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Community Energy – coalition speaks with forked tongue

19 February 2015

In theory community energy is flavour of the month across the political spectrum.  It was mentioned in the Coalition Agreement in 2010 and senior politicians frequently like to express their support. Ed Davey and Greg Barker  published a Community Energy Strategy and established a small community energy team at the Department of Energy and Climate Change to support the sector.

It is true that there have been some key interventions which have been important – in the long term allowing large sites of up to 10MW to be eligible for Feed in tariff if ownership is divided between the commercial owner and the community may prove to be the most significant of these.

However, it can be hard to remain positive in the face of relentless changes in government policy which cause uncertainty for many already complex projects. The latest of these are the changes to tax relief announced in the Autumn Statement  in which  it was announced that the existing form of tax relief would be withdrawn on an unspecified date and replaced by something else, also on an unspecified date.

Meanwhile, our own local energy co-operative, Wey Valley Solar Schools, has been working for the last 9 months on expanding the co-op because changes in the FITs rates mean it will be good for the co-op and good for the schools if the size of some of the arrays can be increased.  In fact the co-op looks likely to nearly double in terms of size from 280kw as it hopes to add around another 250kW.   These schemes will go ahead in some form or another, but the uncertainty of the taxation system after 5 April is making a difficult task even harder.


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Berkeleys not giving up at Cranleigh – but neither is Friends of the Earth

17 October 2014

Following our objection with supporting report prepared by Wallingford Hydro (see previous post) the Environment Agency changed its position and lodged an objection with the Council against the Berkeleys Strategic application for the site on the grounds that safe access could not be guaranteed and the EA also expressed concern about the absence of a district wide “sequential test“.

As we expected, Berkeleys sought to refute the EA’s objections and provided large quantities of further evidence seeking to explain that it can show safe access.  We have been back to talk to Wallingford Hydro and our Further Letter of Objection and Wallingford Hydro’s Report on Access (which shows the Berkeleys site does still not provide safe access) are now registered against the Berkeley’s application on the Waverley Borough Council website.

The sequential test is an exercise which consists of a developer comparing sites on the basis of relative flood risk and ranking them for flood risk.  Generally the assumption is that sites should be compared  across a district. Waverley Borough Council can determine how the sequential test is conducted but Berkeleys has to do the work.   Our letter is quite technical but it is challenging the approach WBC has taken to the sequential test.   For reasons which are currently unclear, Waverley officers have ignored the Environment Agency standing guidance on sequential tests and have just asked Berkeleys to assess other sites for flood risk  in and immediately around the Cranleigh area and not across Waverley as a whole. According to the Environment Agency and Wallingford Hydro, the normal procedure would be to assess available sites across the district as a whole.

As a result of this approach WBC officers have made it  considerably easier for Berkeleys to claim the site passes  the sequential test.  We are convinced this approach is wrong and we can see no policy justification for it.

There are even mistakes in the Berkeleys analysis of the Cranleigh sites.  In particular they appear to totally discount the Hewitts site altogether although it is within the settlement boundary and on flood zone one so applying the sequential test correctly this site should be near the top of the list.  According to Berkeleys evidence this site won’t be available for five years and they ignore it.  However from additional information posted today (17 October) on the website page for this application we know that Berkeleys were told in a meeting with Waverley in July this year that WBC officers “believed that the Hewitts Industrial Estate application is expected imminently”.

In an era of increased extreme weather events and climate change putting new development in areas of higher flood risk has been deemed contrary to government policy – hence the sensible policy preference for building in areas of lower flood risk.

One reason for the policy and the sequential test is that newly built homes (post 2009) are excluded from the government’s Flood Re scheme which is the new agreement between the government and the insurance industry which ensures that most domestic properties can continue to get insurance against flooding.   If Waverley grants permission to Berkeleys,  Waverley could find itself with yet more people living in homes at risk of flooding as happened over last winter in Godalming.  If these new houses do flood then householders won’t be within Flood Re and could have insurance removed i.e. they would be left without the ability to protect themselves financially by carrying flood risk insurance.  That in turn can put householders at risk of breaching mortgage conditions and potentially facing financial ruin.

Serious stuff.

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Cranleigh flood risk

30 August 2014

Friends of the Earth have been concerned over the application by Berkeley’s Strategic to build 425 homes on an area prone to flooding in the centre of Cranleigh. (WA/2014/0912) Our concern is so strong that we commissioned an independent flood consultant Wallingford Hydro Solutions to examine the developer’s own Flood Risk Assessment which downplays the risk from flooding on the site. The report can be downloaded here: Berkeley Homes Cranleigh – FRA review

Guildford Woking and Waverley Friends of the Earth has now lodged a letter of objection to this development with Waverley Council: Letter of Objection

We are also concerned that future residents may not be able to get insurance if the sites ever experiences any flooding. Indeed the Government’s new flood insurance scheme for householders specifically excludes houses built after 2009.  Post 2009 homes are  NOT covered “to avoid incentivising unwise building in flood risk areas.”

In our letter we say we object to this outline application on 10 grounds which are detailed in the attached Wallingford Hydro report and summarised below:-

“Ground 1 – Failure to include relevant recent flood risk data in Applicant’s Flood Risk Assessment relating to flooding in the December 2013 to February 2014 period.

The Applicant’s Flood Risk Assessment report was written around two months after this flooding occurred so it is reasonable to expect to see it referred to and included in the Applicant’s Flood Risk Assessment but the FRA omits any reference to these events.

Without incorporating all this data Wallingford Hydro (quite understandably) does not believe an appropriate assessment of flood risk has been undertaken in the Applicant’s Flood Risk Assessment.

Ground 2 –  Failure to carry out appropriate consultation with the relevant authorities to enable and an informed assessment of flood risk based on the historic flood risk data.

Section 2.9 of the Applicant’s Flood Risk Assessment details the historic flooding record used to inform the assessment. This data has been obtained via consultation with various flood risk management bodies as listed in table 2.2 of the Applicant’s Flood Risk Assessment.  Wallingford Hydro’s assessment is that this consultation has not been undertaken appropriately and that the responses to the consultation indicate a lack of formally recorded data rather than a lack of flood risk at the site.  Full details of this ground of objection are given in the attached report.

Ground 3   Omission of local data contrary to requirement of National Planning Policy Framework

In the view of Wallingford Hydro, the omission of local data from the Applicant’s Flood Risk Assessment does not adequately inform Waverley Borough Council or any of their consultees and enable them to give appropriate consideration to local flood risks as required by the National Planning Policy Framework.

Ground 4 – Failure to consult Lead Local Flood Authority

The historic data for this site suggests that local flood risk are likely to significantly affect the development and therefore the lead local flood authority (Surrey County Council) should be an important consultee to inform and assist the Applicant’s Flood Risk Assessment.   There is no evidence on the public record of this consultation being completed by either the developer or Waverley Borough Council

Ground 5 – Measures proposed by the Flood Risk Assessment to avoid, manage and mitigate flood risk have not been appropriately assessed and secured for the lifetime of the development.

 The Applicant’s Flood Risk Assessment (Paragraph 4.1.8) argues that a garden and car park walls to the rear of High Street, St James’ Place and Cranleigh Methodist Church prevent flood water from accessing the overland flow route from Cranleigh High Street to the Littlemead Brook and therefore (according to the Applicant) water does not reach the site in all flood scenarios up to and including the 1 in 1000 year (extreme) event.   The Flood Risk Assessment modelling demonstrates the dependency on these wall structures to prevent water ingress on site but does not provide the details required by Paragraph 038 of PPG relating to these structures or explain how they will be maintained and secured for the lifetime of the development.

Objections relating to access and egress from the site.

Every access route away from the development will be inaccessible by foot or car in a flood event similar to the one that occurred earlier this year (2014).  Even if the properties themselves are lucky enough to escape flooding, people would be isolated for a number of hours/days whilst the surrounding flood waters recede. Futhermore the proposal is for 425 dwellings of predominately family- sized homes. This could equate to additional 1500+ people living in an area at risk of flooding, increasing the scale of any evacuation considerably.

On access and egress matters, paragraph 058 of the PPG states “Local planning authorities are advised to consult with their emergency planning officers as early as possible during the preparation of Local Plans, and also regarding any planning applications which have implications for emergency planning.

We therefore have a number of grounds of objections relating to access and egress problems which the Applicant’s Flood Risk Assessment fails to address.

Ground 6 –  failure to demonstrate voluntary and free movement of people during adesign flood’.

Ground 7 – failure to demonstrate vehicular access to allow the emergency services to reach safely the development during design flood conditions.

Ground 8 – failure to demonstrate safe access routes during design flood conditions.

Ground 9 – failure to give due consideration to the additional burden on the emergency services in a flood event.

Ground 10 –  lack of evidence of consultation with either the Emergency Planning departments, Emergency Services or Local Resilience Forum as recommended in NPPF.

These are clearly serious failures and omissions in respect of a site which is in an area of high flood risk and which includes areas in Flood Zones 2 and 3.

We wish to draw the attention of Councillors to Paragraph 101 of the NPPF which states that “the aim of the Sequential Test is to steer development to areas with the lowest probability of flooding.  Development should not be allocated or permitted if there are reasonably available sites appropriate for the proposed development in areas with a lower probability of flooding”.

In the final analysis, by means of this highly flawed and inadequate report, the Applicant appears to be trying to persuade the authorities that a development site in an area

  • prone to flooding
  • which has recently flooded
  • which has been made inaccessible during that recently flooding
  • on a site which contains areas classified by the Environment Agency as within Flood Risk Zones 2 and 3

is in fact at no risk from flooding.

Clearly on the basis of the ‘evidence’ produced by the Applicant no such conclusion can be drawn safely by Waverley Council as the local planning authority.  Nor can Councillors be satisfied that the “proposed development would be safe and that it would  not lead to increased flood risk elsewhere” as required by the National Planning Policy Guidance.

Accordingly this outline application should be refused.”

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Waverley’s Solar Failure

4 March 2014

According to the Government “Solar photovoltaic (PV) technology is a mature, proven technology and is a reliable source of renewable energy with an important role to play in the UK energy generation” and the Government is aiming for an ambitious 20 gigawatts of solar energy by 2020.

However the Government forgot to explain this to officers at Waverley Council who seem to have regressed from those enlightened and sunny days of 2011 and 2012 when they recommended putting up solar panels on the WBC offices and Godalming Leisure Centre. Solar is a low risk way to help Waverley Council tenants meet rising electricity bills for the next 35-40 years.

Waverley produced a report on fitting solar pv to 740 of their tenants houses left out of the first round in 2011, but managed to get the financial facts so wrong, that we had to put pen to pdf and respond to all their errors. Its quite a read, and – unfortunately – covered in red! Here’s an excerpt:

The point is that this project would have delivered free solar energy for tenants worth around £250 per annum to some households – at no cost to the tenants or the Council – as well as generating income for Waverley to spend on energy saving improvements on other Council houses.  However officers chose to exaggerate the risk and present the scheme as financially unattractive to the Council.   For instance, under the community/co-operative model we calculated that Waverley would start to receive a direct financial benefit in year 7/8 whereas in the officers’ version WBC don’t get any money until year 15.  Waverley also seemed to be worried about staffing costs which apparently will be needed for three years for a one off installation project (no, we don’t understand that one either).   The main problem with their model however is the previously unheard of cost of £1,000 per roof in year 20 to rip off and discard a perfectly good set of solar  panels which have a total productive life expectancy of 35-40 years (“criminal” was how this was described to us by a senior local authority procurement consultant when we discussed Waverley’s financial model with him).

The savings council tenants have been deprived of are significant.  £250 x 740 tenants x 35 years is a total of £6,475,000  at today’s electricity prices and even on Waverley’s very conservative estimate of savings of £150 per annum the saving over 35 years is nearly £4M at today’s electricity prices.

Here’s the complete GWFoE response to the officers report with our track changes.  

In reviewing the officers report (above) our renewable energy expert Mike Smyth made this important policy point:
“There is also a real but unquantifiable financial risk to Waverley if they do not proceed with the solar project at the present time. At the moment solar pv can be installed free to Waverley, but that position is not forecast to continue for more than the next few years or so. The government is anticipating that a high proportion of suitable houses will have solar panels installed as part of present energy policy. Consequently there is a risk over the next decade that all suitable social housing will be required to install solar pv as part of a revised Decent Homes standard, which then will need to be undertaken at Waverley’s expense.”

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GWW Friends of the Earth write up in the Surrey Advertiser

31 January 2014

We were a bit startled to get a call last Monday from the Surrey Advertiser asking if their reporter could drop in on our monthly business meeting in Guildford  THAT SAME EVENING (minor panic).  We weren’t entirely sure why to begin with but it turned out they wanted to run an article about us on their community pages.  Darren the photographer duly turned up to take the photos and a bit later Fergus the reporter arrived and took Hilary off somewhere for a long chat about what we do and why we do it.  Hilary did well to explain what we do but with think Fergus did very well indeed turning it into something intelligible – and here is the result………..Surrey Advertiser Feature January 2014


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Cranleigh – The Berkeley Homes Site – planning, flooding and insurance issues

3 January 2014

Berkeley's artists impression of its upmarket houses, but could they get insurance against flood risk?

Berkeley Homes’ artists impression of its upmarket houses, proposed for Cranleigh, but could they get insurance against flood risk?

There are serious questions over whether a major housing development on the land being proposed by Berkeley Homes for its 400+ housing development at Cranleigh on the Greenfield land south of the High Street would be in compliance with the policy  restricting development in flood prone areas contained  in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

The proposal to build on this site has been around for quite a while.  The last time an assessment of available land was carried out by Waverley Council in 2009 the Berkeley site was described as potentially suitable for development, subject to resolution of issues which included highways and flooding.  At that time only the southern sections of the site are were in Flood Zone 3 – the zone of highest flood risk.

Since then the Environment Agency Flood Map for Planning has been updated.  I have compared the map showing the location of Flood Zones 2 and 3 which Waverley used in 2009 against the current map for developers on the Environment Agency website.  It seems that since 2009 the areas of the site prone to flood have been extended and an additional swathe of land across the middle of the site is now within Flood Zone 3 and more of the southern section of the site is within Flood Zone 2.

Policy in relation to development in Flood Zones 2 and 3 has also changed and been refined .  Paragraph 101 of the National Planning Policy Framework states that “Development should not be allocated or permitted if there are reasonably available sites appropriate for the proposed development in areas with a lower probability of flooding. The Strategic Flood Risk Assessment will provide the basis for applying this test. A sequential approach should be used in areas known to be at risk from any form of flooding.”

Relevant guidance for developers seeking planning permission in Flood Zones 2 and 3 was published by the Environment Agency in April 2012 (FRA Guidance Note).  This also refers to the requirement to follow the NPPF and to steer development away from Zones  2 and 3.  Examination of the Environment Agency’s Flood Map for Planning shows that other potential sites in the Cranleigh area are outside Flood Zones 2 and 3 but in fact the “Sequential Test” (which is explained in yet another document EA Sequential Test Process v3.1 April 2012) makes clear that this search for alternative sites can extend over an entire local planning authority area.

So the clear aim of the NPPF, and its supporting technical guidance, is to steer new development away from Flood Zones 2 and 3 and development in Flood Zones 2 and 3 should only take place if there are no other alternatives in the area of a particular planning authority. 

As we don’t have an up to date Core Strategy in Waverley I don’t think we have an up to date Strategic Flood Risk Assessment either (if anybody disagrees with this please say and explain why).   I certainly don’t think that there has so far been any Sequential Test on the Berkeley site so I’m expecting Berkeley Homes to have to produce their own – and that will obviously require very close scrutiny.  Even if a Sequential Test is done on the site and it is decided by the Environment Agency/Waverley that the Berkeley Homes site  meets the Sequential Test (unlikely as this currently seems) then because the site is in Zones 2 and 3 there is a further ‘Exception Test’ which the site also has to meet (see the NPPF Technical Guidance for that one). The Flood Risk Standing Advice tool for Local Authorities   says that for the Exception Test to be passed:
· it must be demonstrated that the development provides wider sustainability benefits to the community that outweigh flood risk, informed by a SFRA  where one has been prepared, and
· a site-specific FRA must demonstrate that the development will be safe for its lifetime taking account of the vulnerability of its users, without increasing flood risk elsewhere, and, where possible, will reduce flood risk overall.”

(SFRA = Strategic Flood Risk Assessment).

So all in all national planning policy is clearly weighted against the Berkeley Homes proposal.

Then there is the serious issue of the problems development on this site would pose for future homeowner seeking to obtain flood risk insurance.  Building housing in flood zones has very serious implications for availability of home insurance.  This is because “to avoid incentivising unwise building in flood risk areas” homes built after 2009 won’t be covered by the new agreement between the Government and the Insurance industry which is called ‘Flood Re’ and comes into effect in 2015.   So homes built in or near Flood Zone 3 may be uninsurable in the future.  That is a serious matter for anybody with a mortgage as a condition of having a mortgage is that there should be current home insurance.

Waverley has a duty of care to its current and future residents  and must consider the long term implications of permitting a major development on Flood Zone 2 and 3 when other sites are available.  The folly of ignoring this policy is graphically illustrated by events over the Christmas holiday period when I gather that newly built houses situated in Flood Zone 3 on the corner of Charterhouse Road and Borough Road in Godalming were flooded before they had even been occupied (and having seen the state Borough Road on Christmas Eve for myself I can well believe it).  However the Environment Agency also has a crucial role to play in this because the EA is a statutory consultee and it is  the EA’s opinion on  suitability of the Berkeley’s site and whether the site complies with planning policy which will probably in the end determine whether or not any application from Berkeley Homes is failed on flood risk grounds.

Kathy Smyth
January 2014

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