Proposed Water Activity Centre site in Spring
RARE  Great Burnet Autumn Squill - a rare plant now confirmed growing in Hurst Park and nowhere else in Surrey RARE Bee Orchid in Hurst Meadows The Hurst Marker RARE Hybrid Duck at Hurst Park Lady's Smock (Cuckoo Flower) Hurst Park signpost

Click photos to enlarge


Development fears return to Hurst Park Riverside

Proposed boat shed

A second application for a large boathouse on two floors (30m x 10m x 7.55m high) with decking and ramp, alongside the Thames Path at Hurst Floodplain Meadows, has been re-submitted by Molesey Jaguar Seascouts. The picture heading up this page shows the proposed location.

Although the consultation date has passed, the case officer informs us that "Resposes are accepted up to and until a decision is made on any planning application." You can still therefore submit your comments on this development, which you may wish to do as new issues have come to the fore, notably the creation of beaches each side of the Hampton Ferry Landing - located at the same spot for over 500 years. The ferry operators have stated unequivocally that beaches make it unsafe to operate a frequent summer ferry service because of the risks from attracting numbers of people and dogs into the water. The ferry boat must come in alongside the landing stage, and propeller driven motors can be lethal.

Most importantly for Molesey, this development lies in the functional flood plain of Hurst Meadows (regularly inundated), identified for flood alleviation for Molesey by the Environment Agency in the River Thames Scheme. Any development in the functional flood plain will set a precedent with risks from cumulative impacts on the flood storage capacity of the Meadows, and increased risk of flooding to local properties, which was severe in the months of December 2013 to February 2014..

Hurst Meadows in flood

The proposed location is in Local Green Space and public open space. The development lies either side of the Thames Path, with a launch strip over 30m wide at the water's edge. The busy Thames Path National Trail, also a national cycle route at this point, is already pinched and the application shows a ramp from the boathouse storage to the path, which all boats would have to negotiate, endangering walkers, runners and cyclists. Every boat to and from the boatshed would have to be hauled across the busy Thames Path to access the launching strip, land owned freehold by the Environment Agency and with SNCI designation but which would be stripped of riverside vegetation.

Hurst Park riverbank is entirely designated as a Site of Nature Conservation Interest, as is the island of Duck's Ait, where the application proposes mid-stream moorings. Most of Hurst Meadows is also SNCI and a Local Nature Reserve. The development would be sited on covenanted land (dated 1876), held in trust under a Deed of Gift (dated 1947) by the council for public open space ONLY, for the use and enjoyment of local residents.

Riverbank at the proposed development site

This application is a repeat of an earlier proposal which received strong objections from all statutory consultees. This application too has strong objections from every statutory consultee, Elmbridge planning officers and all community groups giving reasons for refusal. The Environment agency objected on several grounds: flooding, navigation, fisheries, environment and biodiversity, and maintaining public access to the riverside. There are objections from hundreds of local households and from the residents' groups, and both proposals are considered ill-judged by Elmbridge Council planners with clear pre-application advice based on material planning considerations: we would not encourage the applicant to go any further, and this view is unlikely to change.

Documentation with the current proposal has made the ambition and scope of the development much clearer, should it be permitted. The second storey, called "roof space" in the application, contains 13 rooms, including a large briefing room, a meeting room, an office, four changing rooms, kitchen, toilets and showers sufficient to meet requirements for large groups. The ground floor is for boat and trailer storage with racks floor to ceiling to accommodate some 60 craft. This contrasts with the Hampton Hill sea scout hut on the Hampton side of the river which is smaller, in traditional style, and for boat storage appropriate to the group's needs.

Applicants now state the centre will be hired out on a daily basis to all-comers booking online, including commercial organisations. The sea scout group itself is allocated two weekly sessions, as now from Sadlers Ride slipway. It has to be remembered that Hurst Meadows is LOCAL Green Space, and the gifted and covenanted land on which the development is proposed was left specifically as open space only, for the enjoyment of people in Molesey. Thus, for so many reasons, this is not an appropriate site for a big, busy regional facility with the inevitable increase in travel, transport, parking and disruption. Activities on and off the water would be frequent, noisy and disruptive in an entirely new way in this protected area valued by thousands for its tranquillity, landscape and water birds.

Hurst Meadows riverbank has never been developed. The location was never part of the Hurst Park Race course, being covenanted. The council has carefully managed the whole area of Hurst Floodplain Meadows over the years to improve habitat and increase biodiversity, working closely with conservation groups like Surrey Wildlife Trust and Natural England.

Trees that would be lost

There are several suitable alternative locations for an activity centre - better sites that would not burden the community, park users and wildlife - but the applicant rejects them. If the application were more sensitively located and more in keeping with the applicants' needs, and their initial declared intention to replace earlier modest facilities at Molesey reservoirs, there could be great local support for it.

This table shows alternative sites in the borough, assessed against material planning and other significant considerations. The applicant is under a duty to investigate better alternatives in the borough against meaningful criteria, and there are many.

Please tap here

As proposed, this major facility could launch as many as 60 small craft out on the water at any one time, into the midst of a busy navigation route for Molesey Lock, where channels around the islands converge and river traffic is unpredictable..

The River Thames, a major navigation subject somtimes to difficult conditions of flows and winds, is far from an ideal location for splash and play activities, as the applicants assert. The River Thames is not a playground and there is concern for the safety of so many novices and children. Add to this the fact that this water is a practice reach for rowers, including schools, and a racing reach for sailors, it can be seen how busy the river is - even without summer day-hire motorboats, holiday boats, private cruisers, passenger vessels and all navigation passing through the lock.

This application will, in effect, privatise an area of riverbank and Hurst Park Public Open Space and restrict public access. We know other sports clubs have declared an interest in obtaining other parts of Hurst Meadows - this would pave the way.

You can see the full application 2018/0312

If you wish to comment, please write to Elmbridge Council, quoting the 2018/0312 application number, or use the online form for comments, making it clear if you object. If you wrote before, you will need to write again as this is a new application. You may prefer to resubmit the same letter but it is essential to do so under the new application number of 2018/0312.

The important planning issues relate to:
Impact on public open space, Local Green Space, nature conservation and biodiversity; increased risk of flooding and flood water turbulence; impact on thousands of users of the Thames Path National Trail, impact on historic protected landscapes and vistas (within the Arcadian Thames Landscape Strategy). There is also a real concern that setting a precedent for development here will lead to more of the same, with serious cumulative impacts on the flood plain and its capacity to alleviate flooding, provide public open space, and improve biodiversity. We now know that beaches proposed each side of Hampton Ferry landing, as part of the application, will stop the ferry from operating. It would be too risky to bring a propeller-driven boat close to people in the water.

Local conservation experts have surveyed the riverbank between Garrick's Ait and Tagg's Island and you can see their findings here.
So far this spring (March 2018), 53 birds have been identified along this riverbank, including species on the red list and a pair of kingfishers at the slipway. A birder describes his early morning experience of the birdsong as a "wall of sound".

A further consequence of the Water Activities Centre development:

BBC London story from 23 May 2018
Best viewed at full screen with the sound on

You can see more about the earlier applications of 2018 and 2016 in full on these pages here and here and also here.