The system for managing flood risks in Hertfordshire is in trouble. ‘Severe’ staff shortages have forced Hertfordshire County Council’s flood planning risk experts to admit they are ‘unable to take on any new work except in the most exceptional of circumstances’.
And the Environment Agency admits it often can’t meet crucial consultation deadlines on Hertfordshire planning applications.
In an astonishing email, the County Council says that ‘for most planning applications [it] will be unable to provide any comments’ on flood risks from new developments.
Who is checking on the flood risk at Watford General?
Doubts about the effectiveness of the system are surfacing even in relation to major projects that could cause severe flooding.
One example is the highly controversial high-rise hospital planned for Watford by the West Hertfordshire Hospital Trust. When the Trust was given outline planning permission by Watford Council for the 1000-bed 120,000 square metre building in July 2021, a series of crucial questions about flood risk and management put by the County Council were left unanswered. But serious flooding could undermine the viability of the whole project, one of the biggest in the whole programme of new hospitals. The blue light approach to the hospital has been badly affected by flooding.
Among other things, the Council demanded that the Trust should reduce the planned final discharge rate of surface water from the hospital site by a whopping 75 percent, and asked it to explain how it would manage the increased surface water runoff from the site.
The new hospital would be squeezed in as part of the ‘Riverwell’ development, which will see up to 1500 flats and houses, retail units, industrial buildings and a hotel added to a sloping site in crowded West Watford – an increasingly ambitious project, in itself presenting a raised risk of flooding.
West Herts situation beggars belief
Philip Aylett, Co-ordinator of the New Hospital Campaign, which supports the idea of a new hospital on a clear new site accessible to all in West Herts, said:
“The situation in West Hertfordshire beggars belief. Planning permission has been given to a massive hospital project on Vicarage Road, Watford with serious questions about flood risks left unanswered. The Trust’s plans for such a huge structure should never have been given the green light, in view of the uncertainty over flood risk."
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