More on the Government’s summary dismissal of the Planning Inspectorate’s recommendations

As noted in our previous post, the Government decided to rubberstamp TW’s TTT application, overriding a number of findings from its own Planning Inspectorate Examining Authority, which consisted of a panel of top notch experts, at the top of their career, chosen by… the Government.

We give some examples of this treatment below:

Overall noise and health impact on communities

On the critical issue of the noise and health impact of tunnel sites, operating for up to nine years at some sites[1], of which up to three years of continuous working[2] right in the heart of densely residential communities, the Planning Inspectorate said:

“12.97 However, the Applicant’s[3] modification of the [impact assessment] method, extensive use of professional judgement and the assumption that the significant effect impact should be determined at the inside of the properties and not at the façade, results in an assessment that does not take into account the impact on the external environment of residential receptors (including gardens and balconies).
We consider that this is likely to have resulted in both an underestimate of impacts on those that have been identified as having a significant effect and an underestimate of the number of receptors experiencing a significant effect.

Overall conclusions on noise and disturbance
“12.357 Our overall assessment of the NPS[4] tests is that with regard to the three aims in NPS paragraph 4.9.9: We do not consider that the proposals meet the first aim of the NPS test to avoid significant adverse impacts on health and quality of life from noise [...]

(our emphasis)

This is a pretty serious finding on a critical point (noise and disturbance).  The Government’s answer was a simple, summary, brush off:

72. The Secretaries of State therefore consider the Applicant’s proposals have succeeded in avoiding significant adverse impacts on health or quality of life as a result of the proposed development.
[...]
74. Therefore, notwithstanding their concerns about the incompleteness of the noise and disturbance assessment noted in paragraph 59, the Secretaries of State disagree with the ExA’s[5] views and consider that the proposed development meets the first NPS aim of avoiding significant adverse impacts on health and quality of life (ER 12.357)

(our emphasis)

In other words, the Government overrode the Planning Inspectorate’s findings that TW had underplayed the impact of its works on the health of its citizens and decided that TW’s mitigation measures (which the Inspectorate, in its expert opinion, found to be deficient) would “just work” (with a few “less than significant”[6] provisions thrown in for good measure).  What’s most extraordinary is that the Government admits (at its paragraph 59), that the impacts are unknown in a number of respects.  How can any measure be asserted to mitigate an unknown impact?

Note also how the Government allows itself to downgrade the Planning Inspectorate’s expert findings to mere views

Chambers Wharf tunnel “drive” site

Chambers Wharf is one of the worst impacted site on the TTT route. Works there begun on 8th May 2014 and are set to continue until 2023[7] (assuming no delays, which are almost inevitable due to the sheer complexity of this ‘rocket science’ project).

One of the suggestions put to the Inspectorate was a reversal of the ‘drive’[8] of that tunnel’s section, which would have more than halved the exceptional disruption and severe impact on the lives of thousands of people (“a densely populated residential area” according to ExA’s report 17.147), whose dwellings tightly enclose the Chambers Wharf site.

The other end of that tunnel section (the ‘reception site’ in TW’s proposal) is located among 3.7 hectares of industrial land at Abbey Mills (AM), a site permanently owned and operated by TW.  The Inspectorate researched a comparison of impact between Chambers Wharf (CW) and AM: AM has 875 residents (and no schools) within 250m of the site (ExA 17.222) – and, we understand, none directly adjacent – whereas CW features within the same perimeter, 2,950 residents (of which several hundreds live directly adjacent to the site) and no less than three schools (ExA 17.194).

The ExA found that reversing the drive would mean that “the duration of the noisiest activities would be reduced as would the period of continuous working (from 33 months to 14 months)” (17.219).  It concluded as follows:

17.274 “We consider that Abbey Mills appears to be a feasible drive site which has the potential to offer a number of advantages as compared with Chambers Wharf”.

17.293 Our overall assessment is that Chambers Wharf as presented has serious deficiencies in terms of the NPS requirements.

(our emphasis)

What’s really peculiar is that in a previous version of their plans, TW had actually elected to drive the tunnel from AM[9].

The Planning Inspectorate concluded its extensive examination into the Chambers Wharf site with another serious assessment:

18.65 We conclude that the Applicant has not justified the use of Chambers Wharf as a drive site. This is a matter which weighs against making the DCO.[10].”

(our emphasis)

The Government’s brush off came as follows:

108. The ExA concluded that the Applicant had not justified the use of Chambers Wharf as a drive site, which weighed against making the Order (ER 18.65). The Secretaries of State disagree with the ExA and conclude, on balance, that the selection of Chambers Wharf as a drive site is justified.

(Our emphasis).

This is followed by a number of the shallowest reasons (including re-stating that TW’s mitigation measures – which the ExA had ruled insufficient – would “sort it all out” and further leaning on their previous assessment[11] that “residual impacts on quality of life and health from noise associated with the proposed development are less than significant.”…

What disregard for people’s livelihoods made TW choose to drive their tunnel the wrong way around? And how can the Government simply overturn the Inspectorate’s expert findings?  We have little idea on the former question[12]; however, the ever thorough Inspectorate’s report sheds light on the second question:

17.273 the Applicant advised that if a revised application needed to be submitted, it would delay the process by approximately two years.

(Our emphasis)

So there we have it. Obviously, another two years’ delay on this rocket-sciency project (which has already seen numerous delays) would have materially increased the risk of it being abandoned in the light of the faster, greener, better alternative that could deliver a clean Thames (and a wide ranging set of additional amenity) in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the TTT’s costs.

Who really wrote the Government’s decision?

Let’s just say that Thames Water couldn’t have wished for a better outcome, one that simply disregards every single objection of a highly qualified panel of experts, at the top of their game, appointed by the Government itself, to give them free roam to implement things the way them wanted.

What good have done the countless hours of hearings, in-depth technical investigations, and thousands upon thousands of pounds of expense to local communities, which, obviously, don’t have Thames Water’s powers to help themselves in everyone’s pockets?

The Government is seen applying its legislation (the NPS) when it suits them, and disregarding it when it doesn’t (as in the above reproduced paragraph 17.293 of the ExA’s report). It’s rather sinister and hardly believable that this can be legal… Or is it?? Please do get in touch if you can provide any legal leads… Human rights of the thousands of citizens that are being clobbered by the Government’s whimsical decision to override the National Policy Statement and the findings of its own Planning Inspectorate come to mind…

While it’s no secret for anyone that TW are driven by the need to maximize profit for their shareholders, the Government’s disregard for the livelihood of its own citizens is regrettable to say the least, and quite possibly borderline on illegal.

The simpler, cheaper, faster Green Infrastructure solutions recommended by a wealth of independent experts, both here and abroad would have far less concentrated destructive impact on some “unlucky few”. Doesn’t the Government have a duty of care?

Further reading

References

  1. [1] In a typical example of TW disinformation, the claim is that the TTT would take 6 years to build.  However, certain work sites, such as the one in Chambers Wharf (see further down) have started experiencing the impact of TW’s works since May 2014 and this is due to continue until 2023 (assuming no delays…..)
  2. [2] Read: non-stop, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, right up against some unlucky souls’ bedrooms!
  3. [3] The Applicant = Thames Water
  4. [4] NPS = National Policy Statement (on Wastewater)
  5. [5] ExA = Planning Inspectorate Examining Authority
  6. [6] To use their wording, although they use this to qualify health impacts
  7. [7] Compare with TW’s claims that TTT works would ‘only’ last 6 years…
  8. [8] The ‘drive’ is the origin from which a tunnel is dug – disruption is much more severe at origin, due to the continuous need to extract spoils and insert concrete segments.
  9. [9] The Inspectorate wrote: “17.230 In phase 1 of the site selection process, the reason given for selecting Abbey Mills over a drive site at King’s Stairs Gardens included that ‘it was more likely that noise and air quality impacts could be adequately mitigated for a main tunnel drive shaft site at Abbey Mills Pumping Station than at King’s Stairs Gardens’ (APP7.05, volume 23, para 2.5.14). However this reasoning is not given in the comparison between Chambers Wharf and Abbey Mills.”
  10. [10] DCO = Thames Water’s Application for a Development Consent Order (essentially their planning application for the TTT under the Planning Act 2008).
  11. [11] expressed in paragraph 74 reproduced above
  12. [12] Other perhaps than conspiracy theories that this is to intentionally depress property prices by blighting the area, so they can be cheaply acquired and resold at a profit by Thames Water and associated companies.  It is interesting to note, in this context, that Thames Water used to own a joint venture in property developer St James homes (part of the Berkeley Group), which assisted TW in its purchase of the CW site.