Seething Wells: pushing back-see below for new planning application
Last week we met with officers from the Environment Agency to discuss how we can best work together after years of getting our wires-crossed about:
- Dead fish that are not in a recognised fishery;
- Permits to spray a weed that has never exisited on the site;
- Fly-tipping vegetation that doesn't grow on site such as bamboo and laurel; and
- When pumping water into the Thames is technically an abstraction.
The EA explained the limitations of their responsibilities but they will NOT sanction any further spraying with herbicides or permit any pumping of water (abstraction) into the Thames.
It was agreed that the general public should report on their hotline 0800 80 70 60 activities as follows:-
- Fish kills, (a cormorant was seen fishing and consuming a fish in FB 6)
- Further spraying activity
- Fly tipping of materials brought onto the site from external sources
- Pumping of water from the beds to the Thames
21/03067/FUL | Construction of new safety fencing (1.8m) surrounding filter beds | Seething Wells Filter Beds Portsmouth Road Surbiton KT6 5PJ
This application was submitted to make provision for the installation of safety fencing at the Seething Wells Filter Beds site (application refused November 21). This fencing we are told is designed to prevent accidental or unlawful entry into the filter bed structures, protecting both employees and members of the public.
The installation of such fencing would normally fall within Permitted Development Rights, however an Article 4 Direction issued by Kingston Council removed these rights, and as such a full planning application is required
My objection is that the fencing proposed would be too high, inappropriate, unsightly, detrimental and a hindrance to wildlife. The applicant has not demonstrated that wildlife interests would not be harmed and it should therefore be refused.
This is not an industrial site – it has long been established that there is no industrial interest in this site except OTHER THAN heritage value; but it remains a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation and the filter beds are a HABITAT OF PRINCIPLE IMPORTANCE or HPI. The council will well know by now that in exercising its planning function, it must conserve biodiversity and protect this site.
Fences effect ecosystems at every scale leading to cascades of change. They are of great concern in landscape importance especially impeding: flight, migrations, seed dispersal as well as jeopardising the fecundity and survival of individuals reducing genetic connectivity.
Swans have attempted nesting at the site for the last three yeas and they will not cope with fencing. They require 30m to become airborne from the water surface with a further 30m to clear obstacles such as buildings. They, like all birds use terrestrial habitats to pull out and roost as well as nest. So, like many waterfowl, they spend as much time on land as they do on water. They will not clear the height of the fencing, which is strenuously over-zealous.
Amphibians, often seen by members of the public being eaten by predatory herons, would be negatively impacted by fences. They require terrestrial habitats at certain times of the year. They are therefore migratory. If toads are still present on the site they are a priority species.
Most importantly this application has not demonstrated that the interests of the many bat species using this site would not be negatively impacted by fencing. A group of us have been monitoring the bat activity over the FB’s from the Portsmouth Road and find it to be the best site in Kingston for foraging bats.
The site’s flora and fauna are currently very dynamic due to the recent management at the site and pioneer species require the absence of all barriers to establish. It cannot be micro-managed at its current level of frenzied intensity. If the applicant wants to spend money on the site let them sort out the railings and get rid of the rubbish, which is probably just as dangerous to ‘employees’ as the lifebelts are already in the water (as can be seen from the photo below).
see also the official SWAG response here:
To: Karen Coles (Case Officer) firstname.lastname@example.org
Copy: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Reference: 21/03067/FUL | Construction of new safety fencing (1.8m) surrounding filter beds | Seething Wells Filter Beds Portsmouth Road Surbiton KT6 5PJ
22 October 2021
Dear Ms Coles
On behalf of Seething Wells Action Group, we wish to object to the above application for planning permission as it is clear the application is inadequate, failing to provide necessary supporting material and contrary to various Council and GLA planning policies.
In drawing up our objections it is important to remember the status and history of the site – it is designated Metropolitan Open Land and a Site of Importance to Nature Conservation. The pump house and Victorian railings along the Portsmouth Road are locally listed heritage assets and have been sadly neglected by the current owners. And the whole site is part of a Conservation Area.
Last year the Royal Borough of Kingston refused application 20/00627/CEU which attempted to retrospectively classify the site as Class B8 – Industrial Storage. The officer’s report, noted the previous industrial usage of the site as water treatment was abandoned in 1992 and has not been re-instated. It was also determined that the site was not in lawful Class B8 use. While it is not possible to abandon all uses, it can be established beyond all reasonable doubt that there is currently not any industrial use at the site nor has there been any motivation to reinstate such a use. The applicant’s contention that ‘Safety fencing would not be considered out of character with an industrial site of this type’ and ‘the setting is unremittingly industrial’ are therefore clearly wrong.
We would like to draw particular attention to the following planning policies which we believe the applicant has failed to address in their application.
Policy HC1 Heritage Conservation and Growth
C. Development proposals affecting heritage assets, and their settings, should conserve their significance, by being sympathetic to the assets’ significance and appreciation within their surroundings. The cumulative impacts of incremental change from development on heritage assets and their settings should also be actively managed. Development proposals should avoid harm and identify enhancement opportunities by integrating heritage considerations early on in the design process.
Policy G3 Metropolitan Open Land
A. Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) is afforded the same status and level of protection as Green Belt: 1) MOL should be protected from inappropriate development in accordance with national planning policy tests that apply to the Green Belt
2) boroughs should work with partners to enhance the quality and range of uses of MOL.
Policy G6 Biodiversity and access to nature
A. Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs) should be protected.
D. Development proposals should manage impacts on biodiversity and aim to secure net biodiversity gain. This should be informed by the best available ecological information and addressed from the start of the development process
Kingston Council Core strategy
Policy CS3 The Natural and Green Environment
The Council will protect and improve Kingston’s valued natural and green environment by:
b. protecting Kingston's open space network from inappropriate development through its open spaces designations; Green Belt, Metropolitan Open Land (MOL), Thames Policy Area, Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs), Local Nature Reserves, Local Open Space, School Open Spaces Green Corridors, Green Chains and Allotments…
Policy DM 5 Green Belt, Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) and Open Space Needs
The Council will: a. only allow development on sites adjacent to the Green Belt, MOL or other open space designation that does not have a detrimental impact on its visual amenities and respects the size, form and use of that open space, in accordance with national guidance…
Policy DM 6 Biodiversity
The Council will: b. require an ecological assessment on major development proposals, or where a site contains or is next to significant areas of habitat or wildlife potential. This should be completed before design work or submission of the planning application.
6.32 Existing green infrastructure should be protected and enhanced
6.38 All local authorities have a duty under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 to have regard to the conservation of biodiversity when exercising all their functions. The duty aims to make biodiversity conservation an integral part of policy and decision making. This is also reflected in Planning Policy Statement 9 (PPS9) on Biodiversity and Geological Conservation which states that planning decisions should prevent harm to biodiversity and geological conservation interests.
The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames (RBK) has a duty under the London Plan to follow the advice of the London Wildlife Sites Board in enhancing its SINCs and protecting them from detrimental proposals. Avian species on the UK red and amber lists have been recorded and are resident at the site. These include lapwings, herring gulls, house sparrows, grey wagtails, mute swans, mallards, oystercatchers, black headed gulls, lesser black backed gulls, dunnocks, song thrushes, kingfishers and swifts. The site has a “locally significant” population of gulls and hosts London Plan priority species such as sand martins and London Plan priority habitats of standing water and chalk grassland. The pump house also houses a winter roost of European protected bats, for which a survey must take place before any work (and which has not been provided in this application).
The erection of this security fencing will have a detrimental impact on the openness of the MOL,views across the river and on the SINC by restricting the movement of waterfowl and other wildlife in the green chain, with proximity to the Bushy Park/Home Park Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Taking the three main areas of planning policy in turn.
Erecting substantial fencing posts, so close to the edge of the walls, is likely to damage the structure of the bed walls. A 1.8m/6ft fence requires post holes at least 2 feet deep. All vegetation and topsoil were removed from the filter bed site, due to concerns that it may compromise structural integrity. However, fencing posts for such a substantial fence would likely be more damaging than roots, which spread out in the soil above the brickwork. The brickwork has already been damaged by the use of diggers to remove top soil with at least one breach already, which was photographed showing digger tracks after it had widened. Instead of this application a rolling management plan for maintenance of the beds, on an individual basis, is needed and would be less hazardous for people and wildlife than fencing.
The original low internal barriers around the beds have been removed – these are a feature of other filter beds (e.g. Kempton, Hampton) which do not have high fences on the bed walls. These low barriers are designed to stop vehicles and people on site entering the water inadvertently and would mitigate any hazards identified by the applicant. The internal railings still remain dismantled on site, creating a trip hazard close to the edges of the beds.
Repairing the protective site boundary railings would also deal with any illegal access to the site. These locally listed perimeter railings look in a state of managed decline and the council should take immediate enforcement action for their repair.
The supporting statement claims, wrongly, no visual impact would occur as fencing fits in with the “unremitting industrial setting”, despite this being an heritage site and conservation site for wildlife (SINC) for many years and the Council agreeing that its industrial use had been abandoned. The works were decommissioned by Thames Water in 1992 but have been used by wildlife since early Victorian times. Such high and extensive fencing would have a negative visual impact, especially for viewing the birds, and is not in keeping with the site. Since the site has not been in working use for many years, it cannot be classed as industrial. Even if it were, the proposed fencing is inappropriate.
Wildlife and biodiversityThe proposals are likely to have serious impacts to wildlife, particularly birds and bats in a designated Green Chain and SINC (Borough Grade 1), adjacent to the River Thames, with proximity to Bushy and Home Park SSSIs. The fencing provides a hazard and impediment to wildlife.
An important bat roost lies in a tunnel at the filter beds, and bats continue to forage across the site's water. Red listed birds are still seen on site.
This is a SINC (Borough Grade 1), and confirmed in the recent SINC Review (December 2020) – in fact the review described the site of "notable value”: "3.15 Seething Wells Filter Beds as identified as being 'at risk' due to the current management practices, which include the treatment and removal of vegetation and trees, being implemented, which has significantly altered the extent and value of the habitats present. This has included the loss of species-rich grassland habitat, which supported calcareous grassland species that are unique to the borough and quality of wetland habitats present. Given the nature of the site, which continues to support wetland habitats, as well as its relationship with the River Thames and its geological character, the site is considered to continue to be of notable value
1. The supporting statement claims "open mesh fencing suitable to allow such navigation. The mesh is widely spaced (200mm x 150mm openings), which is sufficient to prevent the risk scenarios previously discussed in this document but will not serve to unduly impede wildlife’s ability to traverse the site". Swans are likely to have problems clearing these fences when they try to fly off the water and with wingspans of approx 2m swans and geese, their young and other large birds cannot have 'fluid navigation' through mesh 20cm x 15cm and 1.8m high.
2. The Supporting Statement gives no analysis of any impacts to different species. It acknowledges that it was the Council's concern for the site's wildlife, which prompted any consideration for wildlife: "the close mesh form of the originally proposed fencing may have resulted in a physical barrier to fluid navigation of the site by wildlife, and the proposal has been reconsidered on this basis" and proposes (6.3) "open mesh fencing (200mm x 150mm openings), ....which will not serve to unduly impede wildlife’s ability to traverse the site."
3. No evidence, or best practice guidance, is provided as to whether the fencing mesh size “will not ...unduly impede wildlife” for any species, or different faunal groups; birds and bats aren't mentioned at all. There is no reasoning given for the suitability of mesh fencing (compared to other barriers), the height or layout.
4. Obstructions such as fencing or posts immediately adjacent to a water surface can reduce access for swooping bats and according to https://www.batcon.org/wp-content/uploads/bciwaterforwildlife.pdf “Collisions with obstacles such as wires or fencing can also injure bats or cause them to fall into the water, where they may drown unless adequate escape structures are provided."
5. Bat numbers are unknown, but likely to have declined since extensive vegetation clearance (lack of insect prey).
6. Transitioning between water and land, solely by flying, is very energy intensive: the high fencing at this critical boundary would lead to a (further) decline in bird numbers.
7. Flight lines would be interrupted across all the beds, affecting birds and bats.
8. Bird species, which are not powerful or agile fliers, would be particularly affected, but all would suffer some detriment. They will have to be strong and agile fliers to fly up from the current water levels to clear the banks and an additional 1.8m. We doubt that there is sufficient landing space to land above on the bank and start walking.
9. Fence posts may well be used as perches for birds of prey and would have impacts for preyed species.
Failed planning applications for the site's development were followed by whole site destruction of habitats (including almost all site trees and the rare London chalk grasslands), allegedly for maintenance reasons. There was no penalty yet many rare, priority and protected species were removed or driven out as a consequence. Wildlife would undoubtedly have been killed by the heavy diggers, the draining of the beds, or left to starve. This mechanical destruction was followed by relentless spraying with chemicals, including a weed killer licenced for use by the Environment Agency for Himalayan Balsam on the site, but which has never grown there (the licence has since been revoked). We have also received reports that bleach was also sprayed. Most recently, goats were brought in to consume any vegetation. In short, there appears to be a history of disregard for biodiversity. If biodiversity had been at all important, protected species would have been carefully encouraged to move - well in advance of the diggers - and the maintenance would have been phased, leaving habitat refugia for wildlife.
Inappropriate development in Metropolitan Open Land
"The filter beds are fundamentally open in character", said the Planning Inspector in 2014 about this site (Appeal Ref: APP/Z5630/A/13/2197943). They considered cars and boats inappropriate development with respect to this MOL's openness.
Such high and extensive fencing would degrade the openness and views of the site for the public and local residents who usually look down at the site from the Portsmouth Road, especially for watching birds. It would risk the SINC status and the historic context of the MOL. It isn't appropriate for a heritage and wildlife site.
Site perimeter fencing is an obvious public safety and security requirement and therefore it is the existing boundary railings and fencing which are a priority for repair and maintenance. If the owners were serious about their concerns for public safety then they would repair the external railings.
Draining for necessary maintenance and the need for any temporary barriers, should be part of a rolling programme, ideally agreed with the Council, as part of a Thames site water safety plan. Maintenance should be phased across the site, with planned mitigations for wildlife, draining beds individually, for the safety of both people and wildlife.
The proposed fencing is ostensibly, "to prevent accidental or unlawful entry into the filter bed structures, protecting both employees and members of the public" but the proposed fencing, right on the edges of the bed walls, increases the fall hazard by adding 1.8m to the drop – creating an additional safety hazard. A high mesh fence is not going to stop someone climbing over deliberately. Low railings (set back a little from the edge) would prevent inadvertent falls/entry into the water and they would also allow easier escape or rescue.
The proposed high mesh fencing, on the edges of the bed walls, makes escape, or rescuing anyone who has fallen in, much more difficult. A rescue also requires suitable space – to carry out the rescue and to administer immediate first aid – which the proposed fence position would prevent.
So, the proposed fencing is inappropriate for Metropolitan Open Land and would fail to do the job it is purportedly designed to do.
Finally, there are a number of omissions from the application which should render it invalid:
1. Has the fencing proposal been evaluated by rescue services?
2. The independence and expertise of the planning consultancy providing the Supporting Statement is hard to verify and there is no obvious evidence of environmental specialism. As such it is difficult to rely with confidence upon claims in the Supporting Statement.
3. The Council’s Biodiversity Policy (DM 6) states “The Council will: b. require an ecological assessment on major development proposals, or where a site contains or is next to significant areas of habitat or wildlife potential. This should be completed before design work or submission of the planning application. No such ecological assessment has been provided.
There is clearly a balance to be struck between structural maintenance and filter bed habitats, biodiversity and heritage. But there is very little evidence of any attempt to strike one. No supporting evidence has been provided of the structural damage that requires extensive maintenance, which in turn requires removal of all vegetation at once and draining of most beds.
This application and its Supporting Statement say little to explain the need for these fences in the first place, how long they will be in place, or why they can't be phased along with maintenance, per bed. The change in mesh size only comes about as a result of the Council's concerns, and the Article 4 Direction, forcing planning permission.
Biodiversity is obviously very important for a Thames-side SINC, with red list species, an important bat roost and rare London habitat. Normally owners, developers or environmental consultants, would seek to try and mitigate biodiversity harm or loss, such as phasing maintenance, encouraging protected species to move in advance (or translocation, if this isn't possible), retaining the rare (e.g., calcareous) soils for reestablishment, and leaving refugia for wildlife. There was plenty of time for all this, destruction has been repeated and ongoing for several years now and there appears to have been nothing but unmitigated harm.
Little maintenance looks to be happening either. Repairs to a small breach (in a minor bed wall) have not been done, in fact the breach was made wider. What is this 'maintenance' and what is its schedule? Local residents have a right to know about scheduled disruption, and Borough residents would really appreciate finding out – it is a much-loved nature and heritage site, and a key feature of a popular river walk and cycle route.
Now we have an application for high internal fencing, not normally used for the protection of filter beds, and which raises additional safety concerns. The proposals are presented with inadequate assessment of the impacts to the remaining species of a Borough Grade 1 SINC. As such, the application appears designed more to remove remaining wildlife (without mitigation), and less to address safety.
Therefore, we urge the Royal Borough of Kingston to reject this application
Phil Renton and Hubert Kwisthout
Co Chairs Seething Wells Action Group