Around the conservative heart of Chichester, the government’s promise to build 300,000 homes a year has prompted worshipers to take to the streets in protest.
At first glance, this may sound like nimbyism, but dig deeper and the uprising exposes a problem that affects England’s national infrastructure, the climate crisis and an ongoing environmental scandal.
Residents of towns, villages and hamlets stretching west and south of Chichester live in an area served by Southern Water, which was fined a record £90million last year for discharging illegally billions of liters of raw sewage into protected coastal waters off the south coast. of Hampshire and Kent.
Much of the sewer infrastructure in the area is at or near capacity, as the case against the water company revealed.
Wastewater treatment plants in Chichester, Thornham, Lavant and Bosham have been identified by Southern Water as ‘environmentally constrained’ – they cannot take on more volumes without harming the environment. But there is pressure on areas such as Chichester to take their share of the government’s housing target.
According to the district council, the allocation for the territory is 638 housing units per year from 2021 to 2039, i.e. 10,778 over the entire period. In the next five years alone, this means that Chichester and the surrounding area will welcome more than 3,000 new homes under government allocation.
Nearly 70% of the territory is however a national park, so housing would be concentrated in 20 to 30% to the west and south of the city.
The government has so far refused the council’s requests to be treated as an exceptional case and have its housing allowance reduced. Susan Taylor, deputy leader of council and cabinet member for planning, said she was working on a review of her local plan to show ministers what level of housing might be feasible.
“We have publicly stated that we don’t believe this goal is achievable as it currently stands, due to infrastructure constraints,” Taylor said.
One problem is the transport links, with heavy congestion on the A27. Sewer infrastructure is another concern. “Wastewater treatment plants are reaching their permit and margin limits,” Taylor said.
To prevent the system from backing up into people’s homes, sewage and untreated sewage continues to be discharged, often for days, from sewage treatment plants into Chichester Harbour, one of the world’s worst marine environments. most protected in England.
Protesters who took to the streets last month carrying banners saying “Save our South Coast” fear that any further pressure on sewage treatment works could cause an environmental disaster.
Mike Owens, who co-founded the Clean Harbors Partnership, said: “The five nearby sewage treatment plants are all at or very close to maximum capacity, but development continues unabated and plans to upgrade them. Southern Water’s investment does not accurately track demand. We are now at a stage where, due to insufficient capacity, illegal sewage discharges are inevitably going to be routine, dumping human waste and unacceptable levels of chemicals into our ports.
“We demand that councils, water companies and regulators work together to…ensure that any development does not proceed until sufficient and functioning sewage infrastructure is in place to protect our precious environment.”
If the crumbling of concrete and pipes is a problem, the threat of the climate crisis is another constraint on the scale of housing construction demanded. Much of the land that should support housing is surrounded by water. On the Manhood Peninsula, home to the coastal villages of East and West Wittering and Selsey, climate maps predict that much of the land will be under water in just a few decades.
Joan Foster, chair of the Save the Manhood Peninsula campaign, said: “The potential for sea level rise could put most of the Manhood under water in 50 years. It’s just immoral to build houses and ask people to move in knowing that.
More than 5,000 people have signed a petition to Michael Gove, the housing secretary, calling on him to stop development on the Manhood Peninsula and in the villages around the harbour. Several hundred people marched in Chichester last month.
“Protesting like this is very unusual for Chichester. It’s a real blue Tory seat but people are very worried,” Foster said.
She said the delay in completing the local plan review – due in 2019 but now expected by 2023-4 – has left the whole area vulnerable to speculative housing planning demands from developers.
Roger Mavity, also from the Save the Manhood Peninsula campaign, compiled data on the development. He said there were 378 homes recently completed or under construction, 832 in the planning application process and space for another 1,248 classified as “developable” as part of the property availability assessment. housing and economic land. “So that’s potentially 2,458 new homes on the drawing board as we speak,” he said.
Next month developers will appeal the council’s refusal to allow 70 homes to be built outside East Wittering.
Sandra Norval, future head of growth at Southern Water, said there are options to explore, such as using long marine outfalls for effluent, and in a project due to be completed this spring, the waters Sewage was being diverted from treatment plants in Chichester via a new pipeline. at the Tangmere sewage treatment plant, which does not discharge into the port.
She said the company was working with the best available technology to remove nutrients from wastewater to the required level, and that any increase in volumes at wastewater treatment plants would have to involve a change in permit with the Agency. the environment or the use of an as yet undeveloped technology.
The state of the sewage system presented a “difficult obstacle to development, which we are working hard to overcome, in partnership with all key players in the region”, she said.
A spokesman for the Department of Leveling, Housing and Communities said: ‘Councils, not central government, set their own housing targets in their local plan. Our orientations must be taken into account alongside local constraints, in particular the need for infrastructure to support new developments and the consideration of the environment.