Cranleigh Civic Society’s Chair Liz Townsend attended a meeting with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Andrea Leadsom MP, together with Anne Milton MP, and the Environment Agency’s Executive Director of Environment and Business, Harvey Bradshaw on 12 October 2016.
The meeting was kindly facilitated by Anne Milton and provided Cranleigh Civic Society with the opportunity to highlight the apparent breakdown of accountability for delivery of water quality, as outlined in the Water Framework Directive (WFD) legislation, within the planning system and to ask for this to be investigated further.
It was an extremely positive meeting and the points we raised were taken forward for further consideration.
Defra have confirmed that “Any development must not be contrary to the WFD and to paragraph 109 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which states that the planning system should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment.”
Defra have also stated that in our case where a local authority may not be upholding its obligations under the WFD and the NPPF it may be of interest to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, (DCLG) Sajid Javid MP, and have therefore informed him of our situation.
We have now requested a meeting with DCLG and are currently waiting for a response.
109. The planning system should contribute to and enhance the natural and local
● protecting and enhancing valued landscapes, geological conservation interests and soils;
● recognising the wider benefits of ecosystem services;
● minimising impacts on biodiversity and providing net gains in biodiversity where possible, contributing to the Government’s commitment to halt the overall decline in biodiversity, including by establishing coherent ecological networks that are more resilient to current and future pressures;
● preventing both new and existing development from contributing to or being put at unacceptable risk from, or being adversely affected by unacceptable levels of soil, air, water or noise pollution or land instability; and
● remediating and mitigating despoiled, degraded, derelict, contaminated and unstable land, where appropriate.
Background to discussion points:
The Cranleigh Civic Society pointed out that whilst planning authorities have a duty to deliver the objectives of the WFD, there appears to be a complete breakdown in accountability when it comes to delivering its objectives within the planning system.
The aims of WFD are to:
- Prevent deterioration in water body status
- Reduce water pollution
- Conserve aquatic ecosystems and habitats
- Reduce the effects of floods and droughts on water bodies
- Promote sustainable use of water as a natural resource
However, in our experience, when it comes to planning decisions and water quality, Waverley defer responsibility to the Environment Agency (EA) who in turn defer back to Waverley as final “decision maker”. There is no acceptance of responsibility and no clear line of accountability and, it appears, no redress when a decision is made by a planning authority resulting in increased pollution and a deterioration in water quality.
In Cranleigh’s case, our river (Cranleigh Waters) is failing in terms of WFD (confirmed by Waverley Borough Council), in the main due to pollution from high levels of liquid sewage effluent being pumped into it on a daily basis.
Waverley maintain that they are meeting their responsibilities under the WFD as the discharged effluent meets with the current permit issued by the EA in 2009. However, Waverley is aware that this permit is outdated, was not issued based on WFD legislation, in fact does not comply with the standards set out in the WFD, and was issued when the flow in Cranleigh Waters was higher.
We pointed out that permits issued by the Environment Agency in 2009, were part of a blanket approval process to standardise levels of discharge into main watercourses. These permits were not based on WFD criteria and were intended to be reviewed and reissued based on up to date legislation.
However, reviews have not taken place, perhaps because it became apparent that many permits, if updated, would result in compliance failure and high levels of fines for water companies.
In order to achieve more stringent levels set by the WFD, water companies have embarked on trials of new technology, results of which are expected in 2017. It appears that the EA could be holding back on issuing new permits until the results of the trials are known, despite its responsibility to achieve ‘good’ status in each river catchment by 2027. Currently only about 36% of the UK’s 10,763 water bodies are classified as ‘good’.
This delay in permit renewals means that there is confusion and a loophole in planning with regard to water quality.
In Cranleigh huge housing estates have been and are being approved which will knowingly increase pollution in Cranleigh Waters, and we are convinced that this is being replicated across Waverley and across the country.
Furthermore, we are not convinced that water companies are taking into account in their trials reducing flows in UK rivers, due to lower levels of groundwater, climate change and a general increase in population, which places higher demand on water supply, especially in the South East.
Low water flows means that sewage effluent is not adequately diluted when it is discharged into a river and this impacts on the discharge permit which, we are informed, is based on an assumed level of dilution.
Adding to the multiple problems of lack of flow, pollution and an absence of adequate regulation, Cranleigh Waters, like other rivers in the UK, has been indiscriminately dredged, particularly in the area at the back of West Cranleigh Nurseries, resulting in widespread and long term damage.
Dredging is being used as a flood defence to widen and deepen rivers. However, we have been informed by the EA that it is counterproductive and amounts in very little gain in flood protection, often moving the problem downstream to larger settlements, in our case Bramley, Shalford and Guildford.
Lately the drawbacks of dredging are being more widely publicised and the benefits of catchment management highlighted, using natural flood plains, planting trees and creating flood meadows. However, this is too little, too late as far as Cranleigh is concerned, when Waverley has granted planning permission on almost our entire flood plain.
When extensive flooding occurs, of the type we experienced in 2013/14 (when our flood plain was still intact), dredging of the river would have a negligible effect in terms of flood protection, and can increase danger downstream by increasing the velocity of flood water.
These major issues must be addressed before further development is granted planning permission in Cranleigh.
Since the meeting our dialogue with the EA and Thames Water has continued and we have been invited to attend a further meeting with stakeholders to discuss these points.
We will keep you updated with our progress.