Monday, 23 November 2020

Village in fear of flood blight

Village in fear of flood blight

RESIDENTS of Shiplake fear their homes will be blighted by flooding as a result of a new housing development.

Taylor Wimpey has planning permission for 95 homes at the former Thames Farm site, off Reading Road.

But it stopped work on the development a year ago after the discovery of sink holes.

Now it wants consent to drain surface water into a new pipeline which would run underneath Lower Shiplake and out into Lash Brook.

The developer says the water would then flow into the River Thames.

However, villagers insist the brook would simply flood because it isn’t a tributary but a partially blocked and “stagnant” backwater which fills up when the river swells in the winter.

Householders in and around Mill Road, which runs along the water’s edge, were ordered to evacuate by the Environment Agency when the area was hit by severe flooding and left under water for weeks in early 2014.

South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, was deciding the company’s application today (Friday) but residents have urged the council to delay this and arrange a public meeting.

Villagers are angry that they did not have to be consulted as the development, called Regency Place, had already been approved.

If the proposal is approved, the work could take up to two years to complete.

Taylor Wimpey had planned to tackle the flood risk, which is lower than 0.1 per cent in any year, by installing soakaways to drain surface water deeper into the ground.

But in September last year, while contractors were digging test pits to check the soil’s absorbency, several sink holes caved in near the south-eastern boundary of the site.

The company stopped work and conducted scans which found the land was riddled with “dissolution features” where the chalk bedrock was eroded so the ground above was at risk of collapsing.

Now it proposes injecting these areas with a grout-like substance to reinforce them.

This is a common procedure but would increase the flood risk by making the chalk less porous and means it can’t install soakaways as they could weaken areas of bedrock which were previously robust.

Instead, the developer wants to divert floodwater to a new pumping station at the north-eastern corner of the site for which Thames Water would be responsible.

It would then lay a new 1km pipeline connecting the pumping station to Lash Brook via Reading Road, Station Road and Mill Road.

Taylor Wimpey says the pipe could cope with rain storms so severe that they only happen once every 100 years, even allowing for a 40 per cent increase due to climate change.

Abley Letchford Partnership, the company’s engineer, accepts that changing water flow can “lead to problems elsewhere in the catchment, particularly flooding downstream”.

But it says there wouldn’t be problems in this case.

However, Stephen Doble, who farms land east of the proposed outlet off Mill Road, has told the council that “significant work” would be required to increase the brook’s capacity. He said: “I object because it’s clear no one has surveyed Lash Brook... the proposed outfall has no connection to the river, other than at times of flooding, as the brook is blocked halfway down by a causeway.

“The section in question already struggles to cope with surface water from Mill Road and Mill Lane.

“This proposal will result in at least water logging and, at worst, localised flooding of our field with resultant loss of productivity.

“Surely if it isn’t safe to build houses near a soakway, the number of houses should be reduced to allow space for a suitably deep soakway rather than dumping the waste water on our land.”

Geoff Thomas, who lives in Mill Road, said: “Lash Brook is a backwater of the Thames with no positive flow into the river for 10 or 11 months of the year until the river itself floods over the meadows from above Shiplake lock in high winter.

“The proposed outlet at best doesn’t make sense and, in winter, will only add to the problem of flooding in that area.

“With existing systems already under stress, what account has been taken of the clear impact of climate change... let alone plugging more into them?”

Vivien Pheasant, of Lashbrook Road, said: “Clearly this field is not suitable for development and should be left to recover from the woeful damage already wrought upon it.

“This plan was made behind closed doors in a most undemocratic manner and only now do we residents hear what is to be done. It is complete lunacy.

“I struggled to obtain insurance on my house in 2003 even though it had never flooded. I wonder how long it will be before insurers increase premiums for increased risk.

“More importantly, will the council accept liability for loss and damage to our houses and land? The site should be mothballed until this situation has been dealt with.”

Richard Emery, who lives in Mill Road, said: “It is beyond comprehension that a plan should be considered to divert water to an existing flood risk area when it is quite obvious that the country is already struggling to cope with the extreme weather conditions which are occurring ever more frequently.

“The intended area within Shiplake is in a designated flood risk area in which permission has been withheld from anyone wishing to extend the footprint of their property in order not to increase the flood risk.

“This issue has only arisen because the developer failed to do sufficient due diligence when acquiring the land for development and therefore underestimated the costs. It is quite outrageous that there should be any consideration given to this plan, which would simply transfer the problems to others in order that the developer can maintain their profitability at the expense of both the environment and the local population. This must be resisted at all cost.”

Nigel and Kathryn Piercey, of Lashbrook Road, Shiplake, said the area had flooded severely at least six times since 1947, with four incidents occurring after 2000. During the 2014 floods, the water came within 2in of their floor even though their home stands on stilts to lift it above a “medium risk” flood zone.

They said: “It is reckless and selfish... in seeking to solve a problem which should have been identified prior to a planning application. Taylor Wimpey proposes exacerbating conditions we already face.”

Mike and Kate Crook, also of Lashbrook Road, said: “The principle of adding water to an area already susceptible to flooding seems flawed.

“If all planning applications here require a flood impact assessment and the majority of new builds are rejected, why is this application being treated any differently?”

Neither Thames Water nor the district council’s drainage officer has objected to the plan. The Environment Agency, which is responsible for the river, did not comment.

David Pheasant, vice-chairman of Shiplake Parish Council, told the Henley Standard: “We weren’t formally consulted, as is usually the case with the finer points of a planning application that has already been agreed. However, I’ve stressed to our district councillors that the normal process for reserved matters isn’t appropriate in this instance because what’s being proposed is nothing like the original application. A lot of people are very unhappy.”

David Bartholomew, who represents Shiplake on the district council as well as Oxfordshire County Council, said: “My inbox is overflowing with a tidal wave of emails from people concerned about the flood risk.

“They have visions of the scenes in 2014 repeating themselves.

“Some were flabbergasted that there wasn’t a public consultation and I understand their concerns and frustrations as the decision now rests on the district council weighing up Taylor Wimpey’s evidence.

“The developer needs to explain its plans in straightforward terms and offer some kind of reassurance because at the moment, residents only have a complex technical report to go by.

“I would also like to see other options explored because having the village centre dug up for many months would have an untold impact, especially after all the disruptive works that were done at the entrance junction to Thames Farm.”

Henley MP John Howell has asked Thames Water and the Environment Agency to reconsider their responses and has also asked the district council to give residents a chance to comment.

He told objectors: “If the application is to be approved... we need to know it has been properly investigated and not just slipped through by routine process.”

A Taylor Wimpey spokeswoman said: “We understand and appreciate the local community's concerns about the drainage strategy for Regency Place. We are working closely with all the key consultees to agree the principles of the drainage solution at the site.”

• Plans to redevelop Thames Farm were rejected by the district council in 2016 but landowner Claire Engbers later won a planning appeal.

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