1,000 more homes approved for Northstowe despite flooding fears and claims of recklessness
Councillors have approved a further 1,000 homes for the new town of Northstowe, despite concerns over the risk of potential flooding of a neighbouring village.
The outline application divided members at a meeting of South Cambridgeshire District Council’s planning committee on Monday (February 28), with some arguing approval would be “reckless”.
The homes are due to be built as part of the third phase of the Northstowe development, which once completed will have around 10,000 homes. Last month, an application for 4,000 homes was approved.
The latest plans are for 1,000 homes to the north of the overall Northstowe site, and to the north of Longstanton.
Alongside the homes, the site is planned to include a primary school and a ‘mixed-use zone’ with shops and space for food and drink, community, leisure and employment.
Concerns were raised after the Swavesey Internal Drainage Board said there was the potential for nearly 200 homes in Swavesey village to be at risk of flooding.
The Internal Drainage Board objected to the proposals saying it had concerns over surface water runoff and treated foul water discharges into Swavesey Drain.
The organisation said it was not happy with the current proposals, and at the meeting argued they had not been fully consulted by Homes England. But Homes England disagreed with this point, saying there had been a number of meetings.
Keith Wilderspin, the chairman of the Swavesey Internal Drainage Board, said it had been identified that there was a potential flood risk to 195 properties in Swavesey.
He said the application should be rejected and for further work to be done.
‘Development aims to be a healthy and sustainable community’
The plans had been submitted to the district council by Homes England. A representative for the organisation spoke to councillors at the meeting and said the development had a focus on delivering a “healthy and sustainable community”.
He said: “A defined building edge will be introduced along the B1050 to create an outward looking and distinctive edge to Northstowe, whilst at the same time incorporating set back elements and appropriate green space and landscaping.
“Primary access to the site will be via an improved roundabout and a masterplan process proposes a network of pedestrian and cycle paths to provide direct and legible routes across the site and into phase one.
“Biodiversity net gain will exceed policy requirements and green space will occupy a third of the site as well as protecting existing trees and hedgerows.
“Phase 3B has rigorously followed the environmental impact assessment process, with a scope agreed with the district and county councils and other statutory consultees to ensure that the likely effects of the proposed development on the environment are understood and taken into account.”
The drainage expert who had worked on the plans for Homes England also spoke at the meeting to answer questions from councillors.
She highlighted that the plans included the creation of large ponds to store water on the site.
She said the proposed development would be able to handle a one in 200 year rainfall event, with plus 40 percent for climate change taken into account.
It was explained that water run off rates from the site would be managed and kept at the average current run off rate.
The representative said this was better than the current situation as run off rates can change with the rainfall.
The district council’s joint director of shared planning, Stephen Kelly, also told councillors that the potential development would see the surface water discharge go from being unmanaged to managed.
‘Plans are a disaster waiting to happen’
However, these explanations did not allay the concerns of some councillors.
Cllr Deborah Roberts (Ind, Foxton) said councillors had a responsibility to people already living in the area and said she could not support the current proposals with the possibility of “nearly 200 houses going under water”.
She argued the plans were a “disaster waiting to happen”.
Cllr Dr Richard Williams (Con, Whittlesford) said, like Cllr Roberts, he was also “very worried” about the drainage issue.
He said: “One thing that has really come across both in the previous application and this application, is how delicate the area we’re dealing with here is.
“It is not a place that is naturally dry, we are dealing with a place where we have to pump the water up to the level of the river.
“You think looking at it, it’s land like anywhere else, but it is not, it only stays that way because of the work of people on the Internal Drainage Board and a lot of other people to keep it that way, so we’re dealing with a very sensitive landscape.
“I feel it’s a little bit reckless to approve applications like this without being absolutely sure, and without having the experts on the ground telling us that it is safe to do it. I don’t say that lightly, but I do think it is reckless to carry on approving these applications.”
‘We have to trust the experts’
Other councillors pointed out that while they may have concerns, the local flooding authority and the Environment Agency had not objected to the plans.
Cllr Anna Bradnam (Lib Dem, Milton and Waterbeach) highlighted that the lead local flood authority and the Environment Agency had not objected to the plans.
She said: “None of the statutory authorities have objected, whilst we may feel nervous, we have to trust the statutory authorities.
“If the lead flood and Environment Agency are not concerned, I think we have to trust the experts in this.”
Cllr Dr Tumi Hawkins (Lib Dem, Caldecote) also raised the fact that the authorities responsible for water and drainage had not objected, but said she was “disappointed” Homes England had “failed to engage” with Swavesey Internal Drainage Board.
She recognised the concerns raised by the Internal Drainage Board and asked for advice from officers on what could be done to strengthen conditions to make sure Swavesey was not put at risk.
Councillors discussed what amendments they would like to see made to the recommended conditions to address some of the concerns raised.
These amendments included adding that any reserved matters application detailing the design of the development will need to include the use of permeable paving to help with drainage.
Councillors also added that measures should be put in place to monitor and control water at source as far as practical.
At the vote, seven councillors voted in favour, two against, with one abstention.
As an outline application, further applications will need to be submitted to the district council for approval, setting out more detailed plans before the development can begin.