I attended an excellent meeting today, brokered by MP Neil Parish with Feniton Parish Council, the Environment Agency (EA), South West Water (SWW), an EDDC engineer, Cllr Claire Wright and a few of the many residents concerned about flooding and development in the village.
Martyn Smith, chairman of Feniton Parish Council, Cllr Claire Wright and I have been requesting sight of a report following the video survey of the foul water network, paid for by Wainhomes and which was a condition placed on Wainhomes by the Planning Inspector. Following the survey, the condition stipulated that no houses were to link up to the sewage network until SWW had undertaken the necessary upgrade. However, once the survey was completed, SWW stated (to the utter amazement of residents) that no such improvements were required. Despite living in 21st century England, at times of both heavy rain and when it is dry, sewage discharges into the road and into a private ditch close to Sidmouth Junction pumping station. I was sent a summary of the video report and am now told that the summary and the report are flawed.
Neil Parish has a very detailed understanding of the very many problems faced by Feniton and did not hold back in challenging the EA and SWW as to why they did not object to the current rash of developments in the village. However, they are constrained by what they can object to by planning law (Feniton is in Flood Zone 1, which means that it is on land assessed as having a less than 1 in 1000 annual probability of river or sea flooding, and is therefore the kind of land which can be developed). When you are the victim of flooding, it really is irrelevant whether sea water, river water or field run-off is pouring through your house, but such is the madness of the NPPF (current planning laws).
SWW claim that the reasons for sewage discharge are many and that Sidmouth Junction pumping station is due for an upgrade in the next financial year. Whether this will solve all the problems, we have yet to see. Another issue is the build-up of ‘Fatbergs’, caused by kitchen waste including fats being put down the drain. This is a problem of modern living highlighted recently in a Daily Mail article about a particularly large Fatberg found in the London sewers (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2417381/The-Fatberg–bigger-Londons-dirty-secret-grown-THREE-tonnes-just-month.html).
After the meeting, Jayne Blackmore and I were chatting to two of the SWW managers about the flood problems and the flood warden scheme we’ve set up with the Parish Council. The problem we have is that alerts are sent out which cover an area from Gloucestershire to Cornwall, but what we really need is a rain intensity alarm, which would warn us when Feniton itself is under threat. They have kindly offered to provide one for the three-year period until the flood alleviation scheme is ready. This will improve the lot of the residents of Feniton considerably.
It is always useful to have a round-table discussion with all parties concerned when there are such appalling issues as are being faced by Feniton. This was a particularly helpful meeting and all parties have left the table fully aware of the truly dreadful state of affairs in the village. Neil Parish has called for the exercise to be repeated in summer 2014 to see where we are and whether things have improved, but in the meantime has expressed a wish that SWW and EA contact the Planning Inspectorate to express concerns for the village, regardless of the constraints of the NPPF.
But in the meantime, the village is paying for the poor planning decisions of the 1960s and 1970s and, with the Super Inquiry a matter of only a few weeks away, my greatest concern is that Feniton’s problems are only just beginning.