Thousands of future homes planned for flood-risk zones

About 11,000 of the homes in Waltham Forest Council’s draft Local Plan overlap with ‘medium or high-risk flood zones’

By Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter

Flooding in Chingford in December

Half of the sites earmarked for large developments in Waltham Forest Council’s draft Local Plan overlap with areas that have a high or medium risk of flooding.

The Local Plan is a document laying out the overall plan for new homes around the borough, whether built by the council or external developers, which requires a final sign-off from the government’s Planning Inspectorate before it is finalised.

Government planning inspectors previously raised “significant concerns” about whether the council’s target of seeing 27,000 new homes built by 2035 was “justified and deliverable” and held a public inquiry into the draft plan last week.

At the hearings, the council argued that it needs to go “as far as possible” to meet the borough’s housing needs by building on flood zones but that it would ensure this is done in a way that is “managed and mitigated”.

To back this argument up, it has carried out a study, known as a “sequential test”, to prove to the government’s Planning Inspectorate that building in riskier flood zones is “justified”. This is due to national planning laws which say the council should first “steer” new developments to areas with the lowest risk of flooding.

The study concluded the council would need to build on the land to meet its “significant housing need and regeneration objectives”, namely a target of 27,000 new homes over the next fifteen years. It has rejected a lower housing target of 20,000 homes,  arguing this would have a “potential significant negative effect” on meeting the borough’s “needs”.

About 11,000 homes in the draft plan would “to some degree overlap” with medium or high-risk zones, assistant director of place and design Sarah Parsons admitted at a public examination of the local plan yesterday. These sites include thousands of homes the council hopes will be built along the Lea River valley at Bywaters Leyton, Leyton Mills Retail Park, New Spitalfields Market and Blackhorse Lane.

The draft plan has indicated a further ten sites, also bordering the Lea Valley, without estimates of how many houses could be built there.

Parsons added that the council’s plan takes a “robust and strategic-level approach” to building in higher-risk flood zones. This is because the plan promises to build on the “lowest risk” parts of each site and use funds raised from the developments to install mitigation measures, such as floodwater storage and sustainable urban drainage systems.

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However, Waltham Forest Civic Society member Robert Gay alleged the council’s study of flood zones was “not detailed or compliant” and suggested the council was “downplaying” the risk.

Lea Bridge resident Claire Weiss has written to the inspectors expressing concerns that the Dagenham Brook near her home is at “full capacity” two or three times a year and cited four occasions in the last decade when the nearby River Lee flood relief channel “topped” its walls.

She added: “When the [flood relief channel] is at full capacity it runs fast and deep, itself a hazardous environment that people need to be shielded from.”

In response, the council’s corporate director of regeneration, planning and delivery Ian Rae agreed flooding is a “huge issue” for the borough but argued that developments which are designed to control the flow of water are “part of the solution”.

He added: “The Lea Bridge station [development] sites are good examples as they are approved sites providing 86 cubic metres of flood water storage, whereas at the moment flood water is released straight away. Everything described about the current situation we don’t disagree with…. we need developments to solve the flooding risks.”

Following the publication of this article, the council’s cabinet member for housing and regeneration issued a further statement.

Cllr Ahsan Khan said: “Waltham Forest’s housing target is based on the needs of residents. We’ve worked hard on the local plan to address all those needs.

“Development is the solution to the flood risks that these areas currently face. These are sites with no existing flood mitigation with high levels of surface water runoff and developments give us the opportunity to change this with Sustainable Urban Drainage and more flood storage, reducing surface water runoff by 95 per cent.”

He added that the council’s plan has the “full support” of the Environment Agency.

The Environment Agency’s submission to the inspectors on the council’s flood risk assessment said: “In summary, we are satisfied that the plan is positively prepared, justified, effective and consistent with national policy on flood risk grounds.”

The Local Plan examination ended on 10th March, with a decision to be reached by the inspectors at a future date.

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