The opening of a public inquiry into plans for an incinerator north of Horsham saw West Sussex County Council announce it would not defend five of the six reasons for rejecting it last year.
The county council’s objections included the impact the development would have on roads, homes, public health, the landscape – and whether there was actually a need for the facility.
But day one of what could be a three-week inquiry heard that only the landscape concerns would be defended.
Anjoli Foster, representing the council, told the inquiry the centre – which includes a chimney stack up to 95m (311ft) tall and a building almost 36m (117ft) high – would have an ‘unacceptable impact’ on the area, causing ‘significant harm’.
She said the chimney would be ‘one of the tallest developments in the county’ and one of the tallest stacks in the country.
Ms Foster said there was a ‘clear conflict’ between the application and a number of policies in the county’s Waste Local Plan.
While acknowledging the site had been allocated for such use, she said this did not mean an application would automatically be granted planning permission.
Describing the planned centre as ‘alien and intrusive’, Ms Foster said: “The evidence to this inquiry will show that the proposal, which is dominating, uncharacteristic and will dwarf all surrounding development, will cause significant harm to landscape character areas in the surrounding areas.”
Christopher Boyle QC, representing Britaniacrest, said it was ‘notable’ that the council had reduced its objections to just one and pointed out that planning officers had recommended the 2018 application for approval.
Describing the brickworks site as ‘appropriate’, he said the council had ‘recognised the inevitibility’ of the stack being built when it allocated the land for such use.
Mr Boyle took a swipe at objectors such as the campaign group Ni4H – No Incinerator for Horsham – saying ‘much information’ had been put out to nearby residents ‘which alarms rather than calms’.
Adding that the planning and health protection processes ‘should be able to calm those fears and establish that public health was not in danger’, he said: “Although there will be a stack and although it will be visible, the very height of the stack should be the reassurance the public need that they are protected by the government from any adverse impact.”
His words led to incredulous laughter from some, prompting Inspector Ian Jenkins to call a brief halt while he reminded people they were ‘not in a public meeting’.
If Mr Jenkins finds in favour of Britaniacrest, the centre would deal with up to 230,000 tonnes of waste per year, generating around 21MW of electricity by burning any rubbish it could not recycle.
The council has received more than 1,200 objections and a 4,500-name petition opposing the plans., with Ni4H leading the charge.
Their representative Nick Grant told the inquiry it was ‘not irrational’ for there to be a ‘perception of harm’ from the development, adding the application’s ‘lack of coherence with the local plan’ meant the appeal should be dismissed.
Speaking outside the meeting, county councillor and Ni4H chairman Peter Catchpole said he was ‘quietly confident’ the campaigners would ‘win the day’.
He added: “Rightly, local people are concerned about their future wellbeing and that of future generations if the incinerator comes to this area, and the wholesale change of character that would be brought to our market town.
“It would be out of keeping with its surroundings, the massive structure would overwhelm existing buildings in the surrounding area and would have a significant adverse impact on views.
“The incinerator, at the building stage, will impact the lives of local residents for three years with traffic disruption, noise and dust.
“Once complete, it will be with us for at least 30 years and no matter how they try and camouflage or reshape this colossus of a building it is still just an ugly oversized incinerator that does not fit onto its site nor in scale or tune with the local surroundings.”
Jeremy Quin, Horsham’s MP, added: “Constituents have stressed to me that they believe that the ‘carbon intensity’ of energy produced through waste incineration is very substantially more than low carbon emission sources. Residents have also argued that given the decarbonisation of the electricity supply, incinerators built after 2020 would have a relatively greater adverse climate change impact.
“Given the issues to be discussed at the appeal and the wider implications of this decision I think there are legitimate reasons for the Secretary of State to consider a ‘recovery’ and, acting on behalf of constituents, I have made that formal request to the Secretary of State.
“As the MP for Horsham I was delighted by the county council’s decision to deny planning permission and I am determined to ensure that any decision on the incinerator is tested through every possible stage of consideration to ensure we get the right answer.”
The public inquiry is expected to last for three weeks and is being held at Horsham Sports Club, on Cricketfield Road.