A CONTROVERSIAL affordable homes development which has lain empty for four years can finally be occupied – despite claims it was still flooding a nearby farm.
In backing Vivid Homes’ proposal to change the drainage system at the 45-unit site in Fawley Road, Hythe, members of New Forest District Council’s planning committee defied calls by its former deputy chairman, Peter Armstrong, to throw out the proposal.
“To vote for anything other than the refusal of this would be a travesty and a gross injustice,” said Mr Armstrong, who is no longer a councillor.
Claims that the housing had not caused the flooding “defied the laws of gravity”, he went on, adding: “Only a blind person could not see Vivid have caused demonstrable harm with water erupting, cracks in buildings below their development causing harm and nuisance.”
Approval for the site was originally given by the district council in 2015, but questions were later raised over the effect the development was having on Forest Lodge Farm, which is owned by John Penny.
It lies at the bottom of a steep slope on the eastern side of the development, and he has reported flooding and damage to buildings that did not occur before the new homes were built.
To counteract the flooding, Vivid Homes revised the site’s drainage system, presenting the new plan to the council last October. At the time members opted to defer making a decision, partly in the hope Vivid Homes and Mr Penny could resolve the issue.
In January Vivid rejected NFDC’s request for more time to consider the matter and threatened to launch an appeal over how long it had taken to make a decision.
As a result NFDC brought it back to the planning committee on Wednesday, when members learnt that despite two meetings between Mr Penny and representatives of Vivid Homes, no deal had been done.
It was explained the original plan was for a swale – a drainage pond – to the northern part of the site, but the revised proposal was for 21 soakaways comprising covered holes filled with rubble to help water percolate into the earth.
Experts appointed by Vivid said there had been no surface water visible on areas of the site during recent visits and the plan was endorsed by an NFDC-appointed independent expert, who said it complied with national policy, best practice and technical requirements.
However, whether it actually made a difference on the ground stopping the flooding of the farm was a concern of committee members.
Chairman of NFDC, Cllr Allan Glass, was critical that it appeared the experts predominantly analysed the effect of the drainage system on the site, and not the farm.
Cllr Malcolm Wade stressed how the committee had to balance the need for affordable housing against the rights of the residents near the site who were experiencing problems, and Cllr Sue Bennison received assurances from chief planning officer Claire Upton-Brown the situation would be monitored.
The members were urged by Mr Penny and Blackfield resident Frank Tillyer to refuse the proposal. Mr Penny claimed he told the applicant he would permit pipework to run through his land to help sort out the problems but had heard nothing from Vivid for more than a month.
The latter, meanwhile, said the expert’s advice was “not worth the paper it was written on” and called the behaviour of Vivid and the experts a “disgrace”.
But ultimately, members voted 6-4 in favour of approval.
“The main concern is the 45 beautiful dwellings sitting there doing absolutely nothing,” Cllr Christine Hopkins said. She went on to lament how flooding dominated the debate and doubted the water was “too much trouble”.
Afterwards, Mr Penny told the A&T he was “considering his options”.
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