Is council deliberately dodging difficult questions on Bulverhythe flood plain plan?

Given the national scarcity, biodiversity value and irreplaceable nature of ancient woodland, it is our position that this level of risk is not justified and as such the application should be refused

The Woodland trust
A report from Climate Central in the US suggests that by 2050 flooding along the Sussex coast could be three times higher than previously forecast. Although changes will be gradual and it could take years before they reach the levels shown on the map, once they are noticeable it will be too late to stop them, the study says. This map shows the impact of sea level change on the area where HBC wants to build 192 new homes.

Is Hastings Borough Council (HBC) deliberately dodging difficult questions over its plans to build on the Bulverhythe Rec?

When we asked HBC for its comments on public disquiet about plans for the construction of 192 new homes on what is recognised as a flood plain its communications team took more than ten days to reply, missing the deadline for inclusion in our story.

This week West St Leonards’ representative on HBC, Councillor Matthew Beaver says he was ‘astonished’ that the council took so long for to respond to our enquiries: “…especially as this is such an important topic being discussed at the moment, I would have thought a quicker and more robust response would have been forthcoming.”

What people are telling the council

Born in Bulverhythe rather a long time ago I have been currently trawling through the many strong (and appropriately condemnatory) objections to the proposed plans for The Rec, which would be laughable were it not for the fact that the implications are so serious.

For heaven’s sake, LISTEN to the people who know! Thank you.

Linda Thomas

We’d asked the council, a series of questions, following the protocol of having to submit queries through the communications team rather than directly to individual councillors.

Our initial request was sent on March 10th and here is what we asked:

  • What has the council’s reaction been to the public response to the planning application?
  • Can you confirm that HBC has already spent a considerable sum and confirm how much – it’s reputed to be into the millions – on the preliminary work so far?
  • What is the council’s response to objections, not from the public but from official and statutory bodies like the Environment Agency for example?
  • In light of the scale of objections to the plan is the council having any second thoughts about proceeding?
  • Are any meetings, formal or informal, planned before the application is considered by the planning committee to help ameliorate the negative reactions so far?
  • When will the application be considered by the planning committee?

We’d asked for a response before midday on Saturday 13th and despite reminders nothing was forthcoming. Late in the day we managed to get hold of HBC’s lead member for housing Andy Batsford who was prepared to talk to us.

One of the signs that it has become hard to miss as you drive along Bexhill Road.

Then, almost a week after our original story was published we finally received a response from HBC, it read: “Apologies for the delay on this response. We understand you’ve likely already published the story, but if you’d still find it useful, our statement is the following:

“Hastings has a major housing shortage and the council is working hard to deal with this crisis, which impacts many local families. The planning application that the council has submitted to develop the Bulverhythe site would provide 192 new homes, including a significant amount of affordable housing for local families.

“The challenges of developing this land have been recognised with the grant of nearly £7m from Homes England. This has been provided to help get the site ready to build on, including overcoming the known flood issues.  

“We appreciate that concerns have been raised and that local residents remain worried about the future use of the land. We have met with them on a number of occasions to present our proposals and listen to their views. Planning is a formal and independent process which is transparent and takes into account the range of all objections received, as well as the application itself.

“Residents can view and make comments on the proposal through the planning portal at www.publicaccess.hastings.gov.uk/online-applications .”

That wasn’t good enough for Councillor Beaver however he told Hastings In Focus: “What is concerning is the fact that it does not address any of the very important questions you have asked which makes people now wonder – do they not know the answers or are they just deliberately not answering them? 

Residents say the Bulverhythe Rec floods regularly and should not be built on.

“They also claim to have listened to the views of residents – this is clearly not the case as residents have overwhelmingly opposed this development right from the start and have loudly voiced that objection.

“It is also interesting that they state that the grant was provided to help get the site ready to build on including overcoming the known flood issues yet in a recent article in Hastings Online Times, Councillor Batsford stated that this site is ‘not a flood plan’ contrary to pretty much all the experts current comments.

“If HBC wanted to defend this development then this is a pretty poor response that only confirms that they do not want to listen to anyone regarding this site; not the residents and also it would appear professional Government bodies too.”

Local resident and a key campaigner against the proposed development Peter Clarke is equally unimpressed by the council’s position: “I was at a presentation at the Discovery Centre and I had to to be there all day because we had agreed to do teas and Coffee. The actual presentation had very little to do with what was going on the Bulverhythe site.

“A lot of the questions that were asked could not be answered by either Councillor Batsford or the consultant Grayham Luxton and I had a number of woman in tears on the day.

What people are telling the council

Are we, as a town, really wanting to rid ourselves of this recreation space to build this car-centric scheme on a flood plain?

To build that many houses would not leave adequate open space for fulfilled family life and lead to more youth disenfranchisement and ultimately lawlessness. HBC needs to consider the people it is supposed to represent.

Graham Gardner

“The other presentation was at the Stade hall right at the other end of town… and once again they could not answers any of our questions just going on about another a site somewhere up north.”

The Woodland Trust has added its name to the long list of objectors saying: “As the UK’s leading woodland conservation charity, the Woodland Trust aims to protect native woods, trees and their wildlife for the future.

“We hold concerns regarding the proposed development as we consider it could result in negative impacts to Decoy Pond Wood, an area of ancient semi-natural woodland designated on Natural England’s Ancient Woodland Inventory (AWI).

“Ancient woodland is protected from harmful development by means of National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Paragraph 175 of the NPPF states: ‘When determining planning applications, local planning authorities should apply the following principles: c) development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats (such as ancient woodland and ancient or veteran trees) should be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons and a suitable compensation strategy exists.’

“Regarding this development, we consider that the increased flood risk to Decoy Pond Wood from the proposed sluice gate is unacceptable. The flood risk assessment submitted by the applicant acknowledges that there is a ‘moderate’ risk to the woodland as follows: ‘the increased flooding may have a moderate negative effect on the area of ancient woodland (Decoy Pond Wood). However, this increase in flooding is a worst case scenario based on a one in 100-year event, plus 105 per cent climate change peak flow allowance, with tidal mean high water spring. As a result, this level of flooding is not predicted to occur often’.

“We are concerned that the long-term risks to the ecology of Decoy Pond Wood have potentially been understated due to the predicted low occurrence of flooding. Ancient woodland soils are highly important environments as they have built up over hundreds of years. They support complex relationships between species above and below ground and are sensitive to change, having been established in relatively stable soil conditions. As such, ancient woodland soils and plants are expected to lack adaptability to extreme conditions, such as inundation with floodwater, which raises concerns over the impact of stochastic flooding events even if they are rare in occurrence.

“Given the national scarcity, biodiversity value and irreplaceable nature of ancient woodland, it is our position that this level of risk is not justified and as such the application should be refused.

“In summary, the Trust will maintain a holding objection to this application unless the applicant has fully evaluated the flood risks and associated impacts to the soils, flora and fauna of Decoy Pond Wood and committed to appropriate mitigation measures to prevent damage or losses from flooding.

Read our major feature on the Bulverhythe proposals by following the link below…

Tell us what you think by posting your thoughts in the comment section below.

3 thoughts on “Is council deliberately dodging difficult questions on Bulverhythe flood plain plan?

  1. It is truly depressing that the council is so reluctant to engage with local people on this and other issues. They hide behind the web site and unnamed officers. That’s not democracy. Our only sanction is the ballot box. But that only comes every four years- we have every right to expect better. Hastings BC’s track record on planning and development is dismal and plainly has been for a long time.

  2. The ten delay in a response from HBC should not be that great a surprise. When there is a controversial issue they are never in a hurry to reply. Subjects such as this are treated on a what you “need to know basis.” However, if it had been connected to some meritorious achievement, I expect you would have had a response within the same day.
    I note HBC confirm it is a flood prone area, yet as I read previously Cllr Batsford claims it is not one. Having seen it flooded many times and even into a friend’s back garden.
    HBC then say they “appreciate that concerns have been raised.” You could not make that up could you. Just a pacifying remark while they go on ignoring the 130 or so objections and of course those who live along that stretch of this site and know how bad it is with flooding.
    A crucial issue here is the actual construction, where extensive piling will have to be done. A very expensive part of this inane project and cost could outweigh the economics of it. A reason why another flood prone area further along the Bexhill Road site called Saxons has never materialised after an extensive geo tech report. Abandoned by ESCC. more public money wasted.

  3. If it floods regularly the buildings insurance for these houses ought to be more expensive, in turn this should make it less economically viable to build on flood plains (ie this increased insurance cost should harm house values). I believe that any environmental harm should be compensated and any damage to anyone’s existing house values should be compensated, to be fair on people who would lose out.

    But as someone who believes in supply side economics, once those costs are deducted I believe we should let market forces decide if we really need houses THAT much (i.e. if it’s still profitable, the market is telling you that our need for housing really is compelling). There is both good and harm caused by developments like this, and putting numbers on it is one of the only ways we have to weigh things up.
    But I imagine there are probably more viable sites.

    I assume that HBC is wasteful with money but I believe in the small state and that politics shouldn’t obstruct development, if we’re trying to act in the national best interest.

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