On 2nd March members of the Cranleigh Society, Liz Townsend and Adrian Clarke met with Waverley Borough Council Planning Officers, Matthew Evans (Chief Planning Officer) and his colleague, Elizabeth Sims (taking over as Interim Head of Planning next week).

We explained in detail the sewage pollution problems with Cranleigh Waters, and discussed the implications for housing applications.

We pointed out that Waverley Borough Council have been aware of the sewage issue since spring 2014, when Thames Water advised them that Cranleigh sewage works was “unlikely to be able to support anticipated demand“.

We queried whether the new sites approved and currently in the planning system are actually deliverable within 5 years (as required under the NPPF) :

To be considered deliverable, sites should be available now, offer a suitable location for development now, and be achievable with a realistic prospect that housing will be delivered on the site within five years and in particular that development of the site is viable.”

As the planning authority is aware that the sewage works is already “at capacity” and the technical expertise does not currently exist to manage effluent within the legal discharge limits, how can a 5 year time frame be considered realistic?

The planning officers stated that it was not their responsibility to establish whether the sewage infrastructure can cope, or the discharge permit into Cranleigh Waters is adequate. If Thames Water and/or the Environment Agency (EA) as Statutory Consultees have not specifically raised an objection, Waverley are only obliged to put a  Grampian condition on planning consents and put the responsibility back on to the developer.

A “Grampian condition” is a planning condition attached to a decision notice that prevents the start of a development until off-site works have been completed on land not controlled by the applicant.

We find this entirely unacceptable.

The planning authority cannot, in light of the sewage problem, be certain that the housing is deliverable and they also have a legal obligation to “be confident that a development will not result in unacceptable risks from pollution.”
– See Guidance for developments requiring planning permission and environmental permits 

It is we believe Waverley’s legal responsibility to ensure that the relevant environmental permits are in place prior to recommending an application for approval. Thames Water’s permit to discharge effluent into the Cranleigh Waters is out of date (last issued in 2009) and the EA have confirmed to us that at present it is “technically infeasible” to renew it. We pointed out to Waverley that the absence of a permit to discharge more effluent into Cranleigh Waters must be taken into account when considering planning applications.

Thames Water are fined each time they exceed their permit level.

On the same day we also had a long and interesting discussion with the Environment Agency at a national level.

The main points from this discussion were:

They confirmed that (no surprise!) this issue is being replicated in other areas across the country where significant housing is being built without the technical ability for water companies to deal with the effluent being discharged from these developments.

Currently Thames Water are collaborating in a research programme to develop a technical process to meet the legal discharge levels. The EA anticipate that the results from this programme will be published next year.  Should these trials find a way of dealing satisfactorily with the effluent,  water companies will then have to submit plans and request funding for extensions to sewage treatment works to accommodate this new technology. The next funding round for Ofwat is 2019 (3 years away!).

The EA will not be in a position to update the 2009 Permit Limit for Cranleigh until after:

  • The results of the water company trials are known and are successful.
  • Funding is secured for the sewage work extension
  • Cranleigh sewage works are extended.

It therefore seems pointless and even illegal for Waverley Borough Council to put in Grampian conditions when the outcome of the trials and subsequent funding round are unknown and they cannot reasonably be confident that they are approving planning applications that meet the required 5 year NPPF time frame.

We will be following up further points with the EA and
we are waiting to hear from Waverley regarding their legal responsibility to ensure that relevant environmental permits are in place, and whether in light of this information the EA are going to raise a fundamental objection to any planning applications.

Watch this space!! We have a feeling that the issue will be fudged!

We have sympathy with the EA in that their workforce has been drastically cut and they are under extreme pressure, however they should not continue to wave through new development that will further pollute our rivers and streams; from which we also abstract vital drinking water, when they are fully aware that the technology does not exist to meet discharge levels and they cannot guarantee that this technology will be developed in the near future.

Currently two Olympic sized swimming pools of effluent are discharged into the Cranleigh Waters every day, which is flowing less and less during the year and stops flowing completely at times (last recorded by the Cranleigh Society in October 2015). This stream does not have the capacity to accept more effluent from 1,000s more houses in Cranleigh, Alfold and Dunsfold.

Until the EA have issued a new permit and Thames Water have been consulted and agreed that they can upgrade their works within a 5 year period to deal with the increase in sewage, Waverley Borough Council are failing in their duty to provide housing that is deliverable within a 5 year time frame and failing in their duty to ensure the correct environmental permits are in place.

We are now following additional lines of enquiry and will update you as soon as we have more news.

Join Cranleigh Society and help us in “Speaking up for Cranleigh”


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