Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Director of Planning and Environmental Services, Lewes District Council (FP 16))


  I am pleased to have this late opportunity to respond to the draft PPG, especially since Lewes District suffered cataclysmic flooding in October. The comments below are officer views only. I have not had the opportunity to seek views of my Councillors.

  I will start by outlining the context which provides the basis for these views.


  Lewes District comprises a large part of the river basin and floodplain of the River Ouse, a part of the floodplain of the River Cuckmere, and a coastline, about a third of which is susceptible to flooding by the sea. Parts of the towns of Lewes, Newhaven and Seaford, and several villages experience some degree of flood risk, together with a large agricultural area. The urban areas affected include important historic areas and buildings (some of national importance), port and industrial areas, and long established residential neighbourhoods. In October this year, a severe flood affected some 600 homes and 200 businesses in Lewes, and a number in the rural area. Perhaps the most graphic illustration of the severity of the flood was that RNLI lifeboats operated in the High Street to rescue residents trapped in the upper floors of buildings.

  Lewes was one of the first areas to experience this autumn's series of severe flood events, and in previous years the coast has been close to inundation by the sea. The District is, therefore, perhaps a microcosm of the national situation outlined in PPG 25.


  The immediate local response to the flood by some people may also be reflected in a broader response to the draft PPG based on "stop all new development on floodplains". Such a knee jerk reaction must be avoided. Flooded areas such as Lewes Town Centre can contain the most important economic, cultural and social capital of a community. The waterside areas in many historic and coastal towns are major attractions for much of England's tourism. In areas like Lewes and Newhaven other important considerations, such as the protection of the surrounding AONB, has also meant that economic growth has had to be accommodated on the floodplain. Regeneration objectives for town centres have resulted in successful campaigns to focus retail investment and housing infill in town centres which have developed historically at the bridging points of rivers.

  It is therefore essential that PPG 25 does not encourage local plans to imply the message "do not invest here" in important parts of towns such as central previously used sites, where other strands of government policy such as PPG 6 and PPG 13 are encouraging development and regeneration. The result in a few years time could be degeneration, with under investment, and increasing dereliction akin to the results of the 1960's "red lined" clearance areas where borrowers could not raise capital to invest because of a prejudicial notation on a map.


  The policy of resisting the allocation of new urban extension housing sites in river flood plains is one which this Council has long supported as patent good sense.

  However, in old towns like Lewes and Newhaven that already possess defences, infill housing, commercial development, and recycling of "brownfield sites" within existing urban areas have contributed enormously to the regeneration of important areas. In such cases the proviso needs to be that there are sound flood defences to protect existing properties, and acknowledged effective civil warning and security arrangements but, given these, such development should be encouraged providing it incorporates protection measures for its occupants.

  In an area such as the Lewes District the alternative sources of land would be either the AONB, or development in villages, running counter to other PPG's policies for landscape protection or for sustainable development locations. However, it is feared that absence of flood risk will be a factor prayed in aid by those who seek to press the case for the release of greenfield land.

  It is suggested that PPG 25 needs to advocate a balanced approach which recognises that in some areas (for example historic town centres) the risk of the effects of flooding needs to be balanced against the risk of the effects of indirectly causing under investment. In important areas there needs to be a "flood protection zone" notation on plans, with a positive message balancing risk with protection. In such areas acknowledged risk of flooding would be mitigated by confirmed good levels of protection (including public works, prudent design of development and effective public warning mechanisms). To effect this there would need to be close working between the planning authorities, the Environment Agency and other relevant bodies responsible for waterways and the coast, and the bodies responsible for civil protection. In such zones the criteria of the "outer zones" in table F2 would apply to development.

  Table F2 itself also needs amendment. The last line of footnote 1 is very important, but is so tucked away that there is a high risk of it being overlooked or awarded less weight than the columns. Therefore it would be much better to change the table as follows:

    —  inner zone column becomes "unprotected <100/200 year";

    —  new column added "flood protection zone", which replicates the outer zone criteria;

    —  outer zone column remains as in draft.


  The policy that developers should bear the costs of flood defence of new development is one which this Council would employ in the case of any major development in the flood plain (although none has been permitted in recent years).

  However, there are issues raised by the draft PPG in relation to the reasonableness of this approach in relation to small scale development (say five house infill) when the public sector should be bearing the cost of defending the rest of the street. Levying such charges could also make some marginal regeneration projects unviable, particularly bearing in mind that in old riverside towns there may be a number of other costs to bear such as poor ground conditions, removal of pollution, conversion costs of listed buildings etc. In such areas, the planning system should not seek to impose unreasonable costs. Necessary defences should be financed from taxation.


  If the PPG wishes to advocate an increased role for the EA in the planning process, this should at most take the form of a "call in" request power to the Secretary of State where the LPA's view on an application is at odds with the EA's specialist advice on flood risk (not a power of direction to refuse imposed upon the local planning authority). Thresholds should be established (eg x dwellings or y square metres of commercial floorspace) above which any such power would apply. However, with increased powers must go increased responsibilities. Where a Council refuses planning permission on the advice of the EA, then the EA must be prepared to back its advice with specialist evidence at any subsequent Planning Inquiry.

Lindsay Frost

5 December 2000

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