Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Water under the bridge

The fallout of Paul Tilsley's spiked TV interview rumbles on as a councillor from Rhyader in the Elan Valley and two directors of the CARAD Elan Valley project write in to the Birmingham Post to put the Liberal Democrat leader straight on a couple of points.

Cllr John Jones points out that his family used to farm the Elan Valley and were very far from being poor, as Paul suggested - they could afford to have a tailor come to the farm to make thier clothes. Birmingham Corporation flooded their best fields in the valley, leaving only the poorer higher ground. Cllr Jones disputes Tilsley's claims that the construction was a source of economic stimulation to the area, as many of the labourers were itinerant workers. As for his ludicrous claims that the compensation payments allowed the tenant farmers to buy out the freehold of their plots, Cllr Jones points out that the farms would be underwater at this point and thus perhaps not ideal for growing most crops or supporting animals. A hundred of these farmers were turned out with no compensation at all and Cllr Jones cites Emmeline Pugh, who was five months pregnant and faced a 70 mile walk to find somewhere to stay, sleeping under a cart for three nights on the way. Over a century later, the surviving farms are still tenanted and lack electrical power - apparently the Corporation refused to provide that for them.

The CARAD directors weigh in to confirm that Paul Tilsley was in no way responsible for a £50,000 donation from Severn Trent - they report that the donation was £10,000 and arose out of a visit by the company to the project. In an extended article, the chairman of the Elan Valley Museum Trustees comments on the shared history that we in Birmingham have with the people of the valley and how the locals remember
'the busloads of city children brought here to see where their water came from; they remember the Lord Mayor of Birmingham making annual visits to the Elan Village School to present prizes and host a special tea for the children; and the Birmingham Police Cadets who trained here and contributed greatly to our community; the farmers here remember Birmingham Corporation as good landlords who cared for the tenanted hill farms and respected the community that was so radically affected by the drowning of valleys here to supply water to Birmingham.'

That relationship is now being ignored by what passes for the leadership of this council. While they could find hundreds of thousands to restore a Sutton Coldfield town clock, finding a small amount to support our friends in the valleys has proved impossible. And that is a disgrace.

But despite the evidence cited above, Cllr Tilsley won't let it lie. In a letter, he waspishly accuses the editor of the Post of conducting an 'unprofessional sting' with a 'freelance interviewer who was very poorly briefed and prepared' and cherry picks a couple of more positive phrases to support his arguments - conveniently ignoring the facts put forward by those better placed to understand these things. Clearly, Cllr Tilsley knows more than the Welsh in these matters. He even whinges that the council lost control of the water system in 1973 in a further attempt to muddy the waters around the issue.

The 350 million gallons of water that flow into Birmingham from the Elan Valley daily are provided thanks to the very real hardships suffered by some residents of the area, that is indisputable. Certainly, some may have had alternative employment prospects thanks to Birmingham Corporation, but our fresh water came at a very high price. A few thousand pounds isn't a lot to pay - let's stop arguing about the past and look to the future.

Cllr Tilsley feels that the debt has been discharged. I don't and nor do many people in Birmingham.

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