‘Insane’ to build homes on low-lying land near Chichester with sea levels rising

Chichester councillors have questioned Southern Water, Natural England and the Environment Agency about water capacity and quality in the district.

Concerns that the wastewater infrastructure would not be able to cope with thousands of new homes have been a key issue in the ongoing delay to the district council’s Local Plan review.

That, coupled with concerns about coastal erosion and pollution in Chichester Harbour, prompted councillors to submit 78 questions to representatives from all three bodies during a meeting of the overview and scrutiny committee last Thursday (April 8).

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

The council recently filed an official complaint against Southern Water with the Water Services Regulation Authority, Ofwat.

Prinsted. Pic by Steve Robards

One of the concerns raised was the future of a number of the area’s Wastewater Treatment Works, such as those at Apuldram and Thornham.   

With climate change maps predicting that some sites would be under water in 100 years’ time, Carol Purnell (Con, Selsey) asked what plans Southern Water had for the works.

The response – that coastal erosion and sea level rises would be discussed as part of the drainage and wastewater planning management process in the next year or so – raised even more concerns.

Committee chairman Adrian Moss (Lib Dem, Harbour Villages) stressed the need for more urgent action, especially as the Local Plan is scheduled to be published next spring.

Pointing out that houses could not be built on land that would be under water inside a century or unable to connect to the wastewater system, he added: “We’re being asked to reach a conclusion on our Local Plan as soon as possible. Some of the proposed housing would need connection potentially to some of these plants.

“If we put in the Local Plan that we want the houses in these locations and we haven’t got evidence that we can connect, then we are at risk when we put it out to inspection.”

Chris Braham, head of asset performance at Southern Water, told the meeting that plans for sites which may be underwater in 80 or 90 years had not been part of the process.

He added that the assumption was that the treatment works would be in their current locations ‘for the foreseeable future’.

The issue of building on low-lying land around the harbour was criticised forcefully by Dr Louise Bardsley, of Natural England

Calling for all such land to be safeguarded for climate change adaptation, she said: “It’s insane on an eroding coast with unsustainable flood defences to build on the low-lying land with sea levels rising. It’s complete madness.

“Why would you build houses where you’re then going to have to build a great seawall in front of them to protect them?”

Mr Moss asked why Natural England and the Environment Agency couldn’t be ‘more robust’ when it came to sharing their views on planning applications – giving the council clearer guidance, especially for applications in low-lying areas..

Three such applications were recently submitted to the council for a total of 294 homes in Chidham and Hambrook, along with more than 300 in Bosham.

Even in the short-term, the concern is that the wastewater treatment works won’t have the capacity to cope.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Moss said he had tried to make the point that ‘a very urgent conclusion’ needed to be reached to ensure there was a ‘statement of common ground that makes it clear where we can and can’t build houses’.

He added: “These organisations need to give us a much better steer on some of these current planning applications where they are so close to the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and so close to sites that have very limited sewerage capacity.

“This isn’t a six-month activity, this is weeks. We need clarity and we need clarity and consistency now. It’s very urgent.”