Environment Agency defends ‘incomprehensible’ support of Sidford business park plans

The Ford in Sidmouth during previous floods

The Ford in Sidmouth during previous floods - Credit: Archant

Sid Vale Association calls for rethink in light of new flood risk figures

The Environment Agency (EA) has defended its ‘incomprehensible’ support of plans for a 9.3-acre business park in Sidford – because using its new flood risk figures could cost the developer money.

A climate change report by the government body states that the region’s peak river flow is expected to increase by 85 per cent – four times more than anticipated – while surface water is likely to increase 40 per cent by around 2070, which is double the previous forecast.

In light of the increased risk to the flood-prone valley, representatives are calling for the agency to rethink its support of an outline planning application for the business park between Sidford and Sidbury, submitted by Fords of Sidmouth.

But the EA states it has not taken the new figures published earlier this year into account because the site is already allocated in the adopted East Devon Local Plan – a development blueprint to cover the next 15 years.

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The EA’s policy states: “The advice will come into immediate effect. However, where local plans or development proposals and associated flood risk assessments are well advanced, the application of the updated allowances could significantly slow down completion or add to costs.”

An EA spokesman said: “We considered the plan and application to be well advanced and therefore reasonable to base advice on the existing allowances.”

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The Sid Vale Association (SVA) has threatened legal action if the agency does not review its ‘short-sighted and potentially dangerous’ position on the matter.

SVA conservation and planning committee chair Richard Thurlow said: “Our letter [to the EA] reflects the comments of many Sidmouth and Sidford residents. We find it absolutely incomprehensible that the Environment Agency is not using its own regulations which came into operation in February.

“They have accepted Fords’ application on the basis they did not want to delay the scheme or cost the company additional money. We say this is entirely wrong. It is a significant flood risk area.

“Depending on the response, we will take legal advice as to the practicalities of challenging the EA. The SVA is prepared to contribute to this, but we may ask for community funding. We feel so strongly about it we feel a case has got to be made.”

Devon County Council’s (DCC) Sidmouth Surface Water Management Plan of December 2014 predicted a potential cost of £3million flood damage to the wider Sid Valley over a 50-year period and £0.9million for the town centre.

These figures have not been updated in line with the revised EA predictions and district councillor Marianne Rixson fears the cost could now be far greater than previously thought.

She is calling for new flood maps before any decision on the business park is reached and says DCC needs to urgently re-evaluate the potential economic damage in light of new predictions.

Cllr Rixson said the situation is ‘extremely worrying’ and the impact would be felt across the whole Sid Valley, not just in Sidford.

Councillor Stuart Hughes, DCC’s Cabinet highways and flood prevention manager, confirmed the authority has responded to the plans with an objection due to calculations provided.

He said it has also expressed concerns over existing flooding issues upstream and onto the proposed development, but clarified the EA is the statutory consultee for flood risk at this location.

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