groups as gangs, old duffers and so on will result in deletion. Comment that may be construed as offensive to minority groups is not allowed here either, so think before you write it, remember that the internet is a public place, that it is very difficult to be truly anonymous and that everyone who uses it leaves a trail of some sort. Also note the facility to leave anonymous comment will be turned of during periods when I am unable to monitor comment, this will not affect people commenting who are signed on to their blogger accounts. When things are particularly difficult on the commercial spam front I may turn comment moderation on for periods.

If you feel that someone has left a comment that is offensive and directed at you personally please email me (link on the sidebar) asking to have it removed, you will need to tell which post and the date and timestamp of the offending comment. Please do not reply to the offending comment as I will assume you continuing the dialogue as meaning that you want the comments left there.