DEFRA Minister George Eustice has cautioned the City of Lincoln Council to be careful before going ahead with approving plans to build homes in the Western Growth Corridor of the city.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs minister visited Lincoln on March 11 to specifically discuss flood mitigation and management measures, with a focus on the Swanpool area of the city.
The Western Growth Corridor between Boultham and Birchwood is a 320-hectare site — around 10% of the city — and has been considered for development before in 2006, but concerns over flooding have stopped it progressing further.
The £250 million development would provide up to 3,000 new homes in the city by 2031, along with increased employment opportunities, leisure facilities and improved transport infrastructure.
Minister asks for caution with flood plains
DEFRA Minister George Eustice said: “One of the lessons from the last couple of months and the experience we’ve had around the country is that we should be very, very cautious before building on flood plains and before building homes in areas where there is a flood risk.
“It doesn’t mean we always rule it out, but I think the first step all local authorities should be doing is to try to find sites to build houses where there isn’t a flood risk.
“I know that in 2006 when the Western Growth Corridor was first mooted, this idea of over 2,500 houses, the Environment Agency had some quite serious concerns about the flood risk there, because it is in a flood plain.
“EA are willing to work with councils to try to find solutions where councils believe the building in these areas is the only option available to them.
“It’s a choice really of two things: we can either try to find alternative sites to build, so that we’re not building in an area where there is flood risk; or if actually the council does believe this is the only site they can build on, we have to make absolutely certain that we’ve got failsafe plans there to manage that flood risk.
“[EA] have expressed they have an open mind to a proposal which is to raise levels on part of the Swanpool above areas where there is a flood risk, and to deepen the area elsewhere so that they can keep the water levels down.
“I think in principle such a scheme could work, but there’s still a lot of technical detail to work through, so the EA haven’t reached yet a final conclusion on this.
“I think everyone’s preferred approach would be if there is an alternative site that could be developed other than this site, which is after all a flood plain. If it isn’t, then we need to make sure that the measures they put in place to manage that flood risk are going to absolutely work.”
Lincoln MP still has reservations
Lincoln MP Karl McCartney hosted the minister’s visit and said: “I certainly still have serious reservations [to building on the Swanpool area], not just with flooding, but also transport infrastructure, which as the city MP, I take a wider view than just looking at the income that might be generated through council tax the Labour City Council are looking at.”
With all the housing and developments, the site would bring some £840,000 extra to the City of Lincoln Council’s coffers per year in Council Tax.
The city MP added: “I look at the whole spectrum of issues, and for me the most serious one is the traffic issues we have on the Skellingthorpe roundabout, which is a serious bottleneck for both north and and south journeys in vehicles, but also east and west [of the area].
“There are serious transportation issues already, building several thousands of properties would only exacerbate that problem, and I’d like to see that problem eased, and in fact solved before any decisions to permit building is given.
Karl McCartney suggested a more suitable location for the development: “Certainly within the Eastern Bypass, both the east and south-east quadrant; it’s a much bigger area, easier to travel in and out from and put the infrastrucutre in place for such a huge development, but also very, very much reduced risk of flooding, compared to the Western Growth Corridor.
“But unfortunately for the City Council, this would not be their land and they would not receive any income from any development that took place on there.
“I understand the ‘catch 22′ that they are in, but other councils, North Kesteven and West Lindsey would benefit instead,” he added.
‘Desperate’ need for more housing
Councillor Ric Metcalfe, Leader of City of Lincoln Council, said: “The Western Growth Corridor is an important development opportunity.
“It is the proven most sustainable place for a substantial new development, which we desperately need for the increase in the supply of affordable housing to meet the future housing needs of the city.
“The Environment Agency have withdrawn their historic ‘in principle’ objection to development and work is ongoing to demonstrate that the proposed mitigation measures can not only address any flood risk on site but will actually enhance flood protection in other parts of the city.”