Are foot and mouth closures necessary?

Datchet chandler Mike Rogers questions Thames Water's approach to the foot and mouth crisis

Friday March 16th 2001, Author: Andy Rice, Location: United Kingdom
The foot and mouth crisis ploughs onwards, but Thames Water and other authorities appear to have taken the easy way out by blanket banning all activity within their premises. In an open letter, chandler Mike Rogers, who runs the Dinghy Store at Datchet Water Sailing Club, asks if Thames Water has considered the businesses that are being affected by their draconian measures.

"Whilst we all have a great deal of sympathy for the farmers and associated trades affected by the foot and mouth outbreak, the effect is more far-reaching than appears on the news.

"Small businesses that are based on farms or surrounded by farmland or grazing have had their business severely damaged or completely closed. At the moment the Government has not offered any compensation, but we have a task force!

"Actions taken by certain water companies in curtailing access to clubs and the water is very questionable. In our own case, we have not had any sheep on the surrounding grazing for at least 30 days. The water company has not carried out any individual site risk assessments and only gave us three hours notice to move out.

"The sailing club who are our direct landlords obtained an independent risk assessment from a large-animal vet, who was recommended by the RCVS. The assessment states that there is little or no risk on this site caused by continuing use by the tenants. Further the club has undertaken a control plan, which they are willing to put in place at their own cost, spraying vehicles onto and off of the site. Remember we have no sheep.

"The reaction of the water company was nothing, except to tell us that they are planning to apply for a licence to move sheep back onto the site. The water company has throughout this closure allowed a civil engineering contractor who is working locally access to the site, for storage and replenishment of materials. It has been noted and reported that the contractor has not been taking any precautions when entering or leaving the site.

"Whilst this farce has been going on four businesses are being severely affected. They comprise a sailing club, an RYA teaching establishment, a chandlery and boat sales company. Looking at it conservatively, the lost revenues for these businesses must come into the region of £80k over the past three weeks and is growing.

"The question has to be asked: do water companies want sailing clubs and associated companies on their water? It seems not, from where I am sitting.

"I understand that within the club’s lease it states that the water company can ask the club to close for operational reasons. One could understand if the fabric of the reservoir was damaged or the water polluted or the pumps broken. But they are not!

"In speaking to local landowners who have sheep, cattle and pigs on their sites, they have been amazed at the action of this water company in closing our site. They can see no need what so ever for its closure. Perhaps it’s just easier for a large company to blanket close its facilities without actually investigating the effects.

"In writing this I would be very wrong not to thank our suppliers, friends and other local sailing clubs who have remained open and who have given their unswerving support to our plight and business.

"However, the feeling of powerlessness and vulnerability grows, just like the farmers on a daily, if not hourly basis. We will not give up the fight to get back on to our site as soon as is possible and start to serve our clients there once more."

Members of Datchet have another opportunity to retrieve their boats from Queen Mother reservoir for a limited time on Saturday 17 March.

Mike Rogers is contactable on email or you can visit his chandlery website.

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