Update at 4pm
Since I published this at 4am last night I’ve found out some new stuff. Firstly that the Telegraph also wrote about this picture , secondly that my guess that the flooding wasn’t actually quite reaching the part where development permission had been given might not be wrong and thirdly that my 4am brain remembered the stats wrong. Flood zone 1 has a 1 in 1000 chance of flooding rather than once every 1000 years. I’ve corrected the relevant bit below.
It’s hard to tell just how many tweets there have been about the flooded development site near Whalley in Ribble Valey just off the A59 but it’s fair to say it’s been a quite a few.
I’ve seen the picture pop up on an at least hourly basis over the last two days. I’d not have seen it as much had it not been Christmas, but it’s fair to say that the photo has been well and truly atomised. In fact, it’s been shared so well that despite a good hard look, I’ve not been able to find the person who originally posted it.
It’s a beautiful photo which is being taken as good, hard proof by many people who think we’re building on floodplains and bringing it all on ourselves. If I’d have seen the chance, I’d probably have taken the photo myself.
But just like anything else which seems to make a point but doesn’t quite provide enough detail, it’s been used for point scoring either against the local council – Ribble Valley District Council – for not doing its job properly and against developers for taking advantage of cheap land to screw over would-be property owners.
A59 Whalley Arches. I think this sums it up. Cheap floodplain land sold for development = massive problems #floods pic.twitter.com/j1PiGhLUq9— Ed Matthews (@mr_ed_matthews) December 27, 2015
@Energydesk @GreenpeaceUK As long as there’s money to be made, they’ll be built. Tory govt doesn’t care about people – cares about money— Alan Smith (@flanderosa) December 26, 2015
The tweets above sum up the general theme of what is being said. The photograph of the land, flooded and displaying proudly the permission it has for 39 homes to be built, is said to be a floodplain sold cheap.
One is left to assume, as one often is with these things, how such a thing might happen and so, obviously, rather than accept the facts as they weren’t being presented I wanted to know more.
In particular, I wanted to know more about its permission for 39 dwellings and just as I expected, the facts weren’t really all that hard to find.
To spoil the surprise: yes, someone did point out that the land had flooded before. To build the suspense back up again: it wasn’t anyone paid to point it out.
I do not live in the area nor have I ever even visited, so it’s probably worth saying that I’m working on the basis of evidence I can find on the internet, and the assumption that there’s not much land in Whalley near the A59 which has permission for 39 dwellings.
In fact, on the basis that there’s just one which matches the description, I think I’ve nailed it. The information below is just based on what I think I’ve found out. If you know better, let me know and I’ll be happy to correct it.
What I found out
- The permission to build 39 dwellings is made up of three separate applications (and subsequent permissions). The first is for 12 new houses, the second for 10 (removing one of the previous 12), and the final for 18 further houses. Links to all three are below.
- The Environment Agency were consulted as part of the planning process even where (it appears) that they were not required to be. In the second planning application, the Environment Agency explicitly say that the land is in Flood Zone 1 and does not require their input.
- The land does indeed fall in flood zone 1 (which is where most land is, the lowest risk) but it is adjacent to flood zone 2 (with zone 3 being land at the highest risk of flooding). The A59 itself falls into the zone 2 area, as you’ll see from the map below and which seems to show the land that’s flooded in the picture as part of zone 2.
- In the first planning application, the Environment Agency did ask the council to impose conditions on how groundwater was dealt with but this seems focused on ensuring the development doesn’t mean other land floods. The drainage system proposed for the site is changed as a result (and this is reflected in the second and third applications) in line with the conditions.
- The Parish Council had objected to the development on a number of reasons including extra traffic and the proportion of affordable housing. Oh, and they noted the site had flooded before.
So, just to speculate a little…
Despite the irony of speculating when writing something which tries to put facts behind speculation, I’m going to make some ‘leaps’ here based on what I found.
I think it’s important to work out whether this photograph is a tragic example of bad luck or is, indeed, cheap floodplain land sold cheap for development.
Since the planning application isn’t from a big developer, the claim of developers looking to profit from building on cheap floodplains doesn’t seem to stack up much to me. If the current owners (and the people who got the permission, one assumes) are developers then why would the land be up for sale?
Equally, that the sign advertising the site which kicked all of this off is still there (suggesting it’s still up for grabs – although I’ve not checked) 8 months later it doesn’t seem like developing the land is that attractive.
Added to the fact that the RightMove ad implies that Bloor Homes has already had first refusal and it really is starting to seem like no-one is too keen to actually build on it.
So, cheap land perhaps – but only because no one seems to want to build on it, but flood plain? Well, according to the experts: nope. In fact, the land that has the planning permission isn’t even the bit that’s wet – it’s next to it.
It’s just a pretty picture illustrating a point many people believe. already. Just another reminder of the power of social media and its ability to reinforce the things you already thought.
Where I found my info
- Planning application number 1: https://www.ribblevalley.gov.uk/planningApplication/22626
- Planning application number 2: https://www.ribblevalley.gov.uk/site/scripts/planx_details.php?appNumber=3%2F2012%2F0738+
- Planning application number 3: https://www.ribblevalley.gov.uk/planningApplication/25487
- The land for sale, by informal tender, back in March: http://www.rightmove.co.uk/commercial-property-for-sale/property-50892341.html
- The first email from Billington and Langho Parish Council pointing out the flood risk: https://www.ribblevalley.gov.uk/planx_downloads/12_0065_parish_response.pdf