Enforcement action decision on energy farm ‘not a glorious occasion for county council’

Residents outside County Hall North in Horsham in March before WSCC's planning committee threw out Crouchland Farm's retrospective planning application
Residents outside County Hall North in Horsham in March before WSCC's planning committee threw out Crouchland Farm's retrospective planning application
  • County council agrees to refer enforcement at Crouchland Farm to district council
  • Three months after it refused retrospective permission at the site
  • Managing director calls it ‘step in the right direction’, but residents express disappointment

Enforcement action could finally be brought against a controversial energy farm.

West Sussex County Council’s planning committee turned down a retrospective application to upgrade energy production equipment at Crouchland Farm, in Rickmans Lane near Plaistow, back in early March.

Three months later, county councillors agreed to refer the case to Chichester District Council for possible enforcement action at a meeting on Tuesday.

County council officers had concluded that although there had been a breach of planning control, enforcement was not a county matter as according to the applicant, imported waste was a very small proportion of the current feedstock for its anaerobic digesters.

Furious residents have objected to the scale of the operation at the farm, which involves an anaerobic digestion plant breaking down organic material to produce biogas.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Leon Mekitarian, managing director of Crouchland Farm, said: “Today’s decision is a step in the right direction for Crouchland Farm, as we seek to regulate our biogas plant.

“We are pleased that the county council recognised that we are no longer importing material quantities of waste to our plant, and that there is no basis on which to take enforcement action.

“We will continue to work with both West Sussex County Council and Chichester District Council in the coming months, to find an outcome that works for both the farm and our neighbours.”

But residents expressed ‘disappointment’ at how the county council had handled the situation and the time taken for the two authorities to agree who was responsible for enforcement.

Meanwhile Sara Burrell, chairman of Plaistow and Ifold Parish Council, added: “It has been three months since the WSCC planning committee unanimously rejected the Crouchland retrospective planning application.

“During this three-month period the local community and environment has continued to suffer as a result of the unauthorised development at Crouchland Biogas.

“The speed at which the WSCC planning department has moved to uphold the decision of the planning committee has been disappointingly glacial, to put it mildly.

“Now that responsibility for enforcement action has been passed to Chichester, the local community hope that the planners will move quickly to put an end to this monstrously inappropriate development that is causing such harm and distress to the local community and environment and return the site to what was originally approved and supported by the local community; a small-scale anaerobic digestion facility to process on-farm slurry and waste.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, planning committee chairman Heidi Brunsdon (Con, Imberdown) said they were ‘not here to rerun March’s decision’.

Gordon McAra (Ind, Midhurst) described being ‘very disappointed at the way this whole process

has been handled’ and added: “This is not a glorious occasion for the county council.”

Officers replied that while it was lawful for the county council to determine the planning application, the law stated that it was now CDC’s responsibility to take enforcement action.

Although Crouchland secured permission from the district council for three anaerobic digestion tanks from 2007 onwards, these permissions did not contain any conditions restricting the use of the site,

the source of the materials, or their transportation.

Crouchland submitted another application to WSCC for a certificate of lawfulness for the proposed use of an anaerobic digestion facility last month. According to officers, this is simply a legal determination of what Crouchland can already do at the site.

This is due to come before the planning committee in July.

After the meeting, Josef Ransley, district councillor for Kirdford and Wisborough Green, described residents’ ‘disappointment’ at how the county council had handled the situation, and felt there was a danger that people might lose faith in the planning system.

At March’s planning committee meeting, councillors raised concerns about traffic safety due to HGVs travelling in and out of the site, and the industrialisation of the countryside.

Crouchland has stated its intent to appeal WSCC’s decision.

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