By Ben Cornwell 

Major maintenance and safety work at Buckshole Reservoir, which started back in September, has been put on hold until next spring.

A Hastings Borough Council (HBC) spokeswoman has attributed the delays in the work to “uncertainties around the weather going into the winter, with higher rainfall and reservoir levels, which could have caused additional risk and delay to the completion of the works”. Lower temperatures may have compromised the strength of any concrete work attempted to be laid, which rendered postponement “necessary”.

CREDIT: Ben Cornwell

In January 2020 HBC allocated the sum of £837,000 from its capital budget and £62,775 per year from its revenue budget to undertake the works in 2021. The start of construction work was delayed from August until late September for reasons which have not been made clear, and all work has now ceased for the winter. 

It has been suggested that the postponement will lead to an overall increase in expenditure  of £170,000. But while the council neither confirmed nor denied this figure, it maintains there was no financial reason for either the delay in starting the project or the decision to pause and restart in the spring.  A council spokeswoman added that the contingency budget agreed by the full council would cover any additional costs incurred.

Why the works are needed

The reservoir is one of three in Alexandra Park, established more than 150 years ago. While it may not serve its initial purpose of supplying drinking water to the residents of Hastings, it is still considered a valuable asset to the town in terms of fishing, recreation and wildlife.

The council has a legal obligation to undertake annual and ten-yearly inspections of qualifying reservoirs under the Reservoirs Act 1975. Buckshole is categorised as a category ‘A’ dam, meaning that there is likely to be loss of life if it fails, hence works must be completed to the highest standard. 

A detailed inspection of the reservoirs in 2016 identified the need for improvement works at Shornden and Buckshole Reservoirs. While the works at Shornden Reservoir were completed in 2018, further assessments and studies were needed to determine the scope of work required for Buckshole. The inspections were undertaken by the council’s specialist reservoir engineers, Stillwater Associates, against national standards set by the Environment Agency for reservoir safety and flood risk.  

CREDIT: Ben Cornwell

They determined that Buckshole needed a new outlet pipe installed within the existing overflow structure, which would allow it to drain quickly should there ever be a problem with the dam. A new replacement spillway channel — which will be bigger to ensure that it can cope and protect the dam from the largest predicted floods — will also be constructed, as the original has aged and deteriorated beyond repair. 

Environmental consequences

The council has confirmed that any trees removed will be replaced and replanted once the work has been completed. Dr McCabe’s Well, a spring located within the fenced enclosure at the top of St Helen’s Road, appears to have been carefully preserved with separate fencing around the spring’s plaque. Named after its creator Peter McCabe, a former mayor of Hastings in 1838 and 1843, the spring has been a part of the park’s history since the 19th century as a supply of clean water.

However, park users are upset that the suspension of works has left parts of the park ravaged and obstructed. Mary Boorman, who lives in Battle but visits regularly, describes its condition as “a real shame…I love the park,” she said. “We do not have a nice big park like this in Battle, so I try to come down here as much as I can. Now you cannot easily get through.” But she said she understood that there is “very little that the council can do” to prevent areas and footpaths being fenced off.

A Hastings couple walking their dogs in the park were confused why the footpath had to remain shut for the next few months. “They have postponed the works now and left it in an absolute mess,” one said. “I can understand the decision to leave the area fenced off as they will need to access it again when the works resume. But if they are not working for a few months, why not reopen the footpath to the public over winter rather than making us have to go out of the park, past the barriers and then back in?”

The council has indicated that the lower footpath through the park between the public toilets and the reservoir will be closed for safety reasons for the duration of the works, while the footpath on St Helen’s Road will stay open subject to short periods of closure to allow construction vehicles in and out of the site.

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