Cranleigh Society met with Waverley Officers and Councillors and asked many important questions about: 

  • Asbestos cement drinking water pipes,
  • House buying in such a high flood risk area,
  • Water pipes bursting so often, especially near to each other,
  • The risks of sewage rising in homes during extreme weather,
  • The never considered issues of the effects of droughts on trees, food growing and properties alike.

A long time ago your Society carried out a risk assessment concerning the ageing asbestos-cement drinking water pipes in and around Cranleigh – as many as 29% of the pipes are made of these substances.  Waverley Borough Council (WBC) has not been able to respond to this despite repeated requests because it is not their responsibility they say but we say that with all the planning applications there needs to be a coherent plan with Thames Water (TW).

Thames Water is constantly having to mend burst pipes in Cranleigh. Clearly there is an on-going issue around the pipes – they should be replaced in a planned way and the risks of bursts minimised.  Any work on asbestos containing materials must be carried out by specialist contractors. The cutting or drilling of asbestos containing products is generally prohibited due to the release of free asbestos fibres into the atmosphere of the work area where there is a risk of inhalation.  So the pipes are not to be cut but replaced to the next joint.

Waverley Officers have repeated that due to the lack of any recognised scientific evidence of a link between ingestion of asbestos fibres and intestinal cancers (such as  “Jelly Belly” – a slow growing cancer of the pseudo-myoxma peritoneae) – WBC has no power to compel Thames Water to replace the pipes. WBC says it continues to meet its statutory responsibilities under the Water Industry Act, will assess any new research or evidence and will maintain regular contact with Thames Water to review the situation.

We will all continue to lobby MP Anne Milton’s flood group to see if research can be done and requirements laid out!

We asked what contingency plans does WBC have to cope with burst pipes and flooding? What about when flooding causes sewage to rise in people’s homes?

Water pipes burst for a variety of reasons and WBC is asking TW to work smarter and in a more joined up way.  TW are not planning full replacement at this time.

The Chair of Cranleigh Parish Council  Liz Townsend is working on a map of bursts to see numbers and clusters. This will provide evidence to pressure TW further.

If you have ever had a burst pipe please, please write to us or to Cranleigh Parish Council!

Whilst Thames Water has responsibility for dealing with burst pipes and the consequences of them The Waverley Flood Plan acknowledges that sewers can surcharge due to structural collapse and root ingresses. In an event where sewage has leaked into flood water and mixed then Waverley would liaise closely with Thames Water to help understand the risks posed. If this occurs, WBC would expect Thames Water to deal with the functioning status of their network.  WBC would provide advice and support for the community if burst pipes or sewage flooding led to the need for evacuation, clean up etc. by providing temporary accommodation. Thames Water would bear the cost of any impact.

We also asked has any consideration been given to future droughts? The Environment Agency (EA) leads on drought planning and especially with responses at the time. They are liaising closely with Thames Water and other water companies to protect and sustain water supplies, reduce leakage etc. They are also working with the Surrey Local Resilience Forum and other LRFs to produce drought plans.  The council would provide support during the recovery phase of any serious drought. Waverley is developing a plan in which they work alongside the tactical drought teams provided by the EA in a drought event.

So have they considered a big problem could come in the future namely serious depletion of natural water! This could impact on buildings as well as trees and other plants such as home grown vegetables and even farming. WBC has a plan  BUT – Is this drought resilience document a high priority? and is it enough? How will we feel if we go ahead and plant plenty of trees to help with the Climate Emergency, only to find they cannot put roots down and find water?!!!

Cranleigh Society is concerned about people who want to buy houses in Cranleigh but are not told by solicitors about the floods of the past on what had been green fields, and of the Environment Agency (EA) and Surrey County Council’s (SCC) responsibilities about flood risks.

WBC does not respond to questions raised by solicitors regarding flooding. They say this is a matter for the Environment Agency. The Environment Agency’s website classes Cranleigh in the highest flood risk level of 3. On the EA’s website they provide the risk assessment forms for the different flood levels and they also provide sequential tests for planning permission applicants.

Planning approvals are granted when conditions are met – on paper – using devices such as  – Sustainable Drainage System (SUDS) – for surface water Surrey County Council – Sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) planning advice.  This means that WBC is not responsible if bad flooding occurs!

If there is a real risk to properties then evidence will have to be credible and in the public domain.  Otherwise it is just opinion.  Planning permissions are granted in the belief that flood risks will be properly managed.  WBC relies on the reports from EA and SCC when granting planning permissions.

There are 2 types of flood risks – Fluvial – water from the sea and rivers – and Pluvial – water from surface water run-off.

The Environment Agency only keeps records of Fluvial risks and does not measure water on green fields.

Surrey CC has only recently been made the Statutory consultee for planning permissions regarding Pluvial waters.

Neither covers the other’s responsibilities.

Developers often challenge the EA’s assessments and win….

New maps are needed for all!

CCS has been told that properties were purchased without people being made aware that they were  moving into a road where the house had previously flooded or where the land had flooded before the house was built.  Some properties have flooded three or more times and the occupiers are waiting for the next time that exceptional weather/poor drainage management means they are flooded again.  It may be that this is no longer true because  now all sellers have to complete a statement – when putting a property on the market – of any problems the property has or had in the past such as flooding.  We don’t know if there are any truth tests! We don’t know if this is the case with new builds but we don’t think so.

Also – when planning permissions are sought there is no requirement for the developers to show the ground height they expect to have to build up to before beginning to build.  In Cranleigh New builds are being built on raised land and they all rely on SUDS working well.

We just don’t know what the cumulative effects of all this  in the future and no-one is keeping track of all of the SUDS together and their effectiveness has yet to be tested.

Comments please!

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