St Helena Online

Tag: Half Tree Hollow

Homes face cut-off as water boss warns: ‘We need rain NOW’

Montage by Simon Pipe from an original image by Johnny Clingham
Montage by Simon Pipe from an original image by Johnny Clingham

The water shortage on parts of St Helena is now so grave that the supply to many homes may simply be cut off.

People in Half Tree Hollow and nearby areas have been warned: “This is serious. We need some substantial rainfall now.” 

Engineer Martin Squibbs told Saint FM listeners: We will just run out of water quite soon. If we have no water, we can’t distribute water.

“We have had some rain but it’s not made any difference at all – so too little, then the hot sun comes out and dries it all up again.

Drilling for water has taken place around the island
Drilling for water has taken place around the island

“We are now in a graver situation. We are starting to think maybe we will have to shut down the water treatment at Red Hill.”

Harper’s Earth Dam was completely empty, he said.

Workers have been desperately drilling bore holes to seek out new underground supplies. Two are producing water, but not enough to meet the needs of people in the most populated part of the island.

Other areas still have a healthy supply, including Levelwood and Jamestown. But Martin, the operations director for the newly privatised Connect St Helena, said transporting water from those places would not work: the demand was too great.

He said there were no plans to reduce consumption by cutting off the supply at night.

“If people know we are going to shut off the water overnight they will just fill up containers, and probably pour them down the drain in the morning,” he said. “So we are not going to do that.”

He praised residents who had heeded calls to cut down on useage – but his praise made it clear that some people have been selfish.

“Thanks to everyone for restraint now because I had been having reports of people using water to water their gardens – water we can’t really afford to use.”

He said the normal flow from the Red Hill plant was about 400 cubic metres per day, but only 335 cubic metres were sent out on 15 May 2013, showing residents had woken up to the crisis.

The crisis has come about after months of unusually low rainfall.

Reservoirs should have been close to full by Easter, but the Red Hill reservoir was at only 42% of its capacity. A “voluntary” hosepipe ban was imposed for Half Tree Hollow and the west of the island.

Heavy rain over Easter failed to make a difference because it was absorbed by the parched ground.

Streams were drying up in Sandy Bay, but it was possible to move water around in by vehicle because the quantities involved were small. That continues.

The implications for St Helena’s anticipated tourism boom are not clear. Shelco, the company that wants to build an eco resort at Broad Bottom, has talked of re-planting the island’s lost cloud forest to encourage higher rainfall – adding to the existing efforts of the St Helena National Trust.

Martin said: “Let’s not be doom and gloom here. We are drilling for water. We have had some success, we’ve had some failures. 

“We have drilled at Molly’s Gut, which is a bit far away but possibly we could move water from Molly’s Gut.

“We have drilled opposite Philip John’s place on the road to Scotland. We tried to pump water there but the pump broke down last week.

“We didn’t hit water until we were about 30 metres down, which is quite a distance, but then we thought we could achieve about 100 cm a day. 

“If we can raise some water from the ground we can extend the life of our reservoirs.”

He said cutting off the supply could harm solar heaters – : “the panels on the roof that rely on water flowing through them to warm up and so on. If we get air in those water heaters it will cause a lot of problems so I want to avoid that.

“Householders now need to think about the implications. If we can’t get any rainfall, we are going to shut the water off. Be in no doubt about this.”

Westminster meeting: The water crisis has been raised in a private meeting at the Houses of Parliament this week. Concerns were also raised about democratic weaknesses, Freedom of Information issues, and lack of effective scrutiny of government spending. It was reported that no value-for-money reviews had been conducted on St Helena for several months because the island had been without a chief auditor.

Inmates swelter as councillors duck vote on prison move

Her Majesty's Prison, Jamestown. Picture: John Grimshaw
Her Majesty’s Prison, Jamestown. Picture: John Grimshaw

Efforts to end “human rights violations” in St Helena’s overcrowded prison have been frustrated by executive councillors’ refusal to consider plans for a new gaol at Half Tree Hollow.

It is thought the acting governor, Owen O’Sullivan, might exercise his right to approve the plans himself, because conditions in HMP Jamestown are so bad.

Any delay is unlikely to affect the ten current inmates in the prison, which has just three cells. Their sentences will end before work on converting Sundale House was due to be completed.

It is not clear whether the councillor’s inaction will hold up conversion work. It was hoped it could be completed in 2014, a year earlier than expected.

The five-strong council argued that it had been told it could not make major policy decisions during an election period, under “purdah” rules imposed by Governor Mark Capes before he left the island on leave.

There has been vigorous local opposition to the Sundale House plan, and approving the scheme might have damaged the councillors’ chances of being voted back in – though they may not intend to seek re-election anyway.

Because the council meets in secret, the thrust of the councillors’ views on the plan is not known. Had they taken it to a vote, it might have been against the scheme.

But the principle of the move had already been agreed by the executive council, meaning it could only be turned down on the grounds of its design – and that had already been approved by the island’s independent planning board.

Sundale House (walled compound, top right) and Jamestown prison are both "unfit for use". Aerial picture: Rémi Bruneton
Sundale House (walled compound, top right) and Jamestown prison are both “unfit for use”. Aerial picture: Rémi Bruneton

The acting governor’s report of the meeting said: “It was a constructive discussion with a number of points made.  I was advised by members that they believed that they should not make a decision on this during the purdah period and wished to delay consideration of this until the new council.”

The purdah rules do allow the executive council to make decisions on urgent matters.

A statement from The Castle said: “The acting governor and senior officials are currently considering the implications of council’s advice and we are unable to make any further comment at this time.”

Catherine Turner, the island’s human rights co-ordinator, said: “The general feeling is that ExCo had already agreed this and should have made a decision but ducked the responsibility.

“ExCo’s acceptance of the proposal in principle is probably minuted somewhere but that will not be put into the public domain.

“However, this is recorded in the the Land Development Control Plan and the Human Rights Action Plan. Both clearly state that the prison should be moved to Sundale and both have been agreed and accepted as policy by the current ExCo.

“No one is clear what the next step will be.”

Catherine said leaving the decision to the new council might mean a delay until September, given that the election will not take place until 17 July 2013.

She said: “I expect that given the nature and sensitivity of the decision, any new members will want time to read the papers.”

The island’s governor does have the power to take the decision out of councillors’ hands. But Catherine said: “He is off island – the acting governor could do it, but it is thought that that is unlikely.

“The project team are hoping that it will not cause a significant delay as they believe that there is plenty they can be getting on with in preparation in the meantime.

“As far as the prisoners are concerned, most will have finished their sentences before the planned date of the move so it does not effect them directly.

“But it is the rights of those convicted in the next 12 months that will be unnecessarily effected, and we do not know who they are.

“My view is that the poor conditions and human rights violations are well documented and have been known for years, and it has gone on too long.”

Failings raised in the island’s human rights action plan include inadequate ventilation in cells, lack of privacy – even in the toilets – and limited access to the small exercise area.

“The prison is currently housing ten men, three to a cell, and one prisoner has chosen to sleep in an outside police holding cell,” said Catherine, who also serves as a prison visitor.

“It is hot and cramped in the cells. Remand prisoners and sentenced prisoners who are in the high security category are not allowed to leave the prison, so may not work on the farm or on community projects. Therefore they cannot get any outdoor exercise to let off steam.

“It is a disaster waiting to happen.”

Conditions at Sundale House, which currently houses people with severe mental disorders, have also been criticised. The prison plans involve creating a new secure facility for them elsewhere.

Catherine Turner said: “Fortunately our new social work manager, Claire Gannon, is excellent and she has plans in place to get the people out of Sundale and into more acceptable temporary accommodation as quickly as possible. “She is not prepared to wait for the new build to move as she recognises that the conditions at Sundale are unacceptable.”

Unfit prison ‘will move’ to Half Tree Hollow, says planning chief
Prison to close by 2015 amid human rights failings

Challenging behaviour unit tipped for approval

A proposed challenging behaviour unit in the grounds of the old Half Tree Hollow School has been recommended for approval.

Plans include nine bedrooms, a sensory room, a “time out” space and a seclusion room, laid out in two blocks linked by a covered walkway, with a courtyard in one of them. Facilities to care for people with physical disabilities are also included.

St Helena’s health service currently looks after people with severe behaviour disorders at nearby Sundale House, but the building is needed for other purposes – including a new prison.

The building will be 28 metres long and just under six metres high, except for an upstairs area for staff over the main lounge and lobby.

It will be built of stone masonry and concrete blockwork, with a metal sheet roof.

A report says neighbouring properties will not be affected.

The planning board has been advised to approve the scheme, but with various conditions to protect the environment.

They include collecting rain water for re-use, using solar panels for all water heating, with concealed tanks, and relying on natural ventilation, rather than air conditioning.

They also say a landscaping scheme must preserve the rural character of the area, and there must be no light pollution.

One a penny, two a penny, NOT cross buns…

Quirky St Helena fact, number 1: hot cross buns on St Helena may not have crosses.

Solomon’s Bakery at Half Tree Hollow planned to bake ten thousand of them for Easter 2012 – up on 8,500 in 2011. But Sinead Green, reporter for The Sentinel, couldn’t help but notice that something was missing from the buns – which are meant to represent the crucifixion of Christ on Good Friday.

Richard “Toby” Constantine explained the absence of crosses thus: “In other parts of the world they have machines that help along with the process. Here we would have to mark all ten thousand buns by hand and it’s very time consuming.”


(Only On St Helena…).