Public Meeting Questions Housing Development

By David Dennis

The proposal to build 190 new homes on the Tier 1 public recreation ground behind Bexhill Road was reviewed at a pre-planning public forum at the Hastings Borough Council (HBC) chamber on Monday evening. The chair of the meeting, Cllr Kim Forward, who is Deputy Leader of HBC, made it clear that in her view the need for housing in Hastings overrides other concerns. In particular, despite a stated core value, enshrined in the local plan, to keep a green gap between Hastings and Bexhill, the Council appears ready to entertain a full planning application on a notorious flood plain inside its own Country Park boundary. 

Whether the application can succeed is another matter. A five-man development team led by Max Plotnek of Maddox Planning Consultants were questioned at the forum by three community representatives and several councillors on issues ranging from loss of playing fields to parking and traffic implications, insurance, flooding of communities and ecological impacts. Their answers revealed that they had not, thus far, resolved to the satisfaction of the Environment Agency any technical mitigation of the flood risks, nor addressed the site’s close proximity to the uncontrolled leachate landfill site that sprawls from Pebsham to Bulverhythe. When pressed as to what commercial insurance company would be willing to provide cover for such risks, and who would pay for the ongoing cost of maintaining flood defences and removal of pollution, in an uncertain future subject to climate change, there were admissions that these issues remain to be considered.

There were other omissions. No action had been taken to resolve the flooding concerns for Crowhurst residents when the Combe Haven is bunded on both banks, inevitably causing the Powdermill Stream to back up towards the village. No wildlife ecology or archaeology surveys have been planned to assess consequences for Combe Valley as a whole, though it contains two sites of special scientific interest and many historic and heritage locations.

A principal concern is the risk of chemical leaching. In 2008 Veolia commissioned from experts Jacobs a fundamental report on pollution from Pebsham Tip. This has gradually turned from a vast flat field covered in uncontrolled rubbish and seagulls into a huge hill covered in many layers of earth and gas blankets. These gas blankets are there to prevent the flow downhill of ground-hugging killer gases, carbon dioxide and methane which might harm humans or their pets when walking. The report showed via its Groundwater Vulnerability Map that the geological Ashdown Beds under the tip are classified as a minor aquifer with high soil-leaching potential. The adjacent alluvium is also classified as a minor aquifer. The solid bedrock in the area is also faulted, and the report warned of preferential pathways within which groundwater could flow in a plume towards the Tier 1 site. Last night’s forum responses did nothing to alleviate concern that increased water levels caused by bunding would not lead to greater leaching into the landscape and its water courses.

The sizeable public audience certainly appeared sceptical, though the meeting was conducted in a generally polite atmosphere – unlike the weather outside on the seafront, where Storm Brendan was in full spate, no doubt bringing more flood water to Combe Valley later this week. 

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