A disappointing decision from Cllr Vivienne Lukey, the Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care on Hammersmith and Fulham Council.
She has rejected a request for the Victorian drinking fountain outside Palingswick House in King Street to be restored to operational use.
The proposal was prompted by a report in The Times in August which said:
“The Victorians left Britain with many great legacies, from the railways to modern Christmas, but one of their greatest public health innovations has been left to fall into ruin.
“About half of Britain’s water fountains no longer work, according to the latest estimates and campaigners are attempting to revive them as a way of dealing with the environmental blight of plastic water bottles.
“They are aiming to restore the former glory of the fountains that adorned the streets with classical statues of red Aberdeen granite and sculptures of Sicilian marble — artworks in their own right. Then, they intend to drag the bottle-loving masses to free water and suggest, ever so politely, that they drink.
“It is hoped that offering water, literally on tap, will discourage us from splashing out on bottles and help to rid streets of the scourge of discarded plastic.
Ralph Baber, secretary of the Drinking Fountain Association, said:
“It is a great shame. Not only are these fountains useful but many of them are beautiful as well. Most have grand structures and ornate sculptures. The architecture is fantastic; some are like churches. In Victorian times it was cheaper to get a glass of gin than a glass of clean drinking water.”
“Research suggests that drinking a bottle of mineral water has the same impact on the environment as driving a car for 1km (0.62 miles). It takes seven litres of water and almost a quarter litre of oil to manufacture a single litre of the bottled variety, according to the University of Nottingham.”
Guy Jeremiah, a founder of the find-a-fountain scheme said:
“Fountains have been allowed to fall into disrepair, with councils effectively outsourcing the provision of water to bottled water companies.
“Meanwhile local authorities have inexplicably accepted the responsibility to clear up the mess by meeting the staggering cost of land-filling most of the four billion plastic bottles we discard each year.”
“The production and transportation of bottled water emits more than three million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. That’s the same weight as 400,000 London buses. Water fountains are a great way of cutting down the amount of bottled water we drink.”
All strong arguments. But there is also a public health aspect. The West London Free School has recently moved to Palingswick House and it would surely be healthier for their pupils – and those of Latymer Upper next door – to drink water rather than buying fizzy drinks from newsagents.
At first it all sounded encouraging.
Liz Bruce, the Council’s Executive Director for Health and Adult and Social Care told me:
“Water fountains are a key part of obesity programme as well as promoting health and wellbeing, supporting walking and citizens getting active.”
Mahmood Siddiqi, the Council’s Director for Transport and Highway, told me:
“We were recently asked a similar question in RB Kensington & Chelsea where it was estimated that the cost of connecting a water supply and drainage connection and repairing the pipework, would be in the order of £7,000. After this, there would be the ongoing cost of the metered water supply and periodic checks for contamination and cleansing.”
The Council’s Public Health spending is a huge £22.7 million a year.
I have written on Conservative Home of my concern that this money is largely wasted. My modest proposal was that 0.03 per cent of that budget should be spent on something of practical value.
But after three months of dithering Cllr Lukey has rejected the idea.
Stuart Lines, the Deputy Director for Public Health emails to say:
“I write to advise you that this is not considered to be appropriate use of the budget as there is limited evidence of the effectiveness of this approach.”
Cllr Andrew Brown assures me that a very different approach will be taken regarding drinking fountains after the Conservatives regain the Council in May 2018.
But let’s hope we don’t have to wait that long to get this one working.
Toby Young hope that the West London Free School Foundation Trust may be able to raise the money. Please give generously!
This is a shame. I’ve used public drinking fountains loads of times on visits to the US and they are a great resource, whether in parks, libraries, airports or shopping centres. They seem to symbolise a civilised and generous public infrastructure.