Transcripts of telephone
conversations between the SeeRed author and Jo Clarke (Environment Agency, Planning
Liaison officer), Rod Harrington (East Devon District Council (EDDC), Senior planning
officer) and Mrs Pamela Meadows (Environment Agency, Enforcement Officer) on the subject
of hundreds of tons of rubble and soil having been dumped onto land in the flood plain of
the river Sid.
The land in question used to be a low lying
garden. It formed part of a 'relief channel' for flood water when this overtopped the
banks north of the Packhorse Bridge, Sidford. Now that the channel has been considerably
narrowed, water may more readily overtop the banks further north - increasing the risk of
flooding of domestic properties in Hamilton Close. The point referred to about storage
capacity is now recognised to be largely academic.
The original tape recordings may be placed
on the internet in due course.
Telephone conversation with Jo Clarke, Environment
Agency, Exeter. Tuesday, 28 February 2006.
I sent you an email a couple of days ago.
You did, that's right.
Could you tell me who's dealing with
this? Is it being looked into?
Yes, we are looking into it, as I said in my response to you, Mr Wozniak, what I am doing
is waiting now for comments to come back from somebody in our Environmental Management
Dept. because there are various aspects from our point of view as to whether we have any
... whether we would have given any permission as you put... to such works, and so I am
waiting for comments in relation to any need there may have been for, in relation to,
waste management licensing or exemptions, if you are saying they are bringing builders
rubble in, there may be -
That's what they - I made it quite
clear - this land used to be very low, very low lying -
It was part of the old garden that we
discussed a couple of years ago
You did, that's right.
Now what has happened during the
buildings works - they have put some new buildings up - a whole mass of bricks and
builders' rubble and stuff was tipped on this land - a huge pile - and I assumed they were
just going to take it away at some stage - I was away from home and the next time I looked
at exactly what was going on, here we have this completed car park all raised up at a
substantially higher level - we are talking about some hundreds of tons I would think -
of material, now there are two aspects,
one is the dumping of waste near a river which actually may not matter because it is
inert, but, there are rules about this sort of thing I guess,
Well, there are - that is why I am looking to one of our Environment Management Officers
the other thing is - are allowed in any
case, and would you need consent to do this on a flood plain at a pretty critical point
Well, if they have done the works within the 7 metres of the watercourse then that may be
an enforcement issue for us. Yes, I have spoken to Tom Welling because I know you sent the
email to him as well as to me, and Tom tells me he has not given consent to any works such
as you are suggesting within the area that would need to be consented... so he is saying
to me - he has said to me - if the works are being undergone (or have undergone!) - in
very close proximity to the watercourse, it is likely that our consents - under the...land
drainage consents - will be required from that aspect - but if they are also importing
I would imagine that they did get....
some extra soil etc in, because I can't imagine they got that volume just from knocking
down the old buildings
No, as you can imagine, with lots of different developments, people do import material,
and they are perfectly within their rights to do that, he may not necessarily need an
exemption or a waste management licence ...but I am checking that out - because obviously
we need to make sure that there isn't a ....
Well. somebody from your point of view,
needs to just come and just look at this
That's our next stage - I need to first of all to run it past my technical colleagues
first of all, Mr Wozniak to see what their thoughts are on the matter and then what we
will do - if you are telling me that the works have been undertaken in close proximity to
Well, as you can see from the
photographs, it is basically banked right up to the flood defences
those extra revetments - or whatever
you call them - that were put in - were a little higher than in the first place, but it
was basically just repairing a wall that had gone into a bit of disuse, but originally the
ground level of all of that garden was substantially below that - and when the river did
used to flood that was effectively quite a large storage capacity which could be used by
the river and - to some extent - to ameliorate the rush of water onto the main road.
Yes. Like I said, we are looking into it, and what I will do, as soon as I had comments
back from my technical colleagues, then we can decide if we do need to come out on site
and have a look, and ... um, to take action if necessary if there is enforcement action
Well, you see this man has run against
the rules just about everything he has done on that site - trees for example - and I am
not going to let it rest - and if you are going to say - oh well, just because it has been
done, we are just going to let it lie,
Well, I'm not saying we will necessarily,
The point is that at the moment it is
just about ready for the final tarmacadam - so if he is going to have to dig some of it up
then he might as well be told now rather than when he puts the tarmac on.
Well, absolutely, absolutely, all I can say is that I'm waiting for my technical
There is also a very large drain - what
looks like a road drain has been put in right at the far corner by the river - now I don't
know where that goes, - now if he has put it into one of the drain (sewers) that used to
run under that property, or if he has put it into a soakaway, or what he has done with it,
I don't know,
OK,,,, if .,, if he is,, any development that he is doing will need to be in accordance
with his planning permission, so if there is an issue regarding what he is doing with his
drainage then that really should be taken up with the local planning authority, to ensure
that whatever he is doing is in accordance with what he's got permission to do, and again,
with any raising of land, that is another aspect to this.
I'll send this to EDDC and ask for
You may wish to, because, obviously, we give comments and give advice to the local
planning authority as you know,
There are some issues that a friend of
mine raised at Sidbury with Pamela Meadows, I'm not sure if you know her,
I do, yes,
She was very helpful apparently,
whereas the EDDC people virtually washed their hands of it - they are only fairly minor
issues compared to this - here we talking about a substantial encroachment into what I
regard as the flood plain, and a quite important part of the flood plain,
Yes, yes, ... We can check that out, that is not a problem, I don't want to,, I'm
waiting to hear back from one person
Well, so long as things are actually
Well, absolutely, I'll hear back from Andrew and I'll just waiting to hear back from his
colleague who is the expert if you like on the waste side, as soon as I get some
developments we'll be able to let you know,,, What I would say in the meantime is do have
a word with EDDC as to what they have planning permission to do, it may show on their
approved plans, some raising of land, and again, it will have a bearing on whether they
want to take enforcement action
If it was raising land within the 7
metres of the bank you should have been informed about it?
Absolutely, yes, yes, we should have been, that's right, and that's what we will be able
to check out, as soon as I've got something back on the waste side, we'll be able to pass
that onto our enforcement colleagues,
OK, thank you.
Phone call with Mr Steer-Kemp, EDDC Planning
I sent you a couple of emails recently,
the first one at least a week ago regarding Hamilton Garage...
I've seen an email but there's nothing on it at all, it's completely blank, no
attachments, completely blank, haven't got a clue what it's all about!!
Well, I'll send them through again...
I've had a couple actually, I think you've sent a couple, and I know I did speak to Rod
Harrington - or he came in to to see me - and he knows about and is dealing with an issue
out at Hamilton Garage with the Environment Agency, and if you're dealing with I shan't
worry too much -- because the email I had literally didn't say anything - it was just a
You had exactly the same one that Rod
For some reason mine was completely blank! I know that I'd spoken to him -- or he came in
to speak to me, and asked if I had had an email. I said I'd had a blank one and he said it
was probably the same one, but certainly when I had spoken to Rod Harrington - because he
has dealt with it over there - I know he had been in contact with the Environment Agency -
but I don't know what the result of that was - I'll just see if he's there a minute,
.......he dealt with the planning application -
Yes, I was questioning the plans - I
know the plans were to put a car park there I think they got that through, but it is the
question of raising the level of the land -
That's right, yes, Let me speak to him again,,,,he can either email or telephone can't
he? I'll ask him to do that,, in the first instance,, so you're up to date with
exactly what he is doing,,
Well, if this did get consent then it
is something the Environment Agency, as I understand it, aren't happy about,,,
,,, because it has removed a huge
amount of storage from the flood plain just at a crucial point on the river, it's within 7
metres of the river - all the drainage seems to go straight into the river, there are
quite a few things wrong with it, and if indeed it did receive planning consent, then
there are some questions to be asked as to why.
OK, well let me do that in the first instance, and I'll ask him to contact you.
Phone conversation with Rod Harrington, senior
planning officer, EDDC, a few days later.....
Leaving aside the fact that development on the flood plain was allowed anyway, what is the
situation with raising this land?
Well, um, have you been through the file?
I haven't been through the file up in
your office, no.
Well ... OK ... that gives quite a clear picture of what has happened, I mean to be
completely open with you, I had this application, it was allocated to me, and it involved
extensions, basically to provide improved facilities - fairly modest extensions - now when
I went to the site and had a look at the plans, it was quite evident that they wanted to
extend their car park to the rear - now that car park I believe originally formed some of
the garden -
It was the garden of Village End - it
was all at a very low level..
I can remember a couple of years ago, when I dealt with the application for residential
development, they had sort of incorporated that land within their commercial use anyway -
it was hard-cored and that sort of thing - but anyway, I got in touch with their agent and
I said "Look, this is a little bit misleading, you need to officially include the car
park within the proposal for planning permission" so, um, we re-advertised the thing
- and including the car parking as well and I re-consulted the Environment Agency,
basically because I thought they would be very interested in it.
So I re-consulted them and I've got the letters on the file, and because it was within the
7 metres of the watercourse where they said no new development should, may, take place I
wanted to know what their comments were - whether they would knock it on the head
completely or put conditions on or something - but anyway they wrote back to me - with the
conditions they wanted on which were only about landscaping and a buffer zone 5 metres
from the river which roughly they've done, so, I mean, we imposed the conditions that the
Environment Agency required - now it was quite obvious to me that the extension to the car
park was obviously going to be at the same level as the existing car park, you know,
levels weren't an issue as a principle of extending that existing car park over that land.
There is no condition that has been put on at the request of the Environment Agency with
regard to height - or levels - so I mean, to be straight with you Stephen, we have granted
planning permission, full stop!
Well, I find that amazing, given the
sensitivity of that bit of the flood plain, that it was an important storage area for
flood water, and now that has suddenly been removed - one of the reasons for not building
houses in the flood plain is that it takes up flood volume and hence increases levels
elsewhere, that is a general point, I mean you have explained roughly how this came about
but I am incredulous that in fact what you are actually saying is that it is all basically
above board as far as you are concerned?
Well, absolutely, they have planning permission.
And there was no restriction put on the
height? Can they actually build up land like that in height without specific consent?
Well, they have got consent, I mean, um, when I looked at it on site, I obviously, and
presumably the Environment Agency did as well, regarded it as an extension to the existing
car park at that same height.... - and there was no doubt in my
mind that that is what they wanted to do.
So I mean,... they have got permission, yes, there is no point in, ... and why I
latched onto this originally, is because, um, ... within 7 metres of the watercourse,
there was the option the Environment Agency had of knocking it on the head completely -
regardless of the details of levels, a few inches higher and this sort of thing, is it
appropriate to put a car park there?? .......
.........change over tape ..........
We consulted the Environment Agency and that was it.
I'm quite incredulous that things like
that can be allowed to happen with all the history on that site anyway - we started off
with a garden which was at a very low level which was known to be flooded, then we have
this chap buying it and dividing it off - and there are photographs of the fence that went
across the middle - all at the same level - it was a very low piece of land - and then he
brings in goodness knows how many hundreds of tons of hardcore or whatever, puts it on,
and then the next time I look at it we have a car park that is about a metre higher than
the original land and,, it seems from what you say that nobody raised an objection to it!
I find it quite amazing given the fact that that was a principal escape route for water if
you like, once it overtopped the banks - now it has only got a small amount of space to
get through there so hence the flood risk to other properties will be increased.
Um ...... Have you had a word with the Environment Agency?
Oh yes, I've sent the things, and they
seem to be a bit coy about responding at the moment, but I think it's quite appalling - I
think somebody has slipped up in allowing that in the first place -
It's a funny little site - that Hamilton Garage, I mean we had the application for housing
development - which was appalling - that was chucked straight out - but what concerns me
about England's Close is that business generally, I've not had huge objections from
neighbours but the car parking down there is I would have thought, very troublesome for
people living in that community down England's Close - enormous number of cars parked in
the road - presumably when this comes into operation it will help that situation a little
bit, but, um..?
Yes, but we are talking here about
development in the flood plain and taking out a substantial piece of land at a very
critical part of the flood plain, and seemingly everybody has just waved it through?
Well, we haven't waved it though,, you know, I sat here as the development control officer
and consulted the Environment Agency, I've been relatively careful about it, you know, I
picked it up in the first place, inadvertently, because they hadn't actually applied for
that (car park) and then re-consulted the Environment Agency, if they might have a view on
it, and um...
Yes,, I'll look at the file at some
stage, what you are saying is that basically, as far as you are concerned, it's fine?
Telephone conversation with Pamela Meadows of the
Exeter Environment Agency, on Thursday 23 March 2006. (01392) 316179
Mrs Meadows, yes.
My name's Stephen Wozniak, I live in
Oh, yes, yes, Mr Wozniak, yes...um..
I sent you some emails - or at least
they were referred to you by Jo Clarke.
Yes they were, yes, she's passed them all on to me, yes.
What is happening about this?
I'm investigating it at the moment, I've asked questions of EDDC, and I've asked questions
in a written format to the guy who did the works, so I'm awaiting replies at the moment,
so my investigation is ongoing.
Now, I have spoken to Rod Harrington
who I have spoken to several times before about this whole site which as you may know has
had quite a few, shall we say dubious things done on it on the past few years..
um, now he (Rod Harrington) told me
that basically he held his hands up and said I referred this to the Environment Agency for
comment - they came back and said "OK so long as you just plant a few shrubs and
things around the edge" and that was basically it!! So they got consent for doing
But, I frankly don't think that anyone
officially really appreciated that they were intending to...
Raise the levels!
and to landfill all of this.
That is exactly what I'm investigating because at no point - I have everything on file - I
have all our planning stuff on file - I have records of that letter - that no mention of
the raising of the levels and that is the issue I have put back to them to find out where
they have exactly permitted that.
Rod Harrington said to me that when he
looked at the site it was all covered with a load of bricks and hardcore which they had
dumped there from knocking down some of the old buildings, he said to me - and I have a
record of the phone conversation - he said to me that he had assumed at the time looking
at it that that's what they would do, to raise the level up to the existing car park and
he didn't rally take it any further and he then referred it to you (the EA) for comment
and it seems to be that either he didn't raise the matter of
didn't mention raising of the levels,
or he thought it insignificant or it
was so obvious they were going to do it that if you picked it up and if you objected then
it was your job to do so, rather than his?
Yes ... I've also been in talks with our development control section who issued comments
to the planning and again levels about the building were spoken about, but again, at no
point were levels and infilling of the car park area, I've had ...
I mean, we're taking about hundreds of
We are, yes, I can see that, yes we are. I went and took photos under what we call a
Code B under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and I was concerned enough to issue a
Code B to take my photos, I mean, I am seriously investigating this and ..
Well, I am glad somebody is taking a
bit of notice because this guy frankly has run pretty much roughshod over quite a few bits
of planning in the past few years - arguably he shouldn't have got planning consent for
any of the building works in the flood plain anyway, but it was a small extension to
business premises -
Yes, I think that is what our development control team understood, ... when I came back
and showed them - consent was issued for some sort of bankside works to the existing
Oh yes, that was Tom Walling, your
colleague, who said that a long time ago to me that he - I've got an email from him - that
he issued some OK for doing some work on the revetment to just make the stones better or
put some bigger stones there but there was no mention of raising the levels.
No, no, again ...
Now this area of land is actually quite
important as a transient storage capacity if you like, if the river suddenly (and it does
suddenly sometimes) rush down, and this whole area which used to be the garden of that
house on the end, which Mr Hooper bought - he now owns the whole row of them now, ... that
garden used to flood quite extensively very suddenly and to some extent it did produce
some amelioration of the flood water rushing onto the A3052 or indeed, overtopping the
banks further up because it had this escape route -
Yes it would just go into there, yes I can see that,
Now in 1968(?), which is a long time
before I came here, the flood water went into that area of land so rapidly it completely
knocked down the brick wall onto the A3052
and if you remove - my point is that if
you remove that extensive what shall we call it - sort of safety valve -
Yes, capacity they call it, storage capacity
just upstream of the bridge, where it
is actually most crucial, then the properties in say Hamilton Close are going to be more
at risk because all of the flood water that used to come through there - or some of it -
there is still a small bit of garden left - those houses will inevitably be more at risk.
I mean, Yes, my colleagues in development control, Steve Moore, said we have to find out
what is going on with the levels here - there is no mention of levels - he said it was
capacity - it has gone - his concerns are exactly the same as yours - so all I can do at
the moment - all I can say - we are just awaiting on the replies - I sent those last
Well, I shall get quite annoyed about
this because it seems to me that somebody, either in East Devon (and I know they are very
overworked) or indeed in at the Environment Agency simply didn't do their job properly!
Which is what we are looking into - I've started to investigate it, I have ..
Yes I know,
logged on there, so I am duty bound to -- not just going to disappear into my in-tray or
(discussion about a separate issue in
....my concern here is frankly - I've
been on the town council in Sidmouth and when I was on the council I raised matters when
somebody out in Sidbury wanted to build a huge tennis court virtually on the flood plain
and I said "Well, we have an academic issue here of greater run-off" - because
this is one of the reasons that is given - I know this is small scale - but it is one of
the reasons given in planning for not permitting huge housing estates in the flood plain -
obviously they are at risk of flooding but it is the run-off - the very fast run-off
Yes, it is,
we have a policy of what we call flood sustainable urban drainage which is basically not
tarmacading over every square inch and putting in ...
if you've looked at the photographs on
my website and you've probably seen the size of......
Yes I have looked at your website..
you'll see that 6" drain pipe
coming straight out from a drain in the corner of the car park,
I've raised that as well, I've raised that with our Environment Management team - I was on
the point of chasing that up today - unfortunately at the moment, we normally have two
Well, I'm just phoning you now because
I'm just going way for a few days, and I'm wondering, ... if things are being left..
No, they are not being left, they are certainly not being left.
The impression I got from East Devon,
Rod Harrington, was that "Oh well, given that he has been given the consent to do it
there is nothing we can do anyway".
Umm, I've had two conflicting calls with Rod Harrington...
I know he's a very busy man...but as
with all of planning in East Devon, there is so much (building) work going on around here,
they hardly get time to look at the paperwork quite honestly, but it is not good enough if
something like this is passed onto you, because the Environment Agency has been bleating
in the past nationally about "planning
departments don't take notice of our guidance" and here we have a case passed onto you for comment and you don't
seem to comment in the appropriate way!
Well,,that may be an issue, but that is part of my investigation as well - it may be an
issue. I'm investigating it.. and the drain concerns me and like you say... Environment
Management did have a look before I went to have a look ..
Well, the other thing is that I believe
I am correct in saying that there is an active used sewer that goes under that land ..
Yes, that has been flagged up for me as well...
Because I don't know the extent to
which you are permitted to dump hundreds of tons of rubble on top of an existing sewer.
Yes that has been flagged up to me as well.
I think it is the same sewer that comes
under my garden and it is the one that serves the Victoria Laundry - it's the very
old sewer in Sidford, the newer houses down Packhorse Close are connected to the new sewer
but my house and the one next door are (for historical reasons) are on the old one, and I
think that sewer goes straight under the road and I think it is one of the ones that goes
under the garden of Village End - I couldn't swear to it -
So it could possibly go under this area...
One of the things that was raised when
he (Mr Hooper) was intending or hoping to build some houses on that land, which was a
truly appalling planning application...
Yes, I looked at that application was well!
One of the objections to that was a
sewer pipe one of which was defunct and one of which was active, now that needs looking
into because it may well be - and I know from my own property that you can't build within
three metres or put soil on top or whatever, on top of an existing sewer.
Yes right, yes yes, I know
Because if you need access to it it
would make it extremely difficult.
Well what I did on the day I went and photographed is that I stopped any - I said
"no" - I had heard they were going to tarmac it - I said "don't do that and
until I've fully investigated this you're not doing anything else" basically, so that
is why nothing else has happened. So I am investigating but I haven't had any reply and if
I don't get a reply in a couple more days I shall write a letter saying where is the reply
to my other letter.
Well, I shall - I am not going to let
it drop because as far as I am concerned, Sidmouth Town Council have not done their job
because they should have picked up this type of thing, East Devon I don't think have done
their job and there is a question as to whether your planning people have done their job
when they actually looked at these plans.
Yes, well, like I said, I am investigating all of that and I have all of the paperwork in
front of me, and I am aware of that ...
Frankly, if he gets away with all this,
the I mean I shall raise Heaven and Earth not that it will do me much good - but at
least it will be on a permanent record that people should do their jobs properly!
Yes, but as I said I am doing the best I can but at the moment, like you said about East
Devon - they are run off their feet - I am one of two enforcement officers for risk
management and at the moment I am on my own. I'm a little bit up to my ears as well, no,
the ball has started rolling, it's not going to - there may be some slight delay in the
process, the ball is rolling and now I have sent letters out it is not just going to
vanish into a black hole,
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