Featured post

10,000,000 Miles in a Nissan Leaf?

Monday, 16 December 2013

That Secret Agent Thing Again

From the USofA comes the news that a senior official at the Environmental Protection Agency has been roundly abusing his position with chaufeur driven limos, first class flights and 5 Star hotels.... pretending to be a secret agent!

Given the wholesale abuse of timesheets, "holidays" and the grotesque amounts splurged on "intelligence" by The Environment Agency - it would seem that there is some fertile ground for looking into what our own provincial "regulators" have been up to with public funds. We've commented in the past about the EA's fondness for cloak and dagger .....  and in their own words eco-snooping.

Much more of this and everybody might end up more than a little cynical about Environment Agencies!

It is really well past time that "green" gang got their act in order - the way it's going people on low incomes are going to get really screwed 

Friday, 6 December 2013

FYI - Government Spending 2013

I know we're in there ...  but smaller than a row of pixels...

Anyway - a graph you likely won't see much anywhere else....

Click for a bigger version

Friday, 29 November 2013

Tired of Waiting / Chasing Folk

If you're a regular here you'll know about a Mr. Weston asking about how much the EA themselves reckon they've spent screwing up at Avoncliff. I've given up chasing Mr. Weston and decided (at the risk of being called a vexatious questioner... ) to repeat Mr. Weston's enquiry about funds allocated by the EA to the Avoncloff debacle.  It's 1 year, 4 months and 22 days  since the "EA External Relations Team" should have responded..... 20 days is supposedly the limit.

Dear Environment Agency,
in view of the unanswered question about project costs:


Can you please provide answers to the following questions:

1) Have tasks related in any way to hydro licencing at Avoncliff
been allocated a task / job code(s) for internal accounting

2) What is the accumulated total EA funding allocated to tasks
associated with Avoncliff licence determinations - including
consultancy billing and legal expenses?

3) Can you give any reason for the delay in answering Mr. Weston's

Yours faithfully,


I don't think these are unreasonable questions at the present time - as the EA look set to splurge likely hundreds of thousands more public funds on legal stuff.....

I know for sure that more than one M.P. will be watching this very closely - and if the answer is less than satisfactory - well, it seems quite likely they'll ask the questions
- got that Horizon House / Millbank Tower people? 

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

What Consistency?

I'm sure that most people will have come across jobsworths - the average lower-level bureaucrat views conformity to his/her interpretation of the rules as a virtue. Anyone different is a troublemaker. Things start to fall apart when the people being bureaucratted (oww!) notice that there are apparently very different strokes for different folks....

As you may or may not be aware the (previous?) owner of Weaver's Mill, opposite North Mill was attempting - supported by his EA bureaucrat mates - to build a hydroelectric turbine on somebody else's land. This was pointed out to the EA repeatedly, starting at the outset 4 years ago - but they chose to ignore it in their inimitable fashion. Nasty, inconvenient  reality intruded and the original proposal for a DIY turbine at Weaver's Mill was stymied by the riparian owner of the land in question. 

Well,  back to the drawing board .....  

We at North Mill know* that in the UK hydro turbine abstraction licence process the EA have insisted at other projects on re-doing the licence process from the start (i.e. re-apply, re-advertise , re-determine) if:
  • The turbine type/specification is changed
  • The design amount of water fed to the turbine is changed.
  • The location of the turbine is moved from the original footprint (biggie that!). 
  • The construction method is changed  
After the failure of the EA official's arbitrarily promoted scheme at Avoncliff - as a result of a very simple (elementary some might say) "mistake" - all four reasons above - used to force other applicants to re-apply at projects across the country are now airily waived aside by officials as "not significant differences to the scheme" in the latest hastily submitted, wierdly documented "amended scheme" for Weavers' Mill. Fabricating evidence is one thing - but inconsistency like this is at best headscratching territory and at worst shows clear and absolute contempt for the public and proper process en route to trying to force their own candidate's scheme through...

Oh,  - as an afterthought - we're told it's also likely illegal too - as are a number of other things that the officials at the EA and their mates have been "up to" in the last year concerning a hydro scheme at Avoncliff.

*we're not  making this up - some wackier reasons have been given too - if you've a spectacularly loopy example - please drop it in the comments. My own favourite bit of hydro related nonsense is the EA reputedly trying to fine a mill owner for "taking too much water" when there was a flood. Hydro project agents and consultants gossip as much as anybody else....... ;-)

p.s. For those folks that have been following all this and know about the draft licence at Avoncliff in favour of North Mill in 2010 that - and the "disappearance" of related EA paperwork might be interested to see that when it suits them - the EA indulge in public consultation exercises on draft determinations as is the case for Wolf Minerals in Devon and if that link stops working - a copy here.  Consistently inconsistent some might say. 

Friday, 15 November 2013

Business as Usual?

Business as Usual 

we are too!
A couple of weeks ago - rhe EA reputedly gave the owner of Weaver's Mill an "ultimatum", apparently to extract some kind of statement about his intent / plans regarding any application for a turbine since the property had been put up for sale - and promised to report the result as soon as to the owners of North Mill. There's a bunch of other stuff that we've been promised too - so we'll ask politely several more times...  We'll keep drumming our fingers on the table and rolling our eyes heavenward.....(nothing new there)

In the meantime the Cautionary Tale on the rather neglected main North Mill web site isn't reflecting what's gone on at Avoncliff in the last 18 months - so that'll get a wash and brush-up this week for those of you looking for some easy copy.....

We've also found the poster of a FoI question on What do They Know who's now going to push for an answer to the question "How much do The Environment Agency think they've spent on Avoncliff?" which the EA have left unanswered since June 2012..... that's going to be interesting. 

It may be coincidence ... but 4 days after this blog post the EA responded with most of the information we had asked about - those answers frankly raise even more questions than they actually answer  There must be a stronger word than "saga" but it's the only one that actually comes to mind at the moment. 

Monday, 4 November 2013

The Victimhood Card - a change in tactics

Well, we missed the opportunity to "celebrate" four years of this 
(Maybe we'll have our own re-purposed bonfire night).

On reflection it's not an anniversary that we felt needed a post all of its own. What requires repeating though is the simple reflection that if Environment Agency officials had simply done their jobs properly four years ago there would be no web site or blog, there would have been no High Court case, the public purse would still have that £1,300,000+++ in it (plus taxes from an operating hydro scheme and holiday lets) and stress levels all round would be much reduced.

The owners of North Mill have been made aware that EA officials are starting to play the victimhood card. The EA's present situation in this matter is absolutely the result of choices officials made and those choices are their responsibility. If they want things to change - the Earls have made it very clear they are open to proposals - but absolutely nothing has been forthcoming.

The mill owners have been surprised by officials "deeming" routine questions asked about a number of subjects during the second licence determination process to be "Freedom of Information" requests - when absolutely no element of FoI compulsion was requested, inferred or intended. This contrasts rather sharply with EA officials generous largesse with information the the Earls have provided in confidence  - which has been subsequently disclosed to third parties without permission.

EA officials being presently subjected to an actual FoI request from North Mill's hydro project agent (which although being less work than our original refunded £1000 FoI - they want to charge £37,000 for...)   have been bleating to the Information Commissioner's Office that North Mill  FoI requests have exceed 40 in number and that they are "vexatious" - neither allegation has been evidenced  The North Mill owners take issue with the EA's unsupported assertion that they have been responsible for 40 FoI requests - knocking a zero off would be closer to the mark... and in "overly burdensome" terms we have not seen any detail justification provided as specified in s14 of the Freedom of Information Act.

It would seem that that EA officials need reminding (yet again...) of the trajectory of the original Avoncliff FoI  that resulted in the EA refunding the FoI fee and the agency being scolded in an ICO report because involved officials conducted a campaign of obstruction regarding that request in order to influence a High Court case and it took an "external" EA FoI specialist to find, review and issue the missing documents in a week after 18 months+ of evasion by some of her colleagues....

Did EA management learn a lesson from this?

Did oversight get enhanced?

- or did they simply carry on as before allowing the subjects of FoI to meddle obstructively with responses until things get really-messy-sticky and a defence against a persistent inquiry has to be orchestrated? The procession of wrong, inept and unanswered FoI responses from the EA speaks for itself.

The Earls and others have been accused of "acting in concert" to make unreasonable, vexatious, overly burdensome Freedom of Information requests which I find pretty rich when it's abundantly clear that officials at The Environment Agency in our opinion acted "in concert" to defraud the Earls of a licence in the first place and have persisted in deliberately mangling the licence process to disadvantage the Earls right up to the present time. Yes, the Avoncliff North Mill team know something about "in concert".

It's a funny old world where an organisation with 11,400 staff (well... at the moment anyway*) and a budget of £1,200,000,000 (£105K each - it's a nerdy thing) complains about being "put upon" by two builders from Bradford on Avon when it's clear that the Environment Agency started the fight in the first place.....

Renaming Avoncliff  The Duchy of Grand Fenwick has a certain attraction  :-)
(Subject to a referendum of course)

"It's worth noting that "The Independent" is moderating "unsupportive" comments on the EA redundancy story 
- we've tested it.(wading through more saliva than seen at a late 70s punk gig) 

The "Q Bomb"?

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Moaning vs. Being Constructive or Woe !!! the Cuts!

                      15% of Environment Agency jobs to go? - is there a plan?

That is more than a decimation - and those proposing these cuts must feel that the workforce are not performing adequately. We'd rather predictably say - it's not enough. Some attention must be given to altering the way this organisation goes about it's duties - and it's duty not "business" that constrains the activities of a statutory body.

Given what we've learnt is the last four years it's simply indisputable that The Environment Agency is plumbing the depths of dysfunctionality - even for an overstuffed "free range" quango. The overblown EA has essentially lost its way and lost effective collaboration with the population and especially those unfortunates "regulated" by it. It presently exists in a suffocating, self regarding la-la land where it's becoming clearer than ever that a quite dizzying variety of abuses are commonplace and embedded in the present organisational culture. In some cases those attributes are being promulgated into spawned client / semi detached organisations...

The phrase "root and branch reform" rather unsurprisingly comes to mind. It's very clear from the insights provided by Henry (and others via personal contact, phone and email) that overstaffing and ineffective management have combined to cultivate idle indulgence and that an almost complete absence of discipline has enabled individual officials to exercise arbitrary power when it is neither legally sanctioned or - in fact in most cases even remotely appropriate at the outset of a problem being identified (or, 'pon occasion created).

This "quiet start" has been made by instructing the EA to trim its workforce  - however, it utterly fails to address what we already know to be damage done to individuals, organisations and businesses which are subject to the EA's presently malign influence. EA misbehaviour must be addressed. It's interesting to note in the linkedarticle above that Craig Bennett, Friends of the Earth  (tag:"Seeing Things Differently" ) director of "policy and campaigns" commenting / lamenting on "the cuts" has a woefully shallow grasp of what's involved here.

We know some folk in the higher reaches of Whitehall and in the political parties drop by here and we'd like to send a very clear message - and yet again - we say - it's time to clean out the stables. The Office of The Parliamentary & Health Service Ombudsman , The UK Parliament Public Accounts Committee  and last but not least The High Court (both Criminal and Administrative divisions...) should be a places of absolute last resort and not the only recourse to remedy for petty wrongs perpetrated by public servants. A parliamentary investigation seems entirely appropriate.

The EA does do some things right - but that does not justify them in any way ignoring and being totally obstinate about putting right what they do wrong.

We know that internally there's discontent at the management culture, there's bad behaviour, there's discontent out amongst the regulated, there's overmanning, there's inefficiency and there's alarming lack of competence in key areas and an unhealthy appetite for the shameless fabrication / invention of justification in senior management.

It's in the consultation phase - but we're working up a survey about attitudes and possible remedies to the present untenable situation across the EA's activities - not just hydro power.  Trade associations, NGOs, environmental media outlets and last but not least EA employees will be invited to participate = don't hold your breath!

Decimation is not enough - somebody is going to have to knock the survivors into shape - and there has to be a plan for that shape - because if the culture doesn't change you'll just have a smaller version of the original and that patently won't be any good at all....

15%? - will that be by  lottery?   The decimation procedure was a pragmatic attempt to balance the need to punish serious offences with the practicalities of dealing with a large group of offenders...

It's worth noting (via comments) that the English EA (i.e. leave out Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) has a bigger staff that all the other EU members environment agencies combined 

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Rattle Ejected From Pram (Part 1)

It would seem ...  that somebody's not happy with us.

Under normal circumstances we'd be a bit more conciliatory about offending other people's sensibilities (no.. really, we would...) - but - as promised a while back - after 4 years of this stuff - we've truly had enough of the cavalier, indifferent attitude to truth and diligence that has characterised EA senior management's monumentally self regarding approach to discharging their statutory duties as public servants in the matter of water licences at Avoncliff.

Some people either have the attention span of a goldfish or they've been indulging in undiluted mendacity on an industrial scale possibly with a view to provoking a response........

OK - here's the provocation:

We do not make public allegations that we cannot evidence and that are gratuitously defamatory and we take gross exception to people acknowledging wrongdoing, promising to do something about it and then reneging on those promises multiple times no doubt in the hope/intention that time will dim down the issue and "normal" operations will continue unaffected .

OK - here's the response...!  
(Blogger's graphic viewer isn't very nice - so if you want to see all of this in one document 

The normally placid and serene Celia dashed the missive below off in less than 20 minutes - she is well versed in the to-ings and fro-ings - having suffered / lived it quite quietly for 4 years.... without popping her head over the public parapet :-)   I think the frustration is palpable :-)

And just so's the interwebs can find it - a composite PDF of this correspondance is linked here so that Google , Bing and DuckDuckGo can find it (once it's indexed)

I think the return rattle broke the sound barrier :-)

In view of some things that have come to light in the comments = it looks like time that somebody with an actual mandate to settle things from the EA side of this had better be dispatched down to Wiltshire  dragging his/her/their battered EIIR briefcase(s) with them. There is more woe rumbling down the tracks for officials at the EA and they still have the possibility to avoid a messy train crash.

Monday, 7 October 2013

A Slightly Unfortunate Choice of Web Address

Well, it's not everybody's cup of tea and it's minor league techy - but I was a bit surprised getting a Tweet from The Environment Agency inviting me to apply for a job. (£150,000 a year, 3 day week , expenses, lease car, flexitime and a generous pension will do - thank you in advance)

I was intrigued by their use of the i-grasp web address (which actually didn't work with the link embedded in the Tweet - not a reassuring start, but sadly par for the EA course) - that url is loaded with other meanings especially for the waste handlers and recyclers we know come to the Avoncliff Mills blog for a bit of light relief and to vent a bit.....  

Onwards ...  the employment page taken literally would seem to infer some initial preferences in terms of employment candidates skill sets - employee attributes that whilst laudable and no doubt aligned with a sense of social responsibility should be tertiary to selecting the best candidate for the job - and should be applied at the end of the selection process between otherwise equally suitable candidates. Presenting these criteria at the outset is wrong , discriminatory and conflicts with several statutory duties the organisation is supposedly obliged to discharge - but as we know - conflicted decisions and dereliction of statutory duties litter the EA landscape without much actually being done to clear up the mess. However - it does look like the logo-soup was used to select the chairman.

The logo shower at the bottom of the i-grasp (Appleobviously missed a trick there)  EA employment portal page and the failure of the Twitter link to actually link to a listing of available positions is simply another albeit trivial but real manifestation of the woeful competence we see from this organisation. 

The incumbents are obviously not so stupid as not to see that the public perception of the EA is suffering and are ... quietly preparing a shell game  some of the details of which are covered in the EA triennial review document HERE (pdf) - frankly, looking at the proposals it looks like an attempt to even further attenuate public budgetary accountability and "outsource" the enforcement activities - which will suit the spendthrift self regarding passengers on the present gravy train just fine.

Something does need to be done - and they know it  - but predictably they aren't interested in providing value for money and actually delivering the services outlined in their statutory obligations to the people forced to pay for them. Creating "Trusts" is where they're heading - given the EA's performance - trust can be added to the miserable lexicon of words devalued beyond recognition by those in positions of actual public trust.

This is set to run. 

in terms of unfortunate web addresses try this

EDIT: In the meantime Richard Benyon and David Heath - both in a way responsible for controlling the Environment Agency have both been replaced in the latest (Oct 2013) ministerial reshuffle / deckchair adjustment exercise. We hope that their successors use their power and do not take the blandishments and fibs that they're briefed with at face value.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Shocked , Shocked we were ....

Oh, OK then, no - we weren't really.

Prepare yourself for a generous dollop of indignation

One has to suppose that there's some pretty curious accounting going on at the Environment Agency in order to "justify" putting several hundred people out of work and ruining a business off the back of a pack of lies.

The story of Nigel and Philip England caught our eye as victims of  what one must assume is yet more EA perpetrated wild invention and the whole all too familiar nasty carnival of tricks and bureaucratic banditry we've come to expect from an organisation as out of control as the EA.

Click to enlarge (and get indignant)

Can law enforcers show restraint when pocketing the proceeds?  Crikey - that's an understatement and actually misses the point by a country mile - can officials make up a sump of toxic kerrap and then try to drown you in it whilst simultaneously stealing the contents of your bank account? - is more like it. 

Using heaps of taxpayer's money to indulge in legal bullying and epic dishonesty spiced up with the colossally full-on irony that they are trying to prosecute a third party for something that The Environment Agency negligently actually failed to do themselves in the first place?

The EA - strangers to integrity, honesty, competence etc., etc.

We hope that the Englands are going after the individual officials that perpetrated this - but having spent £400,000 defending themselves from these gits one has to assume they're a bit circumspect about the whole matter...

Truly a shameful episode that deserves wider coverage

Even if you can rely on the BBC to parrot your self serving guff
(and leave out the  £1,200,000 legal bill to the taxpayer)

A copy of the BBC report on the "not guilty on 11 charges" report is archived here 
just in case it disappears...

No smoke without fire some might say and I'd agree -
only the smoke isn't coming from Siteserv 

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Financial Infidelity?

Watching egregious and wilful waste of our taxes happen is a very, very frustrating experience - some people want to make it a criminal offence - it's patently obvious that simple complaints about waste are ignored. This is not a trivial matter - some estimates have the amount wasted by government as high as 50%. Imagine what would happen if you withheld 50% of your taxes?

You'd have to be deaf and blind at the moment to miss the bleating emanating from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee at the moment with the BBC gleefully pointing at other people getting a small thrashing with expired lettuces from Margaret Hodge MP et al. for irresponsible waste of the public funds they have been entrusted with - no doubt, we'll hear that "lessons have been learnt" - yawn.

In Germany at the moment there is a movement to introduce a new crime -
public financial infidelity

Rather than reinvent the wheel and to avoid redundant typing - if you are curious, take a look at Richard North's two recent articles focusing on the subject.

Financial Infidelity  (Sept 2013)

Criminalising Government Waste (15th June 2013)

Should wilfully burning our money or handing it out to mates / cronies be made an imprisonable offence?

It doesn't have to be the one sided setup we are presently enduring with accountability almost non existent and one getting the distinct impression that the individuals both perpetrating the waste and benefiting from it are thumbing their noses at those who are forced to pay and watch.

It seems that there are two very different sets of standards out there. There is a relationship - and trust is being abused - "public financial infidelity" seems rather appropriate.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Avoncliff vs. Damascus 

Glad other things are more difficult to explain than the debacle here at Avonclifff. 
Try getting your head around this.

Ever topical we are ...

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Just Epic Incompetence and Worse

Nearly four years ago the builders at North Mill and a number of commenters in the formal public consultation process highlighted / tried to draw Environment Agency officials attention to a quite literally show-stopping feature of the application for a hydro power installation at Weaver's Mill. 

Environment Agency officials were simply dismissive and continued to wilfully and arbitrarily promote the Weaver's Mill scheme, spending literally hundreds of thousands of pounds of public funds on contriving "evidence" to try and ensure their chosen outcome. International consultancies were commissioned by the EA officials to produce "independent" reports - those consultancies apparently couldn't see  what is entirely obvious to a layman looking at the weir at Avoncliff. - or perhaps, these companies - whose entire business essentially relies on public bodies were told not to look / mention anything "difficult"?

The Environment Agency's arrogance and hubris has been of such proportions that they did not even formally research the show-stopping issue alluded to above - not at all. It would seem that officials were so focused and intent on imposing their choice that they didn't actually bother to explore the technical and legal issues  believing - one actually has to assume - that with a bottomless wallet filled with inexhaustible public funds that they would get their way by using the tactics of massively outspending anybody with the temerity to challenge their whim and controlling the story by bullying the legacy media into accepting their "authoritative", "official" story via threats issued by an overactively inventive PR department.

So here we are - four years down the line and considerably in excess of £1,000,000 of public money spent ( quite a bit more by some estimates - not ours!) and the original proposed scheme at Weaver's Mill absolutely, categorically cannot be implemented - a fact which has been pointed out to EA officials repeatedly over nearly four years....

The fact that the lower EA "customer facing"officials have changed in those four years - but the strategy deployed has endured indicates that somebody in middle or more likely (very) senior management is behind this - and we intend that that person be exposed. The repeated failure to address substantive issues and a miserable parade of broken promises  (and what must be assumed to be lies) from senior EA officials can can now really only be interpreted as deliberate evasion and flagrant dishonesty - incompatible we believe with relatively high public office... 

Incompetence rarely travels alone - it is customary for other less savoury companions to be along for the ride.

It's a quote from somewhere that I can't reference - but that doesn't diminish it:

It is quite true that any organisation, if it is provided with continuous funding and little or no independent oversight, will rapidly go 'off the rails'. It will increase its powers, diminish its competence and ignore both legal rules and the fundamental principles of morality. It will become completely divorced from its original purpose and create new, unjustified reasons for its existence in self-perpetuating cycle.

I leave it to you to figure out who I think it might be a good fit for.....

We have deliberately not published a lot  (most) of the communications between ourselves and Environment Agency officials - in the hope that keeping things "confidential" would engender some degree of trust and freedom to speak plainly and give the EA "room to move". This gesture has been roundly and consistently abused. There have been egregious failings - promises were given - in hindsight it is abundantly clear that there was no intention to behave honourably or honestly and the EA book of mendacity is beginning to look like an Argos catalogue.

EA officials are supposedly obliged to share information about applications and their contacts with applicants to ensure transparency - it has come to our attention that EA officials have been doing work and guiding the actions of the applicant at Weavers Mill for some considerable time without advising us of the details - whilst simultaneously insisting that we follow full disclosure...   and officials have advised him on how to re-present his scheme so that they can approve it!!! (Since the one they've been pushing for four years and spent over a million quid of your taxes on has "crashed and burnt")

One can only tolerate so much deliberate provocation  - so - copies of communications between ourselves and the gentlemen below are coming here to the blog.

Our present unfortunate "single point of contact"  Ben Johnston
"Water Manager" John Sweeney
National Operations Director David Jordan (Linkedin)
Chief Executive Professor Paul Leinster  (Linkedin)

Gentlemen - you brought this on yourselves.

Monday, 26 August 2013

 Old News - EA + RIPA

Yes it is over 4 years old - but still, it's not we believe - the sort of thing that we want to hear about The Environment Agency and Henry's latest post makes it seem likely that some folk at the Environment Agency have got themselves the complete collection of Spooks boxed set and are using them as an instruction manual.

Cloak and dagger at the EA?

Yeah ... we're mildly paranoid about truth and the EA (with some compelling evidence!) Given our experience of things EA it's not like they change their spots or anything - and the use of an eye-wateringly expensive  anti terrorist rumour database by the EA really does make one wonder about the mindset at middle and senior management levels inside the organisation.

Reputedly Chief Exec Dr Leinster has to authorise any RIPA activity personally - we wonder where the line is between repeating and logging earwigged title tattle / gossip and overtly snooping is?

It's clear from the shambles we've seen in a supposedly straightforward box ticking exercise that EA intelligence gathering and the veracity of information is likely to be deeply flawed - who checks all this info?

Please, somebody from the EA come and tell us you're not routinely using RIPA ?  We wonder if the annual report from the Surveillance Commissioner is a public document - somehow we doubt it... - but we have asked :-)

A bit more old news - but not much coverage since - 
Any EA (or ex EA!) folk know what happened to
EA Warrington National Carbon Snooper Team?

£5 million a year since 2009 with no discernible effect  - £25,000,000 spent without achieving anything ... yep - the more one sees of the Environment Agency - the more obvious it becomes that it's dysfunction and broken beyond repair.

For those of you wondering about the extents of snooping and who gets up to actually doing it - this Daily Mail article by Steven Glover makes for frankly quite disturbing reading - for all the grandstanding in the media about Rupert Murdoch - it would seem the problem is far, far wider and I suppose it makes it less of a surprise that the EA see no problem with getting into the snooping game big time.... 

Monday, 19 August 2013

Freedom of Information

There are a couple of FoI requests relating to Avoncliff still extant that The Environment Agency has chosen not to answer.

These are non trivial items.

The first is from Allan Richards:
He has named a number of Environment Agency officials and asked that details of their activities relating to Environment Agency actions at Avoncliff be provided. The EA have stopped responding.

The second is from D. Weston:
How much has the licence process at Avoncliff cost? The EA have simply refused to respond.

The first one is pretty serious stuff - the second is not unreasonable under the circumstances.

So, c'mon EA folk - get your act in gear. These questions are not going to disappear!

In fact, it seems likely your old friends the Information Commissioner's Office is likely to come calling in the not too distant future.

That £36,000 FoI bill cooked up by our friend from North Korea is beginning to look a bit wobbly... hope you've got the recipe right pal ...

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Sold Down The River- BBC Radio 4 - Face the Facts

Caught this today on BBC Radio 4 - please have a listen - it's worth it.

Whilst some of the program wanders off  a bit - there are a number of nuggets in there...

Responsible stewardship of public resources? 

Undisclosed millions £££ in compensation to their mates?

Warning - high levels of indignation guaranteed

Monday, 29 July 2013

It's a Game ... innit?

Over the nearly four years we've really wondered - I mean really, really wondered what on earth drives many EA officials to behave they way they do. One of Henry's Inside the EA blog posts has - we feel, given some substance to our suspicions and firmed up the veracity of anecdotal evidence - particularly from the waste management business... but also - we've had input from the hydro power and flood risk community.

Handing out false advice, wait until the victim was naively following said advice - switch the enforcement official and pounce - how charming - and all no doubt orchestrated with the legal department and the "corporate communications"and PR dept. Contriving a situation to mislead and entrap the unwary and then pushing out copy 'n paste PR to an incurious and lazy media? (And bully / coerce any publication / broadcaster that  has the temerity to independently (pun intended) review the EA's activities)

This sort of behaviour must be corrosive, infectious and attractive to people of a certain mindset.

So, it would seem that an official or a group of officials can arbitrarily decide that they are going to promote or  impede / obstruct an applicant or existing licence holder in a self indulgent, self serving and capricious way - and that sort of activity is tolerated in a public body on what seems like a routine basis?  Actually - there's a law against that sort of thing - well... there's several.

Some tactics that Henry hasn't mentioned are the deceitful promulgation of different, tailored versions of "things" to different parties, the misrepresentation of data and the undue influence put onto "independent" consultants to contrive reports which accord with the will of the officials commissioning / doling out lolly for said "independent" reports.

Anyway - 'tis the season for barbecues and we have stocked up on charcoal and woodchips - the EA have been truly generous and unstinting in the provision of marinade.

It would seem that we are in august company when we assert that The Environment Agency doesn't always act honourably - eco icon George Monbiot has been known to grizzle about the doings of the EA....

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Not The Half of It

Time for The Environment Agency to start claiming (again) that they're not civil servants perchance?

and it would seem things aren't moving quickly enough... 

Saturday, 22 June 2013

The West Wiltshire Chapter of the Environment Agency Fan Club 

 as a new honorary member.

Please nip over to his place and have a look at some of what we've suspected for over three years.... 

This might just <smirkexercise Laura Gottleier the cowardly EA-PR whizz at Millbank Tower who went around threatening people a few weeks back (when she gets back on Tuesday suitably refreshed after a hard weekend or back from holiday?)

yup - in a crowded field of runners (NHS, UKBA, HMRC etc) the EA is making a strong run for the title of worst public sector organisation in a highly competitive race....

Now, what was that about "apply a suitably PPE'd toe to a few backsides"?

The non availability of officials due to their leisure commitments has been a prominent feature of our interactions with the EA over the years.

If Henry would contact us directly via admin@north-mill-avoncliff.co.uk - we have a few questions...

Looks like a job for these guys

Some people are already beginning to propose remedies for this sort of situation

EDIT: Looks like EA - PR / Legal have lurched into action and killed Henry's Twitter account

To keep you amused (or as an insomnia cure) until the next post here I recommend
The Bumper Book of Government Waste
Which looks like it might need a new chapter....

meanwhile - on the other side of the pond - complaining about water can be an act of terrorism

EDIT 2: 27th June 2013 http://www.insidetheenvironmentagency.co.uk/ has had its hosting account suspended.  Internet access from Worthy Farm must be quite good these days....

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Libel Part 2

Well, we have a response to our enquiry about how busy the EA PR department have been defending the tattered reputation of the organisation that employs them.

It would seem that defending "the brand" on the Internet is the most popular option with 212 requests for takedown in the last three years - just over once a week.

"We have to closely regulate how our logo is used in order to
avoid members of the public being misled, for example, by thinking that we
are endorsing a service or product because a website displays our logo."

It's hard not to smile about this - it would seem that our disrespectful little pants on fire animation doesn't qualify as it's not seeking to mislead !!

The PR department have requested takedown of articles on TV/newspapers /radio on 19 occasions since 2010.

In terms of libel / defamation (you can't libel a government department) the EA PR department have acted only two times since 2010 - and only once about Avoncliff.  - which is odd, because as I presently understand the situation - the PR dept. sent out two, separate nasty letters - one to the editor of Narrowboat World and another one to Allan Richards - one of his contributors who was at the time wholly unconnected with Avoncliff.

Allan was less than impressed with being selected for attention (and no subsequent retraction / apology) and FoI'd the Environment Agency about goings on at Avoncliff. Whereupon ...  it certainly looks to me like ... somebody untrained and unfamiliar with a loaded firearm shot themselves in the foot  - and it has to be said, volunteered themselves for remedial courses in the comprehension of - and writing clearly in - English !

EDIT Oh, Dear! ....  I have just found an Environment Agency document (copy here - you never know!) from March 2011 that says that in the previous year alone they contacted 223 people about improper use of the EA logo...  I wasn't going to - but now it's absolutely irresistible.....

I'm minded to re-open the FoI - but to be honest, I think it a waste of public funds to subsidise further inept floundering about on their part. Somebody needs to apply a suitably PPE'd toe to a few backsides (and  check the EA stock of trouser extinguishers? and maybe issue staff "at risk" with fire retardant trousers?).

Monday, 13 May 2013

 Why Don't you just Share the Water??

This is the question that many of you may be asking and of course it is very relevant.

This is what happened.

A few months after we bought the Mill - we offered to do a 50:50 joint scheme on the recommended north end of the weir with Weaver's Mill but they rejected our proposal on the basis that they were intending to make a "DIY Kaplan" turbine (1)

In March 2010 the EA told us they were minded to refuse our license as they didn't know what to do!. We offered to reduce our water usage from 10 m3/sec to 6.8 m3/sec flow  - but we wanted "first call" (2) on the water as we were ready to go- Weaver's Mill were not.- Nothing happened- no response from the EA!

The EA fought the first Judicial Review partly on the basis that there was not enough water for two schemes. We even had a meeting about it with all parties- the outcome of which was that there was still not enough water.

Through FOI we were given two emails from Weaver's Mill stating that due to' financial constraints and access issues' they could not mend the weir if it failed or indeed, it must be assumed - perform significant maintenance involving heavy civil engineering activity - on this basis the regular clearance of a 12mm mandatory debris screen would seem problematic...

One has to wonder how the EA could rationally consider a "split scheme"  when one party volunteers an inability to both finance weir repairs and physically maintain their scheme. We have asked if this is still the case - but the EA state this is "not in their remit" - as the owners of half the weir - it's something that obviously concerns us...

Since the High Court Consent Order the EA have tried to force a split scheme (which actually conflicts with the EA's obligations in the consent order...)   - the EA were even happy to go against their own published GPG (3) as in change the flow arithmetic arbitrarily to 1.3 times Qmean (3) ,- without Advertising (5) ,- knowing that due to control issues - the turbines would be unstable and "fight against each other" - and that they could not impose control of "Hands off Flow"- even when they knew that the consent order stated one scheme.

Imposing a split scheme would have possibly ended the immediate "administrative problem" for the EA but would have left the rest of us and the likely the environment in a complete mess.

So why don't you have one scheme and share?

  •  Animosity created by the EA's assorted manoeuvrings certainly hasn't helped!
  •  Technological Differences -We had been told by the EA that Archimedes Screws are they way to go - Weaver's Mill insist on their own  "DIY Kaplan" turbine (1)  ( we are not confident this will work as efficiently as a German  / Austrian manufactured one!)
  • We have been fighting the first point for so long and so hard that time for negotiation and sharing has been lost - we remain financially disadvantaged due to the EA's activities regarding licencing at Avoncliff.

However we have maintained that the EA had the opportunity for one large scheme which controlled the water and then one smaller scheme- but they felt this wasn't fair-! So another opportunity lost!

DIY Kaplan (1) There have been blithe and airy assertions that since Kaplan turbines are such a mature technology that somebody can simply knock one up in a shed. Whilst there are no doubt talented engineers around - the likelihood of getting a prototype to work optimally first time is vanishingly remote. A Kaplan turbine is a precision engineered item of heavy machinery involving a considerable number of components - each of which has to be optimised for a mixture of hydrodynamic performance for the wetted bits, mechanical functionality, reliability and serviceability. If it was so easy - no doubt the various established manufacturers would be selling them for a lot less than the £300K++ they actually charge - it has to be assumed to recoup in part their considerable development costs on a design. Some enthusiasm, a stack of steel, an angle grinder and a welder...?

To our knowledge the suction piling technique proposed to secure the turbine has not been used in a Kaplan turbine installation anywhere (happy to be corrected on that). Weaver's Mill also at one stage proposed to raise the weir at Avoncliff (!?) to increase the head (water drop) which is near the limits of efficient Kaplan operation... with obviously some consequences upstream.

This is an imaginary turbine - it hasn't been built, as far as we know it hasn't been modelled, it hasn't been subjected to engineering review, it most certainly hasn't been tested. Any claimed performance figures claimed for this machine must be treated with extreme caution One has to assume that patent holders on Kaplan technology will not ignore a new player either....

First call (2) "First call" on the water would mean that a second scheme - if there was one - could take water when the 6.8 m3/sec flow was reached ("handover" point). It should be noted here that this is a considerable concession - as at this time we were given to understand by the EA that all the water over the weir was "reserved" for our application - three years ago! The actual North Mill formal application has never varied from the published 10 m3/sec flow.

GPG (3) - General Practice Guidelines. This is the matrix of environmental constraints, procedures and water flow arithmetic used to evaluate the suitability of a scheme. It is a document under continuous change.A copy can be viewed HERE (pdf) or here  with additional EA commentary here

Qmean(4) - This is the mean ("average") river flow.

Advertising(5)  - A change to a proposed scheme licensed under the Water Resources Act 1991 (as amended) and The Environment Act 1995 must be advertised in the local journal of record (i.e. the local newspapers) Both schemes at Avoncliff have been advertised unchanged twice - although the EA did not advertise that they were using entirely different and subjective arithmetic (130% of Qmean river flow) when they were attempting to impose a split scheme - some might say artificially inflating the perceived amount of water available in order to divvy it out between schemes... Which is a substantial change to the applications...

This reverse engineering example comes to mind when some people mention building their own Kaplan turbine.

A video of a Kaplan water turbine internals (with a Pelton wheel shown in parts too)

A CAD animation of a Kaplan turbine

One can certainly see why anglers and others see Kaplan turbines as fish mincers and are opposing them across the UK..... as the EA have discovered.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Rules are for ....

Bureaucratic inertia isn't "self limiting" - the propensity of bureaucrats to endlessly subdivide issues and gold plate / embroider / wantonly overexpand their tasks is as old as civilisation itself - The Romans started it ... maybe?

This fact of life is something that regularly requires attention in the world of public administration if our public services are not to descend into an impenetrable morass of Japanese Knotweed - a lack of administrative "garden maintenance" would result in public services becoming utterly dysfunctional - hindering progress and increasing costs to the public purse.

So, a while back (2010) some senior British bureaucrats, led by Adrian Penfold of British Land - acknowledged that administration of governmental decision taking was becoming unwieldy, chaotic and constipated and it was decided to address parts of the situation with a new set of rules which had the force of law. One clear intent was to force bureaucracies to arrive at decisions within a fixed time frame and not to allow them to spin out things as far as funds were available and beyond anybody but their own interpretation of common sense...

This  recent effort at bureaucratic scrub clearance / purgative dosing addresses issues mostly in non-planning consents and goes by the name of The Penfold Rules. The Rules are incorporated mainly into two Acts of Parliament and impose a 91 day guillotine on decision taking by government bodies.

The Environment Agency are apparently participating in "Streamlining Permitting and Planning" by making the process "simpler and quicker" in line with Penfold Rules.(copy here in case that page goes "missing") 
The irony isn't lost on us here 

It will not come I suspect as any surprise to readers of this blog (yes, all three of you) that the Environment Agency regarded this as intolerable restraint and have chosen it would seem to re-interpret the law as it applies (or rather doesn't apply - in their view) to them. They seem to regard statute as a fashion accessory and pay lip service to it - whilst simultaneously indulging in overt deviance.

Our hydro project agent recently received a communication from the EA which informed us that as far as they were concerned - Penfold Rules didn't apply to them.... Well, they are four times beyond Penfold and three times beyond the old Water Act time windows - so what the hell... might as well just try and bluster it eh?  Apparently....water licences now deemed "too complex" for Penfold Rules......

We have an official (Ben Johnston) telling us :
 Hydropower determinations require particularly complex checks and balances and because of this they are not included in our 13 week Penfold determination target. (email to Brendan Barrow of eWaterPower 03 May 2013)

Judicial Review Consent Order and "without further delay" ??  - Byzantine doesn't even come close.

Couldn't make it up eh?

Penfold unfolded some might say. Turning rules into "best effort targets"...  - surely not? It would seem that The Environment Agency are stoutly resisting these nasty Penfold Rules - they've even "disappeared" their Penfold Consultation web page  (as of May 09 2013 this is what you get - in case a page actually comes back)

We've put together a short overview of "Penfold" on the North Mill web site.

Sunday, 28 April 2013


Well, we weren't surprised that it's happened - but we were surprised at who's being got at - and - it also goes a fair way to explaining why press and broadcast stories about The Environment Agency have followed a pattern - they threatened us with libel 2 years ago.

Narrowboat World are made of sterner stuff than our local timorous press release publishers/broadcast professionals - and have been carrying the occasional news piece about Avoncliff. 

Narrowboat World got two libel threats after publishing a piece based in part on a post here - on the serious allegations ( including criminal actions ) made by the Avoncliff North Mill builders which were lodged with the Environment Agency in December 2011 and investigated by a senior EA official in 2012. The article concerned was a synopsis of the post here last week regarding The Baxendale Report - a report, we were told by the report author in the presence of the Environment Agency's operations director - that mostly confirmed our allegations. That was almost 1 year ago - in the intervening time between then and now - the EA have not advised us of any actions as a result of the report's findings and have blocked access to the report - a tactic they adopted with FoI when they lost the first Judicial Review over the Avoncliff water licences.

The lady below who's throwing around libel accusations -  if - she was doing her job competently must have been aware of the original blog post - since we get a sizable proportion of our regular site traffic (blog + web site) from the EA in both London and Bristol - as well as  regional offices. The EA have been subscribing to our Twitter feed since it started. Laura has never contacted us for any reason- let alone to complain or bully us to remove content .

Laura Gottelier | Senior Media Officer, Floods and Water - National Media Team
Environment Agency | 25th Floor, Millbank Tower, 21-24 Millbank, London, SW1P 4XL 
Mobile: 07771 387707  External: 0207 863 8642  Internal: 7 10 8642
Normal working days: Monday – Friday

We have taken down the post here - as this is customary in these cases and shows that we have some vestigial respect for The Environment Agency - if only because they have shown that they have little compunction splurging enormous amounts of public money defending their mistakes and wrongdoing - and £40K to a libel lawyer to achieve a chilling effect  is chicken feed compared to the overall bill for Avoncliff.

Edit - we are so "excercised" by the EA's activity in this matter that we've decided to ask them about how much of this sort of thing they indulge in.