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Thursday, 25 October 2012 05:26

Planning application submitted for gravel working at Watersplash Farm

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Planning application submitted for gravel working at Watersplash FarmAs expected, Cemex have submitted a planning application to Surrey County Council for the extraction of gravel from Watersplash Farm adjoining Fordbridge Road between Sunbury and Shepperton.

Since the outcome of the Surrey Minerals Plan consultation process which resulted in Watersplash Farm being identified for working for gravel, despite a strong campaign by SSAGE (Sunbury & Shepperton Against Gravel Extraction) we have been in contact with Cemex, the owners of the site, to ensure we are in touch with the process.

Discussions have clarified that, contrary to SCC’s original plan, there will be no aggregates recycling plant at the site, which is good news. In addition, the plan for re-instating the site has been clarified. It would be returned to top quality agricultural land with the current market gardening company working it, while the eastern end of the site along the course of the River Ash would become a nature reserve with enhanced public footpath access. Working would last a total of five years.

We received word as we went to press on 22nd October that SCC has validated the application, which was unexpected as it usually takes longer. There is now, in theory, a period of 28 days when representations and comments on the application can be made. Thereafter, the planning authority then have 16 weeks to determine the application. The reality, however, is that the application is not expected to go before the Planning Committee before the second half of 2013, and comments will be accepted for way in excess of the 28 days and virtually up until determination takes place.

However, now that it is validated, we are working with Cemex for them to stage a further exhibition of the plans so that residents are fully informed. This is likely to be before Christmas, but obviously there has been no opportunity to organise it yet, so please keep an eye on the web site for details of this and how to make comments or objections. We will try to ensure that there is plenty of other publicity as well. There is a lot of information on the Cemex web site at www.cemexcommunities.co.uk in the “Shepperton” section.

One of the main issues remains the access to and from the site on to Gaston Bridge Road, and the effect on local residents, and this is still under discussion. In reality, having fought our case on this for several years through the consultation, we do not think there is a realistic chance of planning permission being refused, and our objective would be to mitigate the impact as much as possible. This is not a position of weakness or abdication of our responsibilities. There is no way that in the long run we can resist the working of gravel on this site. That battle has been fought several times over the last 30 years, and has now been lost. The best we can do now is to work with Cemex to achieve the best possible outcome for residents.

1 comment

  • Comment Link Richard Stephenson Friday, 09 November 2012 11:41 posted by Richard Stephenson


    I wish to object to Planning Application 12/01487/SCC, Watersplash Farm, Gaston Bridge Road and Fordbridge Road, Sunbury On Thames, TW16 6AU, on two grounds. The first being its effect on the risk of flooding in the locality and the second being the loss of potential archaeological and geological information.

    Flooding. The susceptibility of the Shepperton and Lower Sunbury area to flooding is well known and anything which may make it worse is to be avoided.
    The subterranean gravel beds allow surplus groundwater to pass harmlessly away underground in times of heavy rain, rather than being confined to the open rivers, where it causes them to burst their banks and cause flooding. Replacing the porous gravel beds with solid inert material will prevent this and cause the flooding already prevalent in this area to become worse.
    After heavy rain the subterranean water table rises and the volume of the gravel beds normally above the water table serves to absorb large quantities of surplus water, acting as a reservoir of water which otherwise would add to the flood water. Again, replacing the gravel with inert solid infill material will prevent this and again, will make the local flooding situation worse.

    Archaeology and Geology. Watersplash Farm is one of the very few areas in this locality that has not, so far, been dug out for either building or gravel extraction. As such it is a near unique reference area for what was here before modern times and should be preserved for what information, as yet undetermined, that it may contain and may be discovered by the technology of the future.

    I am aware that some exploratory trenches have been dug on the site and that little of interest was found, but these were very much just a case of digging a hole and seeing if there was anything obvious there – which is hardly adequate for one of the last remaining undisturbed sites in the area. It seems unlikely that even the more advanced technology currently available to modern archaeology was used in these investigations, but even if it were and still nothing was found then it is impossible to say that advances made in research techniques in the future will not reveal more. The information which can be gleaned by improving technology is forever increasing and some representative sites should be left undisturbed for the future.

    It is important to re-state that this is one of the very few such sites left – most other open spaces in this locality are in fact infilled gravel pits !

    Adding to the importance of this site is the existence of a medieval roadway – untouched since its abandonment approximately 200 years ago – right across the middle of the site. This is referred to on Cemex's website, but that does not mention that it is unclear if even the perfunctory archaeological investigations that have been made so far actually impinge on the course of this roadway or if they have missed it completely. It also does not make the point that this roadway, which led to the one-time ferry across the Thames at the end of what is now Felix Lane, was abandoned in the early 1800s with the opening of Gaston Bridge Road nearby (serving Walton Bridge, which replaced the ferry). The area of this road since its abandonment has only been used for agriculture, meaning that any archaeology there will have been left largely undisturbed. What is more, the general line of the ancient road has been further preserved as a public footpath and as a farm track and thus much of it may even have been preserved from degradation by ploughing.

    In making this objection I am not trying to save every open space there is from mineral extraction – that would clearly be impossible. But in view of the near uniqueness of this site, as well as its value in preventing flooding, I believe it should be kept undisturbed for posterity and for what information the science and technology of the future may make of it.

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