Copy of a letter dated 10 March 2004 sent to the Environment Agency drawing their attention to felling of trees in a Conservation Area and other matters concerning new housing proposed in the flood plain of the river Sid, at Sidford.


Jo Clarke
Environment Agency
Exminster House
Miller Way
Exminster
EX6 8AS

Dear Ms Clarke

Planning Applications, Hamilton Garage, Sidford
Application numbers: 04/P/0496 + 04/P/0497 (East Devon DC)

This letter:

raises concerns about these applications,
alerts you to an increased local risk of flooding,
seeks responses to technical questions and
includes a formal planning letter of objection.

We spoke by telephone and discussed these applications. In particular I raised concerns about the proposal to build four houses with parking spaces on a flood plain adjacent to the Sid. I informed you of my history as a local councillor interested in planning matters. I omitted to mention that I recently published a letter in the local paper critical of inappropriate 'development' of another area adjacent to the Sid. It is reproduced on my website at www.seered.co.uk/otters.htm.

I told you that I would probably be using these planning applications as examples of how the system for regulating development on or near rivers and in flood plains was working (or not), and in cases where the planning authority is dominated by one political party, to whom applicant(s) may (or may not) be connected. I mentioned that correspondence relating to this case would be loaded onto my website, parts of this being centred on dubious aspects of the planning system - see for example www.seered.co.uk/townplanning.htm. You confirmed you would liaise with the appropriate flood control officer, Mr Steve Moore, and that this letter would be copied to him.

I outlined for you the recent history of this site: a note of our discussion is included in what follows. Acting upon your advice I am copying this letter to the local planning authority by way of an initial "letter of objection''. Parts of it do not directly concern the EA but I hope you do not find it unhelpful that all my initial observations are brought together in one document. It will appear on the Internet as www.seered.co.uk/nissan1.htm.

RECENT HISTORY OF THE SITE, being the property Village End in Sidford.

Village End is a small end-of-terrace house that for many years was occupied by a widow who found the garden a burden. Large areas were allowed to grow wild and there were several distinctive trees. The 'nature and amenity value' was enhanced by a pond, and by dilapidated outbuildings. The property was recently purchased by the applicant who I believe owns all the adjoining cottages as well as Hamilton Garage, a Nissan dealership. I believe the cottages are rented on 'shorthold' terms.

One day, and largely in the space of a few hours, trees on the site were felled with chain saws and their roots were removed using a JCB type of digger. Minor trees and bushes were ripped out. Later, bonfires were lit. The land took on the appearance of a moonscape with the holes left by tree roots being filled with brick ends and other rubble. I forget the exact sequence of events and the dates (but there were complaints to EDDC about the bonfires).

My neighbour enquired at Hamilton garage what was going on and was told that the intention was to extend the hard standing at the rear of the workshops to provide additional parking spaces for vehicles awaiting repair or service. This would have constituted 'change of use' and I telephoned an EDDC enforcement officer (Mr Steer-Kemp) to ask if there had been a planning application. When he subsequently visited the site he was told (and he relayed to me) that there was no such intention and that the land "had been a jungle and we were just clearing it". I suppose similar sentiments could be expressed about the few remaining truly wild areas of the Amazon basin.

You may choose to wonder why the original garden had been fenced off (effectively dividing it into two roughly equal halves), one half remaining for the moment as garden for tenants of Village End, the other having been 'blitzed'. However, in respect of the application, the pertinent point is that part of the site is now described nonchalantly as 'vacant land'. It is in its present appalling state simply because some time ago its considerable scenic and wildlife value was comprehensively and deliberately destroyed. As an integral part of this 'clearance' the owner and/or his agent chose to uproot a tall tree (and several smaller trees) that until then had shielded the industrial buildings and chimney from both residents of Packhorse Close and walkers along the A3052. The visual amenity of the area, as seen from the vantage point of the historic bridge, has therefore already been markedly degraded.

From the plans as deposited it appears the principal tree may have been positioned where it is now proposed to site the access road to the housing development - so you may safely assume that its untimely demise was in no way connected with its location. I would be surprised if the applicant was at the material time not fully aware of the status of the land, if indeed he does own the adjacent cottages that are also in the Conservation Area.

DISCUSSIONS WITH EDDC OFFICERS.

One development since we spoke is that on 8 March I telephoned the EDDC Tree Officer with a view to having a TPO put on a mature beech tree close to the river bank. He told me that the whole garden of Village End is in a conservation area, and that, therefore, no works ought in the past to have been undertaken without the appropriate consents. On 9 March I met with Suzie Allen of EDDC's Countryside Service. I outlined for her the recent history (as given above) and she also confirmed that the site in question lay within the Conservation Area of Sidford. She also reminded me that this afforded protection to all trees by way of 'automatic' TPO status.

I have since found one photo from 1998 (and am seeking others) showing the principal tree on the site that was felled. I discussed the possible significance of the location of this tree with Ms Allen. She confirmed that it would appear on the information to hand that the felling was illegal. Indeed, it may well have been undertaken by or directly on behalf of the applicant. Ms Allen was able to see during her own site inspection the crater filled with bricks, which is all that is left of the tree. All photos as become available will be loaded onto my website.

There are two reasons for regret apart from the loss of this and other trees. The first is that I should have remembered that the garden was in the Conservation Area. The second is that when the EDDC Enforcement Officer first visited he should also have been aware of the implications. Regrettably, it is only submission of the present planning applications that precipitated subsequent discussions with EDDC.

OBJECTIONS ON PLANNING GROUNDS.

I hereby object on planning grounds to the proposed development(s) as follows

1. The proposal for dwellings is in a flood plain and on a site that has regularly flooded in the past and that may be expected to suffer more severe flooding in the future (the reasons for this are explained below).

2. The proposal for four dwelling units represents over development of a small site in a sensitive area.

3. The proposal for housing so close to the river would have serious consequences for wildlife - I have argued elsewhere that wherever possible developments close to rivers should be avoided (www.seered.co.uk/otters.htm)

4. The proposed housing development would adversely affect neighbouring properties by encroaching upon the flood plain in exactly the area where flood water needs temporarily to be accommodated if it is not to pose an increased risk to low-lying properties along Packhorse Close and in the adjoining areas in and around England's Close.

5. Development of additional ground floor commercial accommodation will encroach upon land that may be within the formal flood plain and adversely affect the flooding risk for adjoining properties - but less so than for the proposed housing because the land is higher.

6. Both the high density housing units and (less so) the proposed second storey additions to the commercial premises will detract markedly from the scenic and amenity value of the area around the Packhorse Bridge which is a favourite spot for ramblers and other tourists.

FLOODING IN THIS IMMEDIATE AREA: AUGUST 1997 - and
WHY LOCAL FLOOD RISKS HAVE INCREASED

I purchased my home in spring 1997. In August 1997 the river Sid overtopped its banks north of the A3052 at Sidford and much damage was caused from Sidford and along the Byes into Sidmouth. It was the worst flood for several years and the garden at Village End was (for a few hours) underwater. There was nearly a foot of water at a low point on the main A3052, several vehicles became stranded and my front garden was 'awash', almost up to the air bricks at the front of my bungalow. Luckily, the rain abated before more damage was done. I took careful note of water flows and levels with a view to designing appropriate defences.

At the rear of my home, the river overtopped the wall to flow partly along my garden, but its level was still more than 300 mm (12") below the air brick level. My garage (as it existed at that time) was flooded to a depth of several inches, as were other outbuildings further along Packhorse Close.

It should be noted that were a similar flood (similar in terms of river level and water volume) to recur, the flooding locally around my home and on the site of the proposed development could be expected to be more severe. Reasons are given below.

The major flood danger to properties in and around England's Close and Packhorse Close arises not from the river downstream of the Packhorse Bridge but from the fact that the bridge acts as an obstruction to flow, contributing to overtopping of the banks of the Sid (and the Snod Brook) upstream of the bridge. This water then naturally tries to find its way back to the Sid, downstream of the bridge, and in 1997 the major routes were via road drains and across my garden. There was also a 'river' flowing down Harcombe Lane to the east of the bridge and onto the A3052, but that arose from the Snod Brook.

Since 1997 three changes have occurred that effectively block what then were 'escape routes' for flood water from the Sid on the A3052. These are:

As part of resurfacing Packhorse Close and renewing kerb stones a few years' ago, Devon County Council raised the kerb and pavement level at the junction of Packhorse Close and the A3052 by around 5" (125 mm). There is no longer a large length of dropped kerb and 'low level' pavement that allowed flood water to flow so freely into my front garden. (This area had previously been a driveway into the land on which my bungalow is now constructed but was not allowed to remain as an access point for vehicles as part of planning permissions granted in late 1980s/early 1990s.) I believe I have some photos that show these works in progress: I was concerned at the time for the roots of my beech hedge.

Replacement of the original single garage at my property by an attached and wider double garage (with full planning consent) has effectively closed off what in 1997 was an escape route for water on my driveway to flow to my rear garden and hence back to the Sid downstream of the bridge.

Construction of a Devon bank around the front and side of my bungalow now largely prevents free passage of flood water on the A3052 back to the river. Alternative routes are via road drains (which in 1997 became almost blocked with grass, assorted foliage and other flood-borne debris) and via driveways, garages, etc of properties further down Packhorse Close.

In particular, raising of the kerb and pavement by around 125 mm means that the flood water will now reach some 125 mm higher than in 1997 before it even starts to try to find an escape route across my garden. Given that in 1997 water was lapping at the front door of Village End a similar flood occurring now might see this and other nearby properties inundated. Even at this 'raised ' level of 125 mm the water will still not overtop the end of my driveway: it will flow, as it did in 1997, all along Packhorse Close to find lower driveways down which to escape. Road drains further south along Packhorse Close remained largely clear of debris in 1997, but are of limited use in removing flood water because of their higher level. It should be noted that the Salty Monk restaurant may be particularly at risk from a small increase in height of flood water on the A3052.

The events described above occurred when the water level in the river downstream of the bridge was still at a 'safe' level - well below what would have to occur were direct flooding of my bungalow and neighbouring properties to arise via water in this 'main flood plain'.

Local legend has it that in 1968 (?) the brick wall along the A3052 and that forms the garden wall of Village End was demolished by a tide of flood water several feet high, and cars from Hamilton Garage were washed out to sea. Construction since then of my home and the adjoining modern bungalow (Sidside) will have added to the overall risks for the village because they are both constructed exactly where flood water naturally wants to return to the main river downstream of the bridge. Arguably, neither should have been allowed to be constructed, despite that both are raised by 600 mm above the local flood plain.

You need clearly to understand that whilst this 'raised floor level' (which has become a standard EA requirement) is adequate to protect habitable space from water downstream of the bridge, flood water flowing from the A3052 against the front of these properties can reach a much higher level, and in 1997 almost entered the air bricks of my home. This is a particular problem of local topography, and that affects the application site. Mere desk study of the indicative flood plain would probably not alert you to all the relevant factors.

Since 1968 the river has been 'tamed' by weirs and other works but the bridge remains an unyielding obstruction. In more severe storm conditions (which may occur because of global warming or otherwise) the bridge could be 'at capacity' and no preventative works upstream would seem likely to be able to prevent overtopping somewhere to the north, and with flood water finding its way ultimately to the A3052 and the front (now defended) garden of my bungalow.

WORKS TO RIVERBANK AND EA GUIDANCE NOTES

I note from the application:

"New works to the riverbank to be carried out
in consultation with the Environment Agency"

There are several questions here - and I would appreciate from you an early reply informing me of what works have been discussed with yourselves and/or are proposed.

If the new works are (merely) to help protect the site itself from flooding via the adjoining bank how is it intended that flooding be prevented from occurring further upstream to the detriment of properties in England Close and thereabouts, and including the proposed properties?

How is it intended to counteract the inevitable increase in flooding risk consequent upon the proposed dwellings removing flood storage capacity from exactly the area of the flood plain that is most critical within the village?

What measures are proposed to reduce the flood risk in this area of the village to at least the level that pertained in 1997 and recognising that risks have been increased already since then, notably by works undertaken by Devon County Council?

I look forward to your early reply to the above.

Also, I would be pleased to receive from you copies of any appropriate guidance documents that form the basis for your work in helping to determine the EA response to applications such as these. Please either send me paper copies or the URLs if the material is available on the Internet.

Finally, do you have any documents or references to documents that outline the position in civil law in respect of suing either the EA or the local Planning Authority if they are party to permitting development in full knowledge of likely adverse consequences for neighbouring property, and if damage subsequently occurs - and do you know if any such action has been taken in the UK?

Yours sincerely

 

 

Dr Stephen J Wozniak

Copies:

EDDC Tree Officer
EDDC Planning Department
Sidmouth Town Council


photos of the trees in question


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