(1) To note that the legal research undertaken concludes that the Council does not own the tow path, Weir, or bridge, and neither does the Council have any obligations to maintain the assets.
(2) To progress with “Option 1” as outlined in Section 10 of the report submitted to the Executive.
(3) To communicate publicly the Council’s rationale for progressing with “Option 1”.
(4) To continue to be available to engage with the National Trust or other Parties should other currently unknown options become available.
The Council was receiving continued public criticism and is facing pressure to provide a permanent solution to the collapsed Tumbling Bay Weir and footbridge. A decision was required from Executive to provide clarity on the level of the Council’s ongoing involvement in this matter.
Other options considered and rejected by the Executive:
· OPTION 2: The Council makes a one off limited financial contribution of £tbc to another organisation leading the work and taking ongoing responsibility, likely to be the National Trust.
· OPTION 3: The Council takes a more active role in the project. In order to do this, the Council would need to recruit a suitable project manager to take the lead in coordinating a collective agreement on next steps with key stakeholders over the next 6 months. This option incurs an initial £50,000 revenue cost and £000’s in contributions this and future years. This will be growth in the MTFP and savings will need to be found to cover this cost.
· OPTION 4: Assume full legal responsibility for the Tumbling Bay Weir and agree a transfer of the land and Weir to Guildford Borough Council ownership.
Details of any conflict of interest declared by the Leader or lead councillors and any dispensation granted:
The Tumbling Bay Weir collapsed unexpectedly in November 2019, following which the Council and National Trust agreed to commission a temporary solution to restore water flow along the Navigation, sharing the cost equally. This was despite a lack of clarity of ownership and liability for replacing the Weir, so any structure installed as part of the works passed to the owner of the Weir.
There had been significant public interest in the Weir over the past 18 - 24 months, with the Council and National Trust facing criticism for a lack of activity to resolve the ongoing land ownership matters and perhaps more crucially, for the continued closure of the tow path.
There was a discussion about the confidential appendix to the report which had been restricted on the grounds of legal privilege. It was suggested that as much of the factual content appendix as should possible should be available in the public domain without compromising the council’s legal position. The Deputy Monitoring Officer would review the content again to learn to what extent this would be possible.
The Lead Councillor for Regeneration introduced the report to the Executive stating that the weir had attracted much public interest. The council had conducted extensive historical research going back hundreds of years to ascertain who owned the site and therefore had responsibility for maintenance and repair. The clear outcome of the research was that the council did not own the tow path, the weir or the bridge, indeed the tow path was not even a public footpath.
Cost of repair, likely to run to millions of pounds, was not the responsibility of the council and given the council’s budgetary circumstances there was no available finance to make any further contribution. The council had previously funded 50% of an emergency fix costing £800,000 shortly after the collapse in order to maintain the water levels in the Navigation for ecological reasons. A further £60,000 would be provided by the council for a fish pass on the nearby Millmead Weir. Furthermore, the council would continue to engage with the National Trust and other stakeholders to find a long term solution. The flood agencies were the Environment Agency and Surrey County Council, both beneficiaries of the weir, had not offered to contribute. Thames Water undertook extraction for the Wey Navigation had not offered to contribute.
The purpose of the report before the Executive was to consider and to decide the level of involvement the Council intended to have in reaching a permanent solution to the weir. The Lead Councillor for Regeneration recommended that in the absence of a duty to pay for repair and in the absence of a budget to fund a repair the council could have no further financial obligation.
Overall, the council maintained good relations with the National Trust. Most recently the Trust had proposed a financially collaborative approach with the council but given budgetary pressures, and the consequent implications for public services should the council commit to more funding, there was a ... view the full minutes text for item 88
The Lead Councillor for Regeneration presented the mandate in respect of Tumbling Bay (Millbrook) Weir to the Executive Advisory Board (EAB) at its meeting held on 10 October 2022.
The mandate considered options relating to Millbrook Weir which had collapsed in 2019 and been replaced with a temporary weir (which had a limited lifespan of 5 – 10 years) jointly by the National Trust (NT) and the Council at a shared cost to restore water flow in the Wey Navigation. However, the collapsed footbridge over the Weir and its feeder footpath remained closed and the Council and NT continued to face public pressure to restore public access and instal a permanent Weir. Options offered by the mandate consisted of ‘Do Nothing’, ‘Do Minimum’, ‘Do More’, ‘Do Most’ or ‘Do Something Different’. ‘Do Nothing’ was the recommended option.
The Lead Councillor’s presentation featured scene setting photographs and maps of the area surrounding Millbrook Weir and Millmead Bypass Weir, including local public footpaths, and suggested a short term alternative footpath option to replace public footpath 49 that was currently closed. The area was described as an important green space in the heart of the town, access to which was highly valued by the local community. However, access to the green space and the town was currently hampered as both Weirs were in need of repair or refurbishment causing inconvenience to residents. The suggested alternative temporary footpath would pass through land owned by the NT to the west of the River Wey through the Council’s front car park to restore public access to the town, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre and green space.
The Council had invested a substantial amount of time and resources into investigating the ownership of, and responsibility for, Millbrook Weir since its collapse and the conclusion reached was that the Council was not responsible for the maintenance or repair of Millbrook Weir, the footbridge or sluice gates as neither the river nor surrounding land were within its ownership. Although the history of the area was complex, investigations had identified Surrey County Council (SCC), the Environment Agency (EA), the NT and Thames Water (TW) as interested and responsible parties.
Although it had been suggested that the Council may be responsible for Millbrook Weir as it owned the Mill and operated the sluice gates, there was no evidence to support this. The NT had been found to be the owner of the land upon which Millbrook Weir, the footbridge and crossing towpath together with the sluice were located. The EA had acknowledged ownership of Millmead Bypass Weir and had embarked upon a project to create a replacement bypass weir and fish pass. SCC had historically operated the Wey Improvement Scheme which included installing structures and taking responsibility for maintenance and operation of assets. The EA and TW had inherited some of the responsibility for the Scheme. SCC, as lead local flood authority, and the EA, with its responsibility for managing flood risk associated with a main river, had respective obligations relating to preparing ... view the full minutes text for item 52