Serious concern is being raised by the Thames Farm Action Group (TFAG) and Shiplake Parish Council of South Oxfordshire District Council’s (SODC) and the Environment Agency’s (EA) handling of the Discharge of Conditions on the planning application for the former Wyevale Garden Centre site on the Reading Road.
The developers Beechcroft Developments has now submitted a new proposal to pile the site for their development of the site which like the nearby Thames Farm site could contaminate the drinking water aquifer in close proximity to the site and have an impact on the under ground waterflow network . They have however submitted evidence of contamination testing.
TFAG have commissioned JBA Consulting again who reviewed the Thames Farm proposals. Thames Farm developers, Taylor Wimpey originally planned to drain the surface water through soakaways in the site but in early 2019 they discovered the chalk bedrock was prone to developing sink holes and suffered from major underground dissolution features and so this wasn’t feasible. They then proposed to fill the ground with grouting to stabilise it. They also submitted two drainage proposals piping the water away from the site. Both of which were refused by SODC along with a lawful development application to carry out the stabilisation work in January 2022. Since then no further proposals have been made on either the ground stabilisation work or a new drainage system so development of the site has stalled. TFAG commissioned JBA Consulting to consider whether the ground investigations and drainage proposals at the Wyevale site have taken proper consideration of the potential for similar voids.
Peter Boros from TFAG said, “In the Reserved Matters proposals there was no indication that piling was to be undertaken or necessary. The introduction of piling represents a material change in the risk profile of the activities and as such should trigger a comprehensive review and re-assessment against the statutory guidance.”
The EA is designated to manage activities in order to reduce the risk of contamination and disturbance to aquifers but were not consulted on the original Wyevale outline planning application as they are not a statutory consultee nor on any discharge of conditions. Peter Boros commented “The EA had refused to comment on the applications and conditions in the outline consent right up until the point we challenged them about not carrying out their duties per the Statutory Guidance. They still have not done the full job nor demonstrated they have done the necessary analysis to show that no harm will be done. He wrote to the EA again last week raising his concerns and received a reply from Emma Hill Area Director at the EA stating “Our internal consultation arrangements for developments (residential) would not result in land contamination and where the site itself is not contaminated or does not have a history of contamination, we provide no bespoke comments. In this instance, the development proposed at this site does not pose a threat to groundwater receptors.”
Emma Bowerman Principal Major Applications Officer, at SODC this week wrote to Peter saying, “The council has tried to engage with the Environment Agency in relation to the current discharge of condition applications. The council’s drainage engineer has recently emailed a contact at the Environment Agency to ask for clarity on their position on groundwater and we await their response.”
JBA in their review of the investigations report submitted to SODC state, “It appears that only the three cable percussive (CP) boreholes reached a sufficient depth to allow measurement of groundwater levels, and no groundwater monitoring installations were included as part of the investigation. The assessment of Chalk dissolution features (voids) appears to be limited, with approximately half of the exploratory holes deep enough to encounter the upper boundary of the Chalk.” Their recommendations are that a full Hydrogeological Impact Assessment, and a piling and disturbance of aquifer Risk Assessments be undertaken and a more robust groundwater monitoring and assessment scheme carried out.
TFAG due to the imminent environmental risk that the proposals present, have also initiated a complaint with the Office for Environmental Protection. TFAG and Shiplake Parish Council have also written to Henley Town Council and Harpsden Parish Council asking them to make representations to the EA and SODC.