A lack of joined up thinking = a clusterf**k!

On January 13, there was a news item about work commencing this autumn on a new housing development adjacent to Victoria Road in Stanford-le-Hope: Homes on new borough housing estate will be brought in by lorry! The land in question is adjacent to the River Hope which runs into Mucking Creek. The site in question is basically on a flood plain and a fair few residents in Stanford-le-Hope have questioned the wisdom of Thurrock Council allowing this development to go ahead.

Well, on January 14, after a night of continuous, heavy rain, Mother Nature gave her answer to the hubris of Thurrock Council and the developers by inundating Stanford-le-Hope (and many other areas across the south of Essex) with floodwater. Here’s how it was covered in the local media: Flooding in Stanford-le-Hope as firefighters join residents trying to keep water at bay. How the morning developed via our video reports. Weather forecast is for more rain.

Also, please spare a thought for the workers in the industrial estate where the Fisons plant used to be and residents in the cottages on Wharf Road to the south of the railway line going down to the London Gateway superport. Because of flooding of the road under the railway bridge, they have been cut off: Industrial estate workers and residents trapped by flooding in Stanford-le-Hope. Canoe is one way to get home! Flooding under this bridge has been an issue for decades: Residents ‘thanked for patience’.

Without giving away too much information, the two of us behind the Heckler have lived in Stanford-le-Hope since the mid 1980s and this is the worst flooding we’ve ever seen. There was fairly frequent flooding in the 1990s and 2000s but not to the level we saw on January 14. In the mid 2000s, we thought the flooding issue had been more or less resolved with the installation of extra equipment in the pumping station at St. Margaret’s. Wrong!

With more rain plus high tides forecast, we’re not out of the woods with this situation. However, even at this stage, questions need to be asked as to how the heck we’ve been plunged into this situation – literally as well as metaphorically!

Let’s start off with the new housing that’s been going up in and around Stanford-le-Hope. As well as various bits of infill and building on former brownfield sites, there has been a fair sized new estate built on part of what used to be the golf course at St. Clere’s. Like most new housing developments, the housing density is pretty high and even the upmarket homes only have pocket sized gardens. There’s a lot of hardstanding as well. As you can imagine, there’s little scope for rainwater hitting that estate to do anything other than run off down the slope towards the rest of the built up areas in Stanford-le-Hope. Factor in the doubts as to whether the local sewage and drainage systems were properly expanded to cope with the pressures this development would bring and you can see why that is one of the contributory factors to the flooding.

Then there’s the new Stanford Meadows estate being built by Persimmon on land to the west of the railway line and to the south of the slip road leading up to the junction between the A13 and The Manorway. Like the land scheduled for development adjacent to Victoria Road, Stanford Meadows is being built on what to all intents and purposes is a flood plain. When Persimmon held a ‘consultation’ about this development a few years ago, we dutifully went along to tell them there would be issues building on a floodplain. The representatives for Persimmon said they would be leaving some land vacant where there would be two ponds to deal with any flooding issues. Both of those ponds were overwhelmed today sending excess water towards residents in Poley Road, Butts Road and Kingsman Road.

Last but when you think about it, by no means least, is the impact of the A13 widening on the hydrology of the area. A local farmer has said that the A13 widening has blocked the normal escape route for any excess water running down from Horndon-on-the-Hill and instead, is funnelling it into the River Hope. Farmers know their land intimately and we reckon this is a more than credible explanation as to why the Hope reached levels we’ve never seen before.

After a long day of sweeping excess water away from the outside of our house, it may not be the best time to start drawing conclusions! However, there’s probably no harm in putting out a few initial thoughts given that we’ll be revisiting this issue again in the future. The predominant thought is the lack of joined up, holistic thinking when it comes to planning in the area. When a new housing development goes up, there always seems to be a grey area about what extra provision for sewerage and drainage is provided and who is responsible for overseeing and implementing that. Housing developers are out to make a profit. Privatised utilities are also out to make a profit. As such, they’ll do the bare minimum that’s required but it’s a struggle to get them to do any more. This is overseen by the planning department of a council whose competence we frequently question.

Then there’s the A13 widening, overseen by Thurrock Council: Thurrock Council and delayed infrastructure projects – there’s a pattern emerging and it ain’t good! As well as all of the issues listed in this post, it would also appear Thurrock Council haven’t got a clue about the vital work hydrologists do let alone actually engage the services of one to advise them on infrastructure and planning issues. The A13 widening project has already been beset with delays and cost overruns. The impact of this project on the hydrology of the area is yet another factor in the clusterf**k we’re enduring.

At this point, the best thing Thurrock Council could do would be to block the housing development on the land adjacent to Victoria Road from ever going ahead. Sure, we understand there’s a need for new housing but allowing it to be built on a floodplain is stupidity of the highest order. We’re not NIMBYs but new housing has to be planned in with holistic joined up thinking, not just plonked down with a ‘hope for the best’ and ‘deal with the consequences’ later attitude.

To finally, conclude, the clusterf**k we’re having to endure is symptomatic of a disjointed planning system that’s not fit for purpose and characteristic of a dysfunctional social, political and economic system that’s past it’s use by date. The wisdom of ordinary people assisted by relevant experts could do a lot better and achieve a lot more.

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