Image above: The Victorian house at 17 Hartington Rd; photograph Mukti Jain Campion
Unanimous decision not to build in a conservation area with potential for flooding
LB Hounslow’s planning committee has turned down an application for the development of four luxury houses in the garden of 17 Hartington Rd in Chiswick, despite the recommendation from their planning officers that they should accept it.
Local residents organised a campaign against the proposals on the grounds that new residential housing should not be built in a conservation area which was also liable to flood. They raised 545 signatures on a petition against the development. Councillors on the planning committee which heard the application on Thursday 6 January said they had received many emails on the subject.
Mukti Jain Campion, who lives in the end of terrace house at 1 Chiswick Staithe, explained how her house would be joined to the first of the proposed new houses, effectively turning it from a semi-detached to a terraced house.
Image above: (L to R) Cllr Sam Hearn, Mukti Jain Campion and Adam Gostling giving evidence at the planning committee
Building luxury riverside houses “irresponsible” and “lunacy”
She and chartered town planner Adam Gostling, a director of hgh consulting, engaged by local residents to fight the development, had just five minutes to explain their objections, along with Cllr Sam Hearn, representing Riverside ward, who had a further five minutes to make the case.
Gostling said the land, the large garden of a dilapidated Victorian house, was in Flood Zone 3B, the highest category of land considered liable to flooding (once in 20 years) and as such the planning committee should not even consider building on it.
The site was also at risk of flooding from surface water, he said. Independent expert Jonathan Cage, Managing Director at Create Consulting Engineers Ltd, had told them it would be “irresponsible” to build there. It was questionable whether the proposed houses could be insured and whether prospective buyers would even be able to get a mortgage on them, Mr Gostling told the committee.
The argument set out by the council’s planning officers that the borough needed more housing was “very weak” as the development did “absolutely nothing” to promote affordable housing, he added.
The site failed the most basic tests and it was “inconceivable” the application should be passed. If it were to be passed, it would set a very dangerous precedent, he said.
Ms Jain Campion showed how the proposed houses would be built in a basin, at the lowest point of the land between Hartington Rd and the river. With “ground water and surface water coming down and a potential breach in the river defences” she said residents felt “it’s lunacy to build in this space.”
Cllr Sam Hearn described the land as a “sump” for the surrounding area. He pointed out Council policy was not to build in gardens, and to de-pave areas so that excess water could drain away.
He also quoted environmental group Abundance London’s objections to the loss of green space and wildlife habitat. The overgrown garden, which has 30 mature trees, has become the home of owls and bats.
The committee had a responsibility, he said, to think about how they would carry out the Council’s Climate Emergency Action Plan.
Image above: Applicants, owner of Residence One Ben Wilson (L) giving evidence at the planning committee
3B or not 3B – that is the question – (Very likely to flood or a bit less likely?)
The committee discussed the application for two hours before chair Cllr Corinna Smart put the decision to the vote. Much of the discussion was around how vulnerable the site was to flooding.
As The Chiswick Calendar exclusively reported in December, the Environmental Agency changed its mind about objecting to the application, based on how the land was categorised.
It had originally opposed the application on the basis that the land was in the floodplain, designated ‘3B’, the category most likely to be affected by river flooding, but had been persuaded to withdraw its objection after the Council’s consultants Metis acknowledged there was a flood wall at the bottom of the garden in which the houses would be built.
Metis is responsible for the Strategic Flood Risk Assessment.
This, said Ben Wilson, owner of Residence One, meant it could not be considered as part of the flood plain – either the land was designed to absorb floodwater or it was designed to be defended. He denied there was any flooding potential. The Environmental Agency had “corrected” their earlier assessment and so had Hounslow’s planning officers, he said.
The Strategic Flood Risk Assessment had wrongly attributed the site as 3B, as it had failed to take the flood defences into account, but Metis had gone back to the Environment Agency, who had said if they could confirm there was a flood wall, they would withdraw their opposition.
Image above: Thames foreshore next to the garden being considered as the site of four new luxury houses, showing the river wall; photograph Mukti Jain Campion
Maintaining the flood wall
When questioned by Chiswick Cllr John Todd, Mr Wilson acknowledged there were conditions attached to redesignating it as ‘3A’ (land considered at risk of flooding once in 100 years). Residence One would have to carry out further investigation into the flood wall, digging down into the foundations, and if necessary repair it before proceeding to build their houses.
It was established that the new development would need very sophisticated engineering solutions to keep the site from flooding, which would have to be maintained throughout the lifetime of the buildings.
Image above: Overgrown garden where the houses would have been built
Net gain in biodiversity
Mr Wilson and the Council’s planning officer Matthew Rees argued the development would result in a ‘biodiversity net gain’. Residence One would be removing 27 of the 30 trees, but planting 76 saplings which were 8-9 years old in their place along with a mix of “wildlife friendly plants”.
“The wildlife won’t come back” said Ms Campion “because there will be human activity there.”
It was not just about the net number of trees, said the Council’s planning officer, they were considering a whole package of criteria. This was a low density, sustainable development with “urban greening” factors which were in accordance with the London Plan.
Images above: (L) Cllr Shivraj Grewal; (R) planning officer Matthew Rees
Three simple questions
In the end it came down to three simple questions, put by Cllr Shivraj Grewal. He asked planning officer Matthew Rees for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to these points:
- Is the proposed development in a Conservation area?
- Is it in Zone 3B?
- Is the risk of flooding still there?
The officer answered ‘yes’ to questions one and three, but said he couldn’t give a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer as to whether it was 3B designated land. “That’s not a fair question” he said, “you need to look behind this” (although earlier had said “there is no getting away from it” being designated 3B).
Image above: Cllr Tony Louki
One big problem
Throughout the meeting it became apparent there was a larger issue at stake: who is responsible for designating the land 3A or 3B? In removing its objection, with conditions, the Environmental Agency had thrown the decision back to ‘the local planning authority’.
But was that Metis, as authors of the Strategic Flood Risk Assessment and the Lead Local Flood Authority? Was that LB Hounslow in the shape the planning officers or was it the planning committee?
“Why are we being allowed to judge whether it should be 3B” asked Cllr Tony Louki. “Why is it down to us?”
“We are being asked to decide on a number of conditions which are unclear” he said. “There’s a lot of contention here. We are being asked to decide on a number of things when there’s a lot of uncertainty here.”
What was the flood risk? One in 20 years, as the objectors maintained (the definition of 3B)? One in 1,000 years, as the developers maintained (the projection for the protection afforded by the Thames Barrier) or one in 100, as the advice from the Environmental Agency suggested, as the supposed independent experts?
Image above: Cllr Corinna Smart, chair of the planning committee
Cllr Louki took the planning officer to task for bringing the application to the committee prematurely, when there were so many questions which could not be answered.
Cllr Smart said: “It’s getting less and less clear as we go through this. I thought I had it clear that the Environmental Agency had withdrawn its objection, but what happens if the developer discovers major work has to be done?”
The Council had discovered just how expensive that could be when they had to pay for repairs at Strand on the Green, she said.
Cllr Grewal moved for refusal and the vote was unanimous.
Image above: Cllr John Todd (L) and Cllr Tony Louki (R)
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