Fight against Plaistow farm’s energy plant reaches climax

Chichester District Council has joined residents in a battle against an energy production plant at a Plaistow farm.
Residents protesting outside Crouchlands Biogas Litd in Plaistow. They are against expansion of the farm -  picture submitted SUS-140210-162931001Residents protesting outside Crouchlands Biogas Litd in Plaistow. They are against expansion of the farm -  picture submitted SUS-140210-162931001
Residents protesting outside Crouchlands Biogas Litd in Plaistow. They are against expansion of the farm - picture submitted SUS-140210-162931001

West Sussex County Council’s (WSCC) planning committee will discuss on Tuesday, March 3, a planning application submitted by Crouchland Farm in Plaistow, for retrospective planning permission to upgrade an existing anaerobic digestion (AD) facility, installation of a new digestion tank, two new combined heat and power (CHP) engines, a digestate lagoon and associated infrastructure.

The equipment turns farm waste, such as maize, and manure into gas for fuel. After a lengthy planning dispute involving lawyers on both sides, the application is recommended for approval, but in an 11th hour submission Chichester District Council (CDC) has launched an attack on the county council’s report.

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In a letter leaked to the County Times to WSCC planning officer Anna Whitty, CDC head of planning services Andrew Frost says the committee report was inaccurate in stating they raise no objection to the plan.

He sets out reasons including the impact on local roads, excess noise and crucially the reasoning being given for the officer’s recommendation.

The plans are an extension of an earlier scheme permitted by the district council for an anaerobic digester to power the farm.

WSCC officers say the CDC permission did not limit the site’s use and the resulting traffic movements. Therefore there are no grounds to refuse the latest scheme.

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Mr Frost disagreed. He writes: “I also wish to place on record that the district council objects to your council’s interpretation of the ‘baseline’ position in relation to traffic movements associated with the anaerobic digestion use of the site.

“It is the view of the district council that the works permitted by the 2007 and 2008 permissions amounted to operational development that was ancillary to the agricultural use and operation of Crouchland Farm.

“The imposition of further conditions to those permissions explicitly restricting the importation of waste/export of gas was considered to be unnecessary to make those developments acceptable.”

A QC hired by Plaistow and Ifold Parish Council agrees.

Parish council chairman Sara Burrell said: “We have a legal opinion from one of the country’s leading QCs on planning matters which confirms that the original planning consents granted by CDC were for an on-farm operation ancillary to the farm and this view is supported by CDC.

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“If this scheme is granted consent, next week, it will have far reaching implications not only for our parish and our community but for any parish within 15km of Plaistow and will result in thousands of 12-wheel 30 ton HGV driving down country lanes delivering digestate or trucking in maize, silage and wheat, year in year out.”

Since the application is retrospective, residents have been able to see the effect of HGVs on their country roads around Crouchland Farm. They made a campaign video recording their concerns.

A spokesman for the county council said: “We have received a letter from Chichester District Council in response to the Planning Committee Report prepared in advance of the meeting on March 3 2015.

“During consultation on the Crouchland application Chichester District Council provided responses to two rounds of consultation raising concerns but noting that it was up to WSCC as Waste Planning Authority to balance the material considerations of the case.

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“The most recent letter of 24 February 2015 clarifies CDC’s response to the application, noting that they formally object.

“The updated response from Chichester District Council will be circulated around members and publicly at the meeting. It will be left to members of the planning committee to take a view on the application, taking this and the other information presented, including the officer’s report, into account. The planning recommendation from officers remains one of approval.”

Officers have set out conditions to restrict vehicle movements and managing director of Crouchland Biogas Leon Mekatarian has agreed to various conditions on lorry movements.

He said: “The highways experts have looked at the local roads and our farm and have decided they can support the traffic we need to operate.

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“Our application will ensure vehicle movements to and from the farm are controlled, it will limit the amount of traffic on the roads that we, and the community, want to minimise. We have recognised the HGVs we use are of local concern so we have mitigated their impact in this application with mandatory speed controls and legal routing arrangements and local road improvements.

“HGVs are driven with care by our own employees, who also live locally, and carry 50 per cent more payload than the tractor trailer alternatives, reducing the number of vehicle movements significantly.”

He believes the farm benefitted the community contrary to opinion from residents.

He said: “Every single biogas plant in the country gets objections and we are no exception.

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“There has been a farm on this site for over 250 years, over that time the community has changed significantly, but this farm has continued to be a working farm, at the heart of the community.”

To view the report on the county council’s website click here