Riverside residents campaign to prevent luxury houses being built on the ‘ functional floodplain’

Image above: Thames foreshore next to the garden being considered as the site of four new luxury houses; photographs Mukti Jain Campion

Hounslow Council is considering an application for four luxury homes on the riverside in Chiswick which the Environment Agency have advised against on the grounds that they would be in the Thames floodplain.

Developers Residence One (Hartington Ltd), based in Richmond, describe themselves as ‘property developers and creators of exceptional residences within London’s most prestige locations.’

They have applied to build four multi-million-pound homes in what is currently the garden of a Victorian house, the largest remaining garden in Grove Park.

Image above: Number 17 Hartington Rd, showing entrance which developers want to widen for an access road

The site, at 17 Hartington Rd, is right beside the river. The Environment Agency wrote to the council in September:

“We object in principle to the application because the proposed development is incompatible with the flood zone. We also object for inadequate assessment of the flood defences.”

In the letter from the Environment Agency planning adviser Tom Craig to Hounslow’s senior planning officer Leo Hall, the land where these houses would be built is classified as a ‘functional floodplain’, defined as ‘land where water has to flow or be stored in times of flood’ according to the West London Strategic Flood Risk Assessment.

Image above: West London Strategic Flood Risk Assessment map showing the site clearly marked as in the floodplain

With sea levels rising and severe weather also increasing with climate change, land where water can soak away is at a premium. In November 2019 the GLA reported that London already has the lowest levels of green space in all of the UK.

Images above: Views of the overgrown back garden at number 17, where the new houses would be built

Developers say the flood risk assessment was wrong and the Environment Agency will redesignate the site so it is not considered floodplain

In November a Hounslow planning officer confirmed to local residents that they were in conversation with the developers, the Environment Agency and the Lead Local Flood Authority to see if the ‘functional floodplain’ designation was ‘justified’.

Residents of Hartington Rd who object to the development were worried the Environment Agency would be persuaded to change the designation of the land from 3b (functional floodplain) to 3a (land having a greater annual probability of river flooding’) which would make it easier for the developers to get planning permission.

The Chiswick Calendar has spoken to the developers Residence One. Owner Ben Wilson confirmed they have been in touch with the Environment Agency and the authors of the West London Strategic Flood Risk Assessment, Metis Consultants.

He said Metis had made a mistake in designating the site a ‘functional floodplain’. The Environment Agency had made their recommendation to the Council based on their designation and had no option but to advise the Council against development. Now they have changed their advice because they have realised the designation was a functional flood plain was wrong because the site has flood defences – a river wall.

“It was never a flood plain. We did a full flood risk assessment and we wouldn’t have bought the site if it had been in a functional flood plain. It’s a bit embarrassing for Metis that they made that mistake, but it is a mistake.

“A functional floodplain is an area where the expectation is that it will flood once in 20 years. Where there’s a river wall the expectation is that it will flood once in a thousand years.

“When you stick a flood defence in front of an area how can you then argue that it’s designed to be a flood plain?

“You can’t have something that’s designed to flood and put something in front of it which is designed to stop it flooding in all but one year in a thousand and still call it a floodplain. It doesn’t make sense.”

We have asked Metis and the Environment Agency for their comments.

Plans to build are “reckless” and “irresponsible” say residents

Councillors on the planning committee have received emails from local residents urging them not to grant permission for the houses to be built and describing the plans as “reckless” and “irresponsible.”

Apart from the general principle that there should be land beside the river which floodwater can soak into, the neighbouring houses enjoy having the space between them and the river and householders want to preserve the natural habitat they overlook.

“The 30 mature trees are a balm for the eyes but also a green lung for the neighbourhood.

“The garden provides sanctuary for nesting woodpeckers and Egyptian geese, a hunting ground for owls and swooping bats.

“And as the land slopes towards the river it acts as an effective natural drainage system for surface and ground water, preventing flooding in the area.

“The proposed development would rip out the trees and increase the impermeable area more than five-fold.

“The new houses would require a complex, expensive, high maintenance drainage scheme of underground attenuation tanks and electric pumps to do the job that the trees and soil currently do.”

‘NoGardenGrab’ campaign group

The campaign group, consisting of around 25 residents of Hartington Rd and Chiswick Staithe have set up a petition against the development, which has had 50 signatures so far, including that of environmentalist Jonathon Porritt, formerly Director of Friends of the Earth and co-chair of the Green Party.

“It goes on, day after day, community by community: an inexorable war of attrition against the natural world at the hands of local developers. They often claim that they will ensure a ‘net gain’ for biodiversity in the process – but more often than not, this is a complete sham. We all have a duty to help hold the line against this mindless destruction.”- Jonathon Porritt

See the petition here: Save Grove Park’s largest garden

Image above: View of the back garden from the river bank

Hounslow responsible for flood policy

After the severe flooding of 2007, the Flood and Water Management Act was passed in 2010, making London boroughs Lead Local Flood Authorities.

As such, Hounslow Council is responsible for managing flooding in this area, it must identify the flood risks and interventions which could help to mitigate those risks.

In its policy statement, the West London Strategic Flood Risk assessment outlines the councils’ responsibility:

‘To meet flood risk mitigation requirements whilst facilitating housing development needs, local policy targeting the impact of future growth on flood risk is required’.

The policy recommends encouraging development in areas ‘not susceptible to flood risk impacts posed by climate change.’

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