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Comment: GBC Is Not Responsible for the Tumbling Bay Weir Repair

Published on: 28 Oct, 2022
Updated on: 30 Oct, 2022

The well-used towpath that crosses Tumbling Bay Weir has been closed since its dramatic collapse in November 2019.

By John Rigg

Cllr John Rigg

Lead councillor for generation and R4GV borough councillor for Holy Trinity

Guildford Borough Council has made every effort to persuade others to come to the table and resolve the matter of replacing the Tumbling Bay weir bridge.

A substantial amount of resources have already been invested in investigating the ownership and responsibility for the weir since the collapse and the clear advice I have received is that Guildford Borough Council is not responsible for the maintenance and repair of the weir, footbridge or sluice gates.

This may not be a surprise to those already aware that we do not own the land, the footpath, the bridge, the River Wey or the Navigation.  Surrey County Council, the Environment Agency, Thames Water and National Trust have varying responsibilities as there is a complex history for the area. However, we cannot ignore advice that it is not our property neither can we force others to the table although we will keep trying.

However despite the advice, when the weir collapsed and the stretch of water above Millmad lock emptied it was considered an emergency for both the navigation and the water authority who rely on water extraction.

Repairs to the Weir to get the navigation up and running as quickly as possible were essential and rather than prolonged debate GBC felt compelled to contribute to the temporary repairs of the weir undertaken by the National Trust.

This contribution has been consistently misinterpreted as suggesting we are in control and have the solution or expertise to resolve this and more important that we have the resources and funding to cover the millions of pounds potentially required to provide a new weir and footbridge.

It has also been suggested that Guildford Borough Council may be responsible for the weir as it owns the Town Mill and also operates the sluice gates.  In relation to the Mill there is no evidence to link the weir to the current Mill and records suggests that there was an earlier mill in the area to which National Trust link the weir.

…we cannot ignore advice that it is not our property neither can we force others to the table although we will keep trying”

Guildford Borough Council do operate the sluice gates, this is in conjunction with operating the gates connected to the Mill and also those owned by the Environment Agency as they need to be operated together.

The article states that after 1974 that it appeared to Mr Shaw “that GBC assumed financial responsibility for maintenance”  I regret this is not enough to set aside the advice received nor disregard the rights of other agencies or interested parties.

To expand on this, my understanding is that the National Trust owns the land on which the weir, footbridge and sluice gates are located.  In their publicly available records, the weir is listed as an asset over which they have maintenance responsibility along with the Environment Agency.  The National Trust is also responsible for the towpath which continues across the footbridge.

Surrey County Council historically undertook the Wey Improvement Scheme which included installing structures and taking responsibility for maintenance and operation as part of the scheme.

Whilst the weir itself is an ancient structure it is likely to have been covered by the agreements at the time the scheme was implemented.  Surrey County Council is also the Lead Local Flood Authority and has responsibilities to prepare and maintain a strategy for local flood risk management and have the ability to serve notices and carry out work themselves if they consider there is a flood risk.

We are all frustrated by this situation…”

The Environment Agency and Thames Water inherited some of the responsibilities for the Wey Improvement Scheme.  The River Wey is a “main” river and as such the Environment Agency has responsibility for managing the flood risk and undertaking maintenance, improvements and construction works as the Risk Management Authority. So we not instruct these parties what to do nor do we have we the expertise to do so. But we have sought to bring a working group together to produce a plan although it is making slow progress to date.

We are all frustrated by this situation, especially at this council as the locally available target for criticism and the one party that responds to residents’ concerns. We will keep trying but this problem will require others to lead on finding a solution.

Finally, the article reported that Mr Shaw said I did not reply when he wrote to me in May.  Actually, I called him immediately on receipt of his email and we had a long discussion on the subject of his time at Guildford council some 25 years ago.

I have now arranged to meet him to hear again of his experience whilst he worked at the council but the advice so far is as set out above and that installing a temporary bridge would not be cost-effective due to instability caused by the collapse and at the moment will not receive the support of other parties required.

I am continuing to research other solutions as opening the riverside to residents through the town is a major ambition of the new masterplan and this stretch of the towpath is probably our most highly valued stretch as the gateway to the countryside to the south and to the towpath. I very much hope to bring forward other initiatives shortly to help open our riverside to the community but the obstacles are often legion.

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test 4 Responses to Comment: GBC Is Not Responsible for the Tumbling Bay Weir Repair

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    October 28, 2022 at 5:27 pm

    I believe the introduction of the generator by GBC and the trapezoidal weir into the mill race caused sedimentation. This changed the ratio of water dispersion at this location causing the high errosion by the Tumbling Bay Weir.

  2. Ian Tomes Reply

    October 28, 2022 at 10:03 pm

    A temporary scaffold bridge could easily be erected at minimal cost. It’s an indictment on all these public bodies that whilst they continue to argue the losers in all of this are the public who’ve lost the amenity of being able to use the towpath.

    Guildford’s MP should force all parties together to work on both temporary and permanent solutions so that another year isn’t lost.

  3. Bob Cowell Reply

    October 29, 2022 at 9:06 am

    Well explained!

  4. Anthony Mallard Reply

    October 29, 2022 at 10:28 am

    And so the parcel keeps on being passed.

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