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.
The Amlets Lane application by Cala Homes for 125 dwellings got the final vote of approval at Waverley Borough Council last night by 12 votes to 9. Cranleigh’s Waverley Councillors all voted against the application, however this last minute push was too late to save the site from development.
Liz Townsend spoke on behalf of Summerlands Estate Residents Association and residents of Copse Edge:
We acknowledged that Cala Homes had made some welcome and positive changes to the layout since the application was deferred in September, with a reduction in the height and bulk of the apartment buildings, the positioning of bungalows along Copse Edge and the removal of a parking court.
Residents’ Liaison Group
Residents remain extremely concerned about the access road into the site and the lack of detail regarding the drainage system for surface water run-off. On residents behalf, we requested ongoing involvement in the design of the drainage scheme by sharing local knowledge on flooding. The idea of a liaison group was endorsed by some councillors, and we have emailed Waverley Borough Council today to repeat this request.
To protect the privacy of residents living adjacent to the site, we requested a restriction on permitted development to the roof of any dwelling along the site boundaries, as recently imposed on the Crest Nicholson development on Horsham Road, which was agreed. This means that householders on the Amlets estate will have to apply for planning permission to extend into their roof space.
We also requested details that the buffer zone (shown above) around the edge of the site should be included in the overall management plan for the estate, as there is a risk that it could become overgrown, neglected and unsightly, or encroached on as part of the drainage scheme.
Since the first application, residents have highlighted subsidence issues on Summerlands and the requirement for pile driving on Copse Edge. We expressed surprise that the developers were still recommending concrete strip foundations and maintain that these will not be adequate and the need for deeper foundations could be used as leverage to further reduce the amount of affordable housing on the estate on viability grounds.
We noted with regret, that the proposed tenure split is now to be 50:50 between social rented and shared ownership, rather than, as was agreed at outline, 76% rented and 24% shared ownership. However, Cllrs were unable to discuss this aspect of the application, as the alteration will be by way of a separate variation to the S106 agreement and will be agreed by planning officers under what is called delegated powers. However, we asked Cllrs to honour the original condition as this was one of the main determining points in approving this exceptional green field site.
Sewerage Infrastructure and water Quality
We requested further details from Waverley about the calculation of S106 contributions from the developer for off-site sewage upgrade work, or for water quality mitigation, as required under the Water Framework Directive (WFD), for Cranleigh Waters. We have repeated this request today.
In response to a meeting on 12 October with Cranleigh Civic Society, Anne Milton and Andrea Leadsom. Defra confirmed that 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. The obligation that Waverley has, to consider WFD when determining local development, has, we believe, not been fully satisfied.
Cranleigh’s Councillors raised lengthy additional comments surrounding road safety, which unfortunately was not one of the reasons for the previous deferral of the application, and although, we firmly agree, extremely important, was all too late to save the Amlets site.
There were further concerns raised about traffic turning out of the estate onto Amlets Lane and the route of construction traffic, suggestions of a one-way system were raised. The Construction Management Plan will ultimately be decided by planning officers, who will we hope take up the suggestion of a further site visit.
We will all need to be vigilant once construction starts on this site and use this road only when necessary and with increased care. Please continue to report any incidents to us firstname.lastname@example.org and send in photos if these can be taken safely.
Some residents immediately around the sewage works may have received a letter from Thames Water advising them that work is starting on expanding the filter beds in Cranleigh Sewage Treatment Works on Monday.
Despite the serious problems with pollution in Cranleigh Waters and ongoing odour issues, Surrey County Council continues to insist that planning permission and an Environmental Impact Assessment is not required. We are continuing to pursue these points and also to highlight the impact of this expansion work on homes in the Elmbridge Road area.
Reply received today from Waverley Borough Council re planning enforcement visit, advising that there was no breach of planning after all. However, concerns have been raised about the presence of “two large mechanical excavators which were identified as belonging to a demolition and construction company. Both machines were fitted with grab claws which, in our opinion, would serve the purpose of demolition.” Apparently the construction workers were also no longer present at the time of the visit.
Full email :
“Further to our previous correspondence this week in respect of the above, I am writing to provide you with an update following William Gibb’s (Planning Enforcement Officer) site visit to Horsham Road on 1st November 2016.
A site visit was undertaken for the purpose of confirming whether or not works have commenced to demolish the properties at 106 and 108 Horsham Road, Cranleigh. On arrival to the site, it was noted that security fencing had been erected to the front and side of the property at 106 Horsham Road; however, at the time of his visit, there were no construction workers on site.
It was also noted that works had commenced to strip out internal fixtures and fittings at both properties and especially the property at 106 Horsham Road. These works would not be considered to be development, and as such, there has been no breach of planning controls. It is also confirmed that no works have taken place to demolish the two properties, and as such, there has been no breach of the planning permissions.
Concerns were raised, however, about the presence on the site of two large mechanical excavators which were identified as belonging to a demolition and construction company. Both machines were fitted with grab claws which, in our opinion, would serve the purpose of demolition. William Gibb has been in communication with the agent for the developer to raise concerns about the presence of such machinery on the land at 106/108 Horsham Road.
I trust this interim response is of assistance, however, should you require any additional clarification of our investigations, then please do not hesitate to contact me.”
End of email
Original post 2 November 2016:
Yesterday morning residents living near to the Crest Nicholson site, Horsham Road, woke to the sound of heavy demolition machinery working on the removal of number 106 and The Chantrys bungalow, these properties stand in the way of the access road to the Crest housing estate.
This was in clear breach of the planning consents of both the outline and detailed planning permission, which required that various conditions be executed prior to any work being commenced.
Cranleigh Civic Society, together with other residents, emailed Planning Enforcement at Waverley Borough Council requesting that they urgently investigate the matter.
Waverley acted quickly and sent an enforcement officer to the Crest Nicholson site yesterday afternoon and have confirmed that:
“The planning permissions do indicate that a demolition should not occur prior to the relevant pre-commencement conditions being discharged. This has been highlighted to Crest Nicholson on previous occasions.”
It transpires that in July Crest applied to Waverley to demolish the properties and were refused permission. However, it appears that, despite being reminded of their obligations “on previous occasions“, Crest Nicholson have carried on regardless.
Contractors working on the Horsham Road site said that they planned to demolish both properties on Monday and only stopped because they found live electricity on the site.
If it is proved that a planning breach has occurred Waverley can issue an enforcement notice on Crest, requiring compliance with planning consent. It is extremely disappointing that a huge developer like Crest, who will be more than aware of the rules relating to the planning consent, appears to be sidestepping them.
Failure to comply with an enforcement notice is a criminal offence and can result in a fine of up to £20,000 on summary conviction in Magistrates Court, or an unlimited fine on indictment in a Crown Court. However, it appears that this is not a sufficient deterrent for developers wanting to act in their own best interest.
The enforcement process itself is discretionary and arbitrary and developers have the right to appeal. Please continue to be vigilant and let us know of any activity on development sites. It is extremely important that pre-commencement conditions are adhered to, without these, we can assume, that planning consent would not have been acceptable or granted by Waverley in the first place.