Stewart Hood says work carried out by the Northern Health and Social Care Trust at a dam which had once provided water to a local hospital in Antrim had originally been due to cost a staggering £500,000.
But when issues where raised about the work those plans for the Upper Potterswall Reservoir were shelved for a ‘cheaper’ option which the Department of Health confirmed last night still cost £166,000 plus another £3,000 for the initial survey.
But local landowner Mr Hood claims the work was “completely unnecessary” and the dam could have been discontinued for just £200.
The Northern Health and Social Care Trust told the Sunday World a survey they had paid for stated the “most viable option was discontinuance” of the dam which would be best achieved by the “permanent lowering of the water level…”.
But Stewart Hood, who has years of experience in the field is adamant this could have been achieved at virtually no cost.
He’s confused why so much money was spent which he says could have been better used helping NHS patients.
“I have followed this planning application since it came out because I own 30 acres beside the dam,” says the Randalstown man who’s in his 70’s now.
“I can’t understand why they spent £166,000 on closing up this dam when all they needed to do was spent £200 digging up the old pipes so the water could flow back into the river like it had done for 100’s of years before the dam ever existed.
“The only thing feeding the dam now is a well and it would have cost about £20 to turn the pipe from the well back into the old river instead of the dam.
“If they’d done those two simple things the dam would have dried up and they could have turned the land back to farming land or planted trees.
“There’s a funding crisis in the NHS and my only concern was why so much money was spent on this project when it could have been done for virtually no cost.”
Mr Hood owns land adjacent to the dam which used to provide water for washing facilities to Holywell Hospital before it was connected to the mains.
Having run a successful plumbing business for decades and having been involved in dozens of construction projects Stewart took a keen interest in the proposed plans for the dam.
“I got the original plans for what they were doing and it was going to involve a massive construction process and I was told this was going to involves a lot of concrete and cost around £500,000.
“But then the plans changed however the new plans can’t be read – the writing is too small – even with a magnifying glass yet they were stamped as being passed.
“I complained to the planning department at Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council to ask why the new plans which had been passed couldn’t be read.
“I was told by their planning department that they couldn’t explain how the plans were passed and that the person who passed them no longer worked there.
“When I kept pushing them the head of the department told me the council’s lawyers had told them to tell me it was an ‘administrative error’.
“I find that response incredible. When I wanted to open a gate on my land I had to jump through hoops with planners – it has to go before a committee at the council and I had to give details about why I wanted to do it – and that was just for opening a gate!
“Yet these plans have been passed when they can’t be read by anyone.”
And he says he had an equally frustrating time trying to get answers from the health trust forking out the costs for this work.
“I kept asking the Northern Health and Social Care Trust why they were spending so much money on this when they didn’t need to,” says Stewart.
“They told me it was because they needed to make sure the dam didn’t burst and flood Antrim town. I told them that was complete nonsense. There was no way Antrim town could be flooded if they had turned the water back into the original river.”
A spokesperson for Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council told us: “The Council’s planning section processed planning application LA03/2020/0188/F for ‘proposed works to discontinue the dam, including construction of a new spill weir and associated site works’ at Upper Potterswall Reservoir, Steeple Road, Antrim.
“The applicant was the Northern Health and Social Care Trust.
“Planning permission was granted on 11 November 2020. During the processing of the application, a Flood Risk Assessment document was submitted containing a diagram of the proposed plan of works.
“DfI Rivers Planning Advisory and Modelling Unit were consulted on this document and raised no objections/concerns.
“The Council is satisfied that relevant statutory consultees were consulted in relation to the proposal.
“The Council can only comment on the planning application as submitted and has no further comment to make on matters relating to decisions made by the Department of Health.”
The council failed to answer how the plans were passed when they can’t be read and instead directed us to view them – despite being unable to provide a legible version of them.
A statement from the Northern Health and Social Care Trust stated: “The works completed at Upper Potters Wall Reservoir were for the discontinuance of the Reservoir in the spirit of the 1975 Reservoirs Act and incoming Reservoirs Act (Northern Ireland) 2015.
“Surveys indicated that significant works were required to make improvements to the reservoir and the most viable option was ‘Discontinuance’, which was to be achieved by the permanent lowering of the water level such that the retained storage within the reservoir, below the overflow weir level, is less than 10,000m3.
“All work at Upper Potters Wall was completed as per recommendations and to the satisfaction of the appointed All Reservoirs Panel Engineer (ARPE), an expert in this area of work.
“This project has now been completed at a cost of £166k.”