As a planning consultancy with an office in Exeter, Bell Cornwell routinely help our clients to secure planning permission on sites throughout Devon. Alongside the plethora of issues needing attention, we are therefore often involved in negotiations on drainage matters and we, therefore, have a good working knowledge of the likely impact of flooding and surface water drainage requirements on the prospects for a successful outcome. As the relevant bodies have continued to increase their focus on mitigating the effects of climate change, we have seen the regulatory burden toughen and the obstacles needing to be surmounted become more acute.
Much of the above will already be evident to those involved in property development in the area. What may be less obvious are the implications of various requirements which the flood authorities are increasingly insisting be imposed as conditions to the grant of planning permission which have the potential to generate considerable uncertainty and to delay the sale of land despite their being a permission in place.
The issues which are causing concern is that where surface water drainage is proposed to utilise some form of infiltration – something which is strongly encouraged through the Sustainable Urban Drainage Strategy (SUDS) hierarchy – the flood authority is requiring that pre-commencement planning conditions be added to grants of permission requiring that 12 months’ worth of groundwater monitoring be carried out on the land prior to the works beginning. This is despite extensive drainage surveys typically having been carried out at the application stage and irrespective of consultants’ conclusions that infiltrations work satisfactorily.
Whilst this precautionary approach reflects understandable concern over the effects of climate change and the need to ensure that development is actually deliverable, it obviously generated a further level of work which needs to be done and paid for as well as considerable uncertainty for both vendors marketing the land and for prospective developers who might wish to progress with the acquisitions but who might hesitate until the further work is completed to the satisfaction of the flood authority.
So how to mitigate the impact of the issue? Firstly, it is important for developers to be alive to the possible implications and to consider commissioning measurements of groundwater prior to the application being determined, though the additional costs to be borne is unlikely to be welcome with permission yet to be given. Secondly, experience suggests that provided the survey work can be begun during the wettest seasons i.e. autumn/winter – when groundwater levels are likely to be at their highest – it is possible to secure an agreement that a shorter monitoring period is enough to provide the comfort needed to agree to the discharge of the condition. Either way, it is very much worthwhile applications being mindful of the possible implications of this issue when working up and seeking permission for their developments. As a final note, we understand that whilst the use of groundwater monitoring conditions is causing problems in Devon, it is also being applied in Wales. The question, therefore, must be asked as to whether it is likely to be rolled out to other areas as well…?
For more information please contact Partner, Iestyn John.