In the wake of recent heavy rainfall and the looming threat of flooding, Patcham residents are growing increasingly uneasy about plans for a Royal Mail depot at the dilapidated Patcham Court Farm. A drainage expert, with a background as a trainee road and drainage engineer at Brighton Borough Council, is at the forefront of the opposition, cautioning that the proposed development could worsen the already precarious flooding situation in the village.
The experienced expert, well-versed in the water systems of Patcham, issues daily alerts to residents, monitoring groundwater levels to forewarn against potential flooding, which can lead to both cellar inundation and surface flooding.
Expressing apprehensions, the expert stated, “The infrastructure downstream can’t withstand it. We are teetering on the brink of flooding throughout the year. It occurs in the winter, but incidents of flooding increase.”
One of the primary concerns is the potential impact on drainage systems. A flood risk assessment conducted by engineering consultancy Mott MacDonald for the Royal Mail scheme revealed that the “impermeable area” on the site would more than double if the proposal materializes. Mott MacDonald recommended treating the site as greenfield land, emphasizing the need to address run-off during the planning stage.
Reflecting on the past, the expert highlighted the challenges faced by the old borough council engineers who had an intimate understanding of local issues. The expert recalled, “Former council engineers knew the town because they had been in the town throughout their working life.”
Decades ago, Southern Water upgraded old Victorian drains to tackle blockages caused by silt and tree roots. However, concerns arise over the inadequacy of current measures and the potential strain on the sewer system.
The expert, whose family has resided in Patcham for generations, also raised alarms about agricultural contamination at the former farm. Disturbing the site for the proposed scheme could release pollutants into the groundwater, posing a threat to the water sources. The expert stressed, “It’s very close to the Southern Water adits (underground channels) 50 meters beneath the surface. It’s a ‘source protection zone grade one.’ There is nothing higher for the protection of our drinking water.”
Royal Mail submitted a planning application to Brighton and Hove City Council in July 2022, but the scheme is yet to go before the Planning Committee. Over 1,000 objections, alongside 12 letters of support, have been sent to the council, with groundwater concerns being a focal point.
Southern Water emphasized the risk, stating that contamination could reach water sources within 50 days, given Patcham Court Farm’s proximity to critical groundwater abstraction points. The site’s location within 150 meters of an adit connected to Brighton A sources heightens fears of contaminants quickly reaching groundwater.
A conservative council member and a labour council member expressed concerns about flood risks and the adequacy of sewer systems at a council committee meeting. The council, while responsible for surface and groundwater flooding, is collaborating with Southern Water to reduce flood risks.
The proposed land deal between the council and Royal Mail, involving a long lease on Patcham Court Farm, faced initial approval hurdles in July 2022. The deal would have led to the Royal Mail vacating two existing sites in North Road, Brighton, and Denmark Villas, Hove, in exchange for the farm. However, the immediate prospect of the deal was dropped, leaving residents on high alert, ready to voice objections as they aim to safeguard their homes.
As the threat of flooding persists and residents remain vigilant, the fate of Patcham Court Farm hangs in the balance, with the potential impact of the Royal Mail depot on local drainage and groundwater drawing widespread concern.