Building on a flood plain is, by its very nature, a risky business. But it's a risk worth taking, according to the latest Joint Core Strategy prepared by Lewes District Council and the South Downs National Park Authority. In fact, it's a risk that's been taken locally for many years, as the victims of the November 1960 and October 2000 floods will attest.
The proposed ‘North Street Quarter’ development by Lewes District Council and Santon North Street has put flood protection back in the news. As well as protecting their new houses and commercial properties, the developers plan to protect existing houses in the Talbot Terrace (Pells) area.
Paul Deane, a Lewes-based Chartered Civil Engineer who’s previously worked in Flood Risk Management for the Environment Agency, has taken an in-depth look at Santon’s Flood Risk Assessment. His comments, published on lewesphoenixrising.com, conclude “the proposed flood defences are broadly considered to be the best viable solution for this location.” But not everyone’s happy with the way those plans have progressed.
I talk to John Webber, a local resident and a member of the Pells Residents working group. He says Santon’s representatives assured him they would defend the Pells area during the first phase of any construction, yet their planning submission shows these defences won’t be completed until phase 3. Not only does the proposed development increase the risk of flooding, he tells me, but it also means the Pells defences wouldn’t be put in place if the development stopped after phase 2. John’s not the only person making these claims, which I put to Clive Wilding, Project Director of Santon North Street.
Clive describes the flood defences as being “phased in line with relocation and development plans”, noting that some businesses could be relocated from ‘phase 1’ – the part of the site due for imminent redevelopment – to buildings in the ‘phase 2’ area, enabling these people to remain on-site during the construction period. Apparently this would avoid clearing the whole site to implement all the flood defences in phase 1.
However, a potential compromise is now being suggested. In a statement, Clive Wilding tells me “following further discussions with Pells residents, we are proposing to amend the planning application to bring forward some of the Pells flood defence work so that it is protected from the west in phase 1 of the construction, this will protect Pelham Terrace housing and will go part way to assisting the area and will also allow the new landscaping and planting to settle quickly.”
Although the changes could benefit homeowners, they won’t protect the Pells Pool or the adjacent park; Santon says this protection can’t be completed “until our tenants in phase 3 are relocated into a new completed phase 1”.
Whether this reassures local residents depends on many factors, including an issue of trust: trust in the developer, trust in the calculations, trust in the construction. Those who remember the flooding of fifteen years ago are understandably nervous.
First published in Viva Lewes issue 105 June 2015.