By David E P Dennis

People need homes. The Prime Minister says we must “build, build, build” and Conservative Housing Minister Jenrick proposes massive changes to planning law, creating an inexorable juggernaut that will crush the hopes of objectors, as profit-hungry developers win the day. He has even proposed taking away the money usually paid by developers to local councils, called ‘S106 money’, thus cutting cash for environmental enhancements in parks and urban areas.

A typical winter flood of the proposed housing site at Bulverhythe Recreation Ground

People are desperate for good homes. Many people are being forced to live in converted shipping containers. There is nothing wrong with home-building. The concern is where to build them – where is it sensible and safe? Hastings Borough Council is Labour-run. The national Labour Party has a policy of not building on flood plains, of preserving landscape, recreational facilities, and wildlife. So it seems that Hastings Borough Council might have developed its own local Labour brand because it is striving to build 192 homes on the natural winter flood plain of Bulverhythe Recreation Ground next to an uncontrolled leachate tip of 9 million freight tons, 150 feet high. A huge estate is to be rapidly plonked inside the Countryside Park that it fought to set up when it formed the ‘core policy’ of a permanent green space between Hastings and Bexhill.

Let us look at the direction this new homes plan is taking. The Council has contracted with Ambiental Flood Experts and they have submitted a bulky document full of recommendations that can be used by the Council to negotiate with the Environment Agency. Using this they hope to gain permission to build on the clay and peat flood plain of ancient Bulverhythe Harbour by building earth walls called ‘bunds’ along both sides of the Combe Haven river from the northern edge of Combe Haven Caravan site, through Sheepwash Bridge on the A259, along the back gardens of both Bexhill Road and Bulverhythe Road and thus to the sea.

Sheepwash Bridge – a storm surge of rainwater up-river from here would flood out onto the A259 trunk road if the river was bunded at this point, since the road bridge cannot be raised

Because the Combe Haven river is the product of its two headstreams, the Powdermill and Watermill and also the Hollington Spring, it is necessary to examine the effect of this ‘bunding’. Crowhurst lies on the Powdermill and last winter, without any bunding, nine homes were flooded including the home of the Parish Council’s Flood Warden. Bunding could force water back into Crowhurst, flooding more homes.

Bunds Means Pumps

Ambiental, on page 42 of their report, reveal that now they must introduce pumps to move the water away from the homes. When Ambiental gave their initial presentations at the Stade and at Muriel Matters House, I tackled the senior executives with direct questions – “Are you going to use pumps?” “Oh no!” they cried, “Not at all”. Plainly those two public consultations were inaccurate. Another meeting with local existing homeowners is urgently needed because pumping is recommended and bunding is inevitable if this goes ahead. That means enforcing alterations to every single home’s back garden, both sides of the river, whether the homeowner likes it or not. You may say, “how can this be? Is a citizen’s back garden not part of her or his castle?”  Well, obviously not if this housing estate it to be built, because bunds means pumps.

Water Levels and Wildlife Habitats

Now we come to an even more tricky and sensitive part. The Council has set up the Combe Haven Countryside Park which is now full of wildlife. Because the wise East Sussex County Ecologist decided to offset the damage caused by the Bexhill-Hastings bypass by doubling everything destroyed by the road, Combe Valley now has 100,000 new trees, more wildflower meadows for pollinators and twice as many lakes and ponds. It has an outstanding set of raptors many of them Schedule 1 protected birds – Marsh Harriers, Red Kites, the Hobby and Barn Owls – and other raptors, Buzzards, Sparrowhawks and Kestrels. The Valley contains one third of all the fen landscape in Sussex. Filsham Reed Beds SSSI has more Schedule 1 birds – Cetti’s and Dartford Warblers and special Diving Beetles. Combe Valley is a wildlife treasure.

If the decision to pump is used to protect the 192 new homes, then, because the winter rains may come early, as climate change bites and sea levels rise, so to keep the homes safe, the natural flood cycle of the Valley on which the naturally-evolved life cycles of so many creatures, will be thrown out of kilter – where are the floods they are used to and need? Would a true Labour Council following national party dictat, really be minded to build homes and ignore wildlife and landscape? Something has gone wrong with the mindset of local politicians holding the balance of power. They have been trapped into living up to their own rhetoric – and new Conservative planning laws seem to be helping them to run over the top of local feeling.

Desperate Homes and Go-Bags

The Council is desperate to find a way to give people homes no matter what the cost. It is recommended that you read the Ambiental Report for yourselves. However, in short, the specification for the new homes reveals a desperation to avoid flooding if the bunding and pumping fails. The report goes into great detail about how people can save their families and pets from death if a storm surge or ‘bulge’ of water comes down the Combe Haven and the tide gates are shut due to high tide. There is a hidden hint that people of any age with certain disabilities or the elderly and infirm should never live in these homes, or even visit them. 

Looking back towards the Combe Haven Caravan Park –
an area to be bunded if housing goes ahead

The Ambiental Report says, “The site owner and residents should sign up to the EA Flood Alert/Warning Service and have an evacuation plan. Prior evacuation should be sought if a flood warning is issued. The rivers in proximity of the site are tidally influenced. Tidal flooding is generally caused by low pressure weather systems creating storm-surges (or storm tides), chiefly via high speed winds. These winds (and to a certain extent, the low pressure) create a ‘bulge’ of water which, if it coincides with high tide, can generate very high, stormy water levels.”

The Report goes on to say on page 37: “It is therefore considered that if evacuation cannot be sought residents should seek refuge at the upper levels of the dwellings. Have a bag ready with vital items like insurance documents and medications in case you need to leave your home – check you know how to turn off your gas, electricity and water mains supplies – plan how you’ll move family and pets to safety.”

Conclusion

So, good luck to each new homeowner if this goes ahead. Make sure you have your Go-Bag ready and make sure that if this local variety of Labour Council planning goes wrong, then anyone who has a mobility disability can still climb the stairs to the upper floor to save their lives. Nature needs flood plains. Nature will find a way.

ALL PICTURES: David E P Dennis

Talking of nature – Read David’s appreciation of the nature that could be lost if the housing plan goes ahead, click here


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