The three reservoirs in Earlswood near Solihull are being partly drained this year as part of a months-long £1.6 million programme of improvements.
Popular with locals and visitors alike for walking, fishing and sailing, the Earlswood Lakes reservoirs are 200 years old and need essential maintenance to meet legislation.
But the repairs programme has been criticised for a lack of advanced notice hitting business plans and the traffic problems it could cause to locals and visitors alike.
Lowering the water levels also cuts right across plans for Earlswood Lakes Sailing club to celebrate its 60th anniversary in July – and it would need to rain heavily in August to give the season any chance of resurfacing.
The works will require some local footpaths to be temporarily closed from April 13 and some local roads from April 19 – resulting in long detours given the geography and the nature of the 70-acre site losing access along both Valley Road and Malt House Lane.
Improvements will be made to the reservoirs, the canal feeder channel and the River Blythe – but locals are aghast that after a year of lockdown the programme won’t be finished until November.
Alastair Bowie, who runs a local tea room, contacted BirminghamLive on behalf of the 20 businesses at the hugely popular Earlswood Lakes Craft Centre site in nearby Wood Lane which he says will be directly affected by the plans.
Mr Bowie said: “Just when the rest of the country is coming out of lockdown we are faced with local restrictions that could now last until November.
“The worst thing is that there has been no consultation with local businesses about this whatsoever.
“The most sensible thing would have been for the work to be brought forward into lockdown so none of the businesses would have been affected.
“The roads would have been empty and easy to work on.
“Half of our business is from walkers and ramblers around the lakes. We are going to lose that 12 months after coming out of no business.
“As for compensation, nothing has been mentioned or offered,
“It’s left me feeling very bitter. We’ve only just survived and I’ve already warned the staff there may be a chance of redundancies over this.
“Anyone living on Malt House Lane could be faced with a four-mile detour just to drive for a loaf of bread while closing Valley Road will affect the Reservoir and Red Lion pubs, too.”
The Canal & River Trust said a map about to sent out to 3,500 local addresses was only being finalised this week.
A spokesperson for the national waterways and wellbeing charity said: “Local newsletters were sent out in December but perhaps we could have done better and reached more people at that time.
“We are still finalising exactly what will remain open and what will be closed.
“We are trying to keep as many footpaths open as possible and lots of them will remain open.
“We completely accept that people want to get out to enjoy the Lakes at the moment but the work has to be done to comply with reservoir legislation.”
What is Earlswood Lakes?
It is believed that the lakes were built by Napoleonic prisoners of war in 1820 to supply water for the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal.
They later came to be known as the Scarborough of the Midlands because of their value to factory workers..
The three man-made reservoirs are called Windmill Pool, Terry’s Pool and Engine Pool.
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Local wildlife includes the Great Crested Grebe and the Grey Heron and, if you are lucky, otters.
Bill Dolphin was the last water bailiff of Earlswood Lakes from 1958-1974 but his Victorian boathouse home was destroyed by fire in 1978.
Even without disruption, the local road network is a complex one to understand unless you know the area well and even closing one road can lead to a long detour.
During lockdown, local residents have been left fed up by younger people gathering at night.
Problems reported in May ranged from littering to parking, drug use, noise and groups congregating.
What is happening?
The water levels have been temporarily lowered by one metre in Terry’s Pool, and up to 2.5 metres in the Engine and Windmill Pools.
Improvement works will begin on March 29
- Raising and improving the core of the main dam along Valley Road to improve its resilience during flood events;
- Installing new drainage and a collector drain within the embankment of the main dam – to help drain rainwater away from the embankment;
- Repairing erosion damage along the dams in Engine and Windmill Pools, and the toe of the dam in the River Blythe;
- Raising the footpath along the top of the River Blythe embankment at Windmill Pool to ensure a uniform level with no low spots over which water could spill;
- Fitting a trash screen to the River Blythe Culvert to improve water flow during floods and enable the removal of litter and debris;
- Creating new permanent access areas to allow maintenance and repair workers better access to the reservoir. These new access areas will be at the base of the Windmill Pool and Engine Pool dams, as well as near the River Blythe channel outlet on Windmill Pool dam;
- Channel desilting along the canal feeder channel; and
- Strengthening the embankment between the canal feeder channel and Engine Pool.
During the works, the Canal & River Trust says the following facilities and businesses will be temporarily closed:
- Wood Lane Car Park (closed from March 29, 2021);
- Windmill Pool footpath on the right bank down from Valley Road (closed from April 13, 2021);
- Engine Pool footpath from Valley Road to Malthouse Lane Park, including Wood Lane footpath of Engine Pool (closed from April 13);
- The causeway road on Malthouse Lane between Engine and Windmill Pools (closed from April 19);
- Valley Road between the junction at Wood Lane and the B4102 Shutt Lane junction (closed from April 19 for both vehicles and pedestrians, reopening by 20 August);
- The Sailing Club on Windmill Pool (closed from March 29, 2021); and
- Angling on Terry’s, Engine and Windmill pools (Closed from March 29, 2021)
The following facilities and businesses will remain open:
- The footpaths around Terry’s Pool (except where it runs between Engine and Terry’s pools);
- Engine Pool footpath alongside Malthouse Lane;
- Windmill Pool footpath alongside Malthouse Lane;
- Malthouse Lane Park & Car Park;
- Clowes Wood & New Fallings Coppice, Wood Lane;
- Earlswood Lakes Craft Centre & Manor House Tearooms, Wood Lane;
- The Reservoir Inn*, Earlswood Common;
- Red Lion pub*, Lady Lane;
- The Bulls Head*, Limekiln Lane; and
- Ambleside Bistro & Garden Centre, Norton Lane.
What they say
John Ward, Head of Project Delivery for the Canal & River Trust, says: “From time to time we need to carry out repairs and maintenance to our reservoirs. The reservoirs at Earlswood are 200 years old, and these statutory works are necessary by law, under the Reservoirs Act. It is important that the Trust does this work so that people can continue to use and enjoy the lakes and local waterways.
“We apologise for any inconvenience caused to local residents, the sailing club, angling club and other visitors to the reservoirs.
“We know how important Earlswood Lakes are to local people, for wildlife, recreation, health and wellbeing. Our aim is complete the works as efficiently and safely as possible, minimising disruption to people and wildlife.
“Canal & River Trust ecologists have been involved in the planning of the works to ensure the impact on wildlife and the local environment is minimised.
“These works will ensure the reservoirs are fit for purpose and comply with the latest reservoir legislation, so they can continue to provide benefits for people and wildlife for many years to come.”
For more information about the project visit this repairs page on the Canal & River Trust website
Call Canal & River Trust on 03030 404040 or email firstname.lastname@example.org @CRTWestMidlands
Visits its website here for more information on Canal & River Trust.
As a charity, the trust welcomes donations and volunteers.