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TEN REASONS TO OBJECT

 

Team WeLoveChainhurst

1 - Development is proposed in flood zone 3b.

The Council’s own report states that “whether the access and drainage work is in 3a or 3b is fundamental” … “only very limited types of development (that do not include agriculture) can be located in 3b because that is the functional flood plain”. (Para 5.112)

In planning terms, development is defined (by the Planning Acts 1990) to include “projects which require the EIA…” and that include “operational development”. This therefore includes fencing, roads and construction work of any type as well as simply buildings. More than 20% of the site, as defined by the red line site perimeter, falls within flood zone 3b. Some 1.6 km of range fencing, is proposed in flood zone 3b.

Given these facts, it is impossible to understand why this application has been recommended for approval.

The Council appointed consultants, Considine, state that significant parts of the development are indeed in flood zone 3b. The consultant’s suggestion to move the access road to avoid this is not viable as we’ve clearly demonstrated that all of the site’s frontage on to Hunton Road is in zone 3b (see diagram 1). It also doesn’t take account of the fact that significant other areas of development also lie with in flood zone 3b.

The carrying out of a Flood Risk Assessment (FRA) is required to comply with Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations. It is important because it should establish the appropriate Flood Risk Zones with the applicants site. 

The National Planning Performance Framework (NPPF) and Planning Policy Guidance (PPG) state that applicants should be informed by the use of the Council’s Strategic Flood Risk Assessment (SFRA) in identifying a site’s flood zones. This point was further enforced in the Case R (Martin) v Folkestone & Hythe DC  (EWHC/Admin/2020/1614) where Mr Justice Dove “… identifies that a sequential test, steering new development to areas with the lowest risk of flooding will be applied on the basis of the SFRA”.

The Council published its SFRA in July 2020 and it was therefore available to the applicant prior to its submission of its FRA in November 2020 but they did not acknowledge the SFRA Appendix C Flood Zone Map and have never done so over the further 4 flood documents submitted to the Council over the last 3 years.

We have over the same period continued to reference the Council’s SFRA and in particular the Appendix C Flood Zone map which identifies a significant area of the site to be in Flood Zone 3b.

This is in itself a reason for permission to be refused.

2 -  Substandard sequential test.

 

The relevant NPPF policy states that an application is required “to protect areas or assets of particular importance” which include Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and areas at risk of flooding. The applicant’s Sequential Test (ST) has failed as it hasn’t identified the correct flood zones relevant to the proposed development site (i.e.  flood zone 3b), and yet they have removed potential alternative sites from their search for alternatives that are at a lower risk of flooding i.e. 3a as being in the same zone.

 

As it is a fact that the applicant has failed to identify the correct flood zoning, the applicant’s FRA is invalid.  

 

The fact that the FRA forms a critical component of the EIA, in turn invalidates the EIA.

 

The fact that the zoning is incorrectly identified renders the ST invalid.

 

All three of these submissions are a requirement under a still active EU directive and failure for these to be correctly in place opens the council to future legal challenge.

 

We have obtained two separate legal opinions, on the flood risk issue that state that the importance of identifying the correct flood zoning status within the ST is critical to the consideration of alternative sites.

 

The planning report states (para 5.13) that the applicant has a number of sites in the South East and not just within 16km of its Head Office. It has ignored its own published advice in the Council’s SFRA which clearly states that smaller sites should be considered. The submitted ST only considers sites of 98 hectares or more. This is not appropriate when the NPPF requires development to be located away from flood zones. The number of units proposed has reduced from three to two meaning that many smaller sites would now be suitable as alternative locations.

 

Finally, given the high level of protection of SSSI and areas at risk of flooding only considering sites for sale over the last 4 years is also inadequate and inappropriate.


 

3 - Natural England (a statutory consultee) are demanding further information on Nitrogen and Phosphorus impact on the SSSI river.

 

The Council’s own report states that approval is dependent on a response that Natural England (NE) is satisfied with and this hasn’t yet been received. We have repeatedly questioned the methodology used which was described as “concerning” by the Environment Agency (EA). 

 

Friday’s existing farms could have been used to provide real world evidence of the Nitrogen and Phosphorus deposition via measurement rather than modelling. This has not been done.

 

We are keen that the application is not deferred pending further information. The planning process would proceed with significantly greater clarity if the application were refused at this point and a new application containing all of the relevant detail was potentially submitted.

4 - Highly flawed Ammonia deposition analysis, including one of the hen houses being the wrong way round.

 

The site includes various significant wildlife habitats upon which Ammonia deposition could have a critical impact. There is also an area of designated ancient woodland (dating from the year 1600 or earlier) adjacent to the site and in close proximity to one of the hen houses.

 

The analysis of potential Ammonia deposition emitted from extract fans on the hen house roofs is of a very poor quality technically, and in fact even has the house nearest the ancient woodland incorrectly oriented. The weather data used to model the movement of airborne Ammonia from this incorrectly positioned building is some ten years old further degrading the quality of the impact assessment.

 

The structure of the habitat will inevitably be irretrievably changed with trees suffering from biotic and abiotic stress. Bluebells, a feature of much of the local woodland, are also a species particularly at risk from high levels of Ammonia.

5 - Out of date and incomplete ecology surveys mean that there is no awareness of the wildlife the development is about to impact.

 

Initial surveys, that form part of the applicant’s EIA, were taken at the wrong time of year, and were missing some species altogether (for example, otters).  Restrictive Covid practices meant that no bottle collections were completed when surveying the site’s many ponds for Great Crested Newts. Despite this the applicant admits that the colonies found of this EU protected species are of county importance. 

 

Those surveys are now over three years old and the relevant professional body states that after three years, surveys should be carried out again to ensure accurate information is provided. The applicant has simply done a site walk on one day in October (the wrong time of year for many of the surveys) and confirmed “no changes”. They have not taken the opportunity to correct previous errors and omissions.


6 - Delays to items being published.

 

The NPPF requires the Council to engage and inform the public of relevant information regarding an application. As an example, the Considine Technical Note on appraising the applicant’s FRA and ST was submitted online 22 weeks from when the Council received it. This is beyond negligent especially as the officer’s report has relied heavily upon its questionable conclusions. 

 

There are numerous other examples of delayed information release.

7 - Backing of Legal Opinions.

 

We would draw the attention of Councillors to the legal opinions sought by WeLoveChainhurst in support of our view on matters of flood risk.

 

The issue of misdirection was raised by our Barrister when considering the Considine report on FRA and ST. It is very difficult to see how the planning officer’s report could possibly recommend approval for development at Reed Court Farm when the officer already states in para 5.112 “Whether the access and drainage work is 3a or 3b is fundamental” and as we have already made clear, there is significant development within flood zone 3b.

 

8 - Poor quality site layout plans specifically without OS grid reference.

 

The poor quality and missing reference points has made the process of checking submitted plans more complex than necessary. It is difficult to believe that given the fact that DHA advertise grid referencing as a specialism that they have done this unintentionally.

 

Technical advice to the Council has failed to remediate this successfully and instead has resulted in inaccurate statements and assumptions being made, which we fear may mislead the Council and incorrectly influence a decision on the application.

 

WeLoveChainhurst have completed a more thorough technical assessment of how the proposed site layout and the Council’s SFRA map intersect and have been able to correctly identify the OS grid locations, unlike the Considine Technical Note. This then clearly demonstrates how much of the site is in fact in flood zone 3b. 

 

The planning department have had over 3 years to obtain from the applicant a proper assessment of its site in relation to the Council’s own SFRA, Appendix C Flood Zone Plan. The applicant submitted 4 separate flood statements over the same 3 year period and the planning team have failed during that time to impress upon the applicant that their FRA should be shown in relation to the Council’s SFRA, flood zone map in Appendix C.

 

We would point out that, in the professional opinion of our technical team, it is extremely irregular to supply site layout plans for a development, of any size, without the OS grid as a reference. We can only believe that this has been done intentionally in order to mislead the Council.

 

9 - The publicly advertised consultation period does not end until 9th March.

 

The Council have been asked to explain why this application is being considered before the consultation period is complete. We would once again reiterate our view that deferring a decision is not the best approach. Multiple issues with this application could be at the very least improved, if it was refused, and potentially resubmitted with all the relevant detail present and correct processes followed.

 

There are hundreds of documents attached to the application with multiple versions of some critical items and very limited version control. As neighbours attempting to provide detailed and accurate  responses we have resorted to software tools used to analyse multiple PDFs looking for minor differences in the text. It is not realistic to expect the public or Councillors to be able to follow what is actually being proposed. A major last minute change to reduce the scope of the proposal should have resulted in the application being refused and then a fresh, amended application being submitted to avoid at least some of this confusion.

 

We consider that the Local Government Ombudsman would be likely to uphold a complaint made about the application being decided before the statutory consultation period had elapsed.

 

10 - Conflict of interest between Considine and DHA.

 

There is clear evidence of a past close working relationship between the applicant’s agent, DHA, and the Council appointed consultant on flooding matters, Considine. The Council has been asked on two occasions, so far, to show that due diligence was done by both Considine and the Council when Considine were engaged. A satisfactory response has not been received giving rise to a legitimate concern that Considine’s independence may be compromised.

You can find details of how to contact members of the planning committee here - 

 

https://maidstone.gov.uk/home/primary-services/council-and-democracy/primary-areas/your-councillors?sq_content_src=%2BdXJsPWh0dHBzJTNBJTJGJTJGbWVldGluZ3MubWFpZHN0b25lLmdvdi51ayUyRm1nQ29tbWl0dGVlRGV0YWlscy5hc3B4JTNGSUQlM0QxMTImYWxsPTE%3D

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