St Albans district councillor accused of apathy and laziness over Verulamium Lake

Robert Donald

Robert Donald - Credit: Archant

Accusations of apathy and selfishness are being thrown at a St Albans district councillor after he was absent from two meetings about the polluted Verulamium Lake.

The River Ver and Verulamium Park Lakes Working Group was set up at the end of March to discuss silt build up in the water, which causes bad smells, unsightly gunk, and infected geese with avian botulism in 2015. The sticky mud is made up of leaves, natural material, and bird poo.

The bi-partisan group is made up of four Conservatives, one Liberal Democrat and one Labour member, working with the Environment Agency, Aecom, and Affinity Water to produce a feasibility study into long-term solutions which will be presented to SADC in the summer.

District Cllr Robert Donald has not attended either meeting because he is too busy campaigning in the Herts county council elections.

Cllr Donald said normally fewer meetings are scheduled around election time to allow campaigners to knock on doors, meet constituents, and leaflet houses.

He has been accused by Cllr Richard Curthoys of putting himself above the worries of residents, who described the no-shows as “annoying”.

Cllr Curthoys said: “Now, we don’t hold meetings because we like to see each other, I would all rather be at home with my family.

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“We hold meetings because although we are in an election, the business of the council must carry on.

“We cannot say to the people, we won’t empty your bins because there’s an election, we can’t repair your broken pavements because there’s an election.”

He pointed out that he was “electioneering” too: “I am working as a district councillor and I am working with our MP and I think it’s important to keep doing this.”

He hopes the solution the group chooses will hopefully still work “when we’re all long dead”.

Cllr Donald said the accusations were “silly” and “stupid”: “To be honest, this is an election storm in a teacup.

“The problems with the lake, and improving the lake, has been going on for years and years, and the present administration has been in power for the last six years and could have done something about it a long time ago. They decided now to do something, around election time.” He said he has contacted the chair, Cllr Daniel Chichester-Miles, to explain his absence and ask for the meetings to be rescheduled after the elections - but has not heard back.

He added: “It’s not appropriate to start these meetings in April, and on something as important like the lake - it has to be going on for a very long time and they have had ample time to do something about it so far.

“It could have been planned ages ago.”

In 2016 Cllr Robert Donald, who was St Albans district council’s (SADC) former portfolio holder for environment, claimed while he was in the Lib Dem cabinet they saved £50,000 to clean up the lake, which was then put aside by the 2011 new Conservative council.

He highlighted his role as chair on a Verulamium Lake working group when he was the portfolio holder - presenting it as evidence of his commitment to fixing the problem.

One of the possible solutions being considered by the current group is returning the River Ver back to its natural state, increasing water flow and hopefully detoxifying the water.