The Environment Agency has stated in no uncertain terms that it objects to plans to sink petrol storage tanks at the proposed garage on the junction of Bromfield Road and Coronation Avenue. In its objection, the agency says: “We would question the need for the design change which could, ultimately, increase the risk to groundwater.” That’s exactly the objection the rest of us have been making.
The proposal breaks national and local planning rules, and conflicts with Environment Agency guidance. It should be thrown out and the developer should get on with developing this site.
A year and a half ago, developer Mead House was given planning permission for the convenience store and petrol filling station. The plans were only approved by the South Planning Committee after the petrol tanks were raised to be above the water table. Six weeks’ ago, Mead House applied to put the tanks fully below ground to increase car parking spaces (16/04716/VAR), a move I described as a “betrayal”.
As the Environment Agency’s submission points out, the petrol station is in a “sensitive groundwater area”:
The site is located on Raglan Mudstone Formation bedrock which is overlain by Bromfield Sand and Gravels. Both the solid geology and the superficial deposits are Secondary A aquifer which supplies private water abstractions and groundwater baseflows to local watercourses, such as the River Corve 80m to the east.
The River Teme is 410m to the west of the site and is likely to be in connectivity with ground and other surface water features, such as the Springs and Boiling well 150m to the south west of the application area. The River Teme is also designation as a Site of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI), adding to the sensitively.
The agency cites the National Planning Policy Framework which states that development should “enhance the natural and local environment by preventing both new and existing development from contributing to or being put at unacceptable risk from, or being adversely affected by unacceptable levels of water pollution.” The proposal also clashes with the agency’s groundwater protection guidance. This obliges the agency to “object to storage of hazardous substances below the water table in principal or secondary aquifers.” The agency notes the proposal also clashes with Shropshire Council’s core strategy planning document, which requires new development to enhance and protect water quality, including Shropshire’s groundwater resources.
I agree with the Environment Agency. The proposal breaks national and local planning rules. It conflicts with the agency’s guidance.
I also think that the tanks are not as leakproof as the developer suggests. The need to have sensors to detect leaks shows that there is a risk, albeit a very small one, of a leak. If a leak occurs metres below the ground, a major excavation will be needed to reach it. The tanks would be emptied but will be a delay and there are likely to be several days during which residual fuel could continue to leak into the water table.
This has been a curious affair and it won’t be over until the application is rejected by Shropshire Council and any appeal heard. It is also possible that Mead House will dig its heels in and lengthen the process by producing risk assessments and other arguments in favour of below ground tanks.
From correspondence, it seems that Mead House thought that Environment Agency backing was a done deal. We now know that it was not. It is possible that the developer was relying on revisions to the agency’s groundwater protection guidance. These revisions are still under discussion and the agency says even if they had been implemented “we would still be minded to object.”
I had expected this application to have been decided by the South Planning Committee next week. However, it was held back because the Environment Agency’s comments had not been received. This is not the agency’s fault. Although the planning application was published on 14 October, the detailed plans for the underground tanks were not available until nearly a month later. I have said before that it is wrong that a planning application is published for consultation without detailed documentation. Fifteen of the 17 comments on the application (1 in support and 16 objecting), were submitted before the detailed plans were made public on the planning portal.
This application has been a sorry affair. In the light of the Environment Agency’s comments, I hope that planning officers will move quickly to reject the application. If not, it will be determined by committee. Better still, Mead House could withdraw the application and get on with the development.