Campaigners succeed in stalling Plaistow farm’s bid to be an energy plant

A parish council is seeking legal advice over a planning application which, if approved next week, could turn a small farm near Plaistow into an ‘industrial plant’.

Friday, 30th January 2015, 9:13 am
Residents protesting outside Crouchlands Biogas Litd in Plaistow. They are against expansion of the farm - picture submitted SUS-140210-162931001

Villagers of Kirdford, Plaistow and Ifold are campaigning against a retrospective planning application by Crouchlands Biogas seeking to extend current permission from Chichester District Council (CDC)allowing them to produce electricity from farm waste.

On Tuesday (February 3) the West Sussex County Council planning committee will be considering the plans for an upgraded facility, which allows 34,755 tonnes of waste, glycerol and crops each year to be brought to the site to produce biomethane gas to turn into electricity for the national grid.

It comes after the county council started enforcement action against the farm last summer when Crouchlands expanded without planning permission.

Aerial photo of Crouchlands Biogas in Rickmans Lane, Plaistow - picture submitted SUS-140210-162920001

The current plans would roughly triple the capacity of the equipment approved six years ago by the district council.

County officers have recommended approval of the application helped by an 11th hour withdrawal of an objection by West Sussex County Highways.

Residents say the highways issue they have seen since the farm expanded is key to their campaign.

They believe the report is flawed and they have a top London counsel looking into the matter.

Chairman of Plaistow and Ifold Parish Council Sara Burrell said: “We do not agree with the West Sussex County Council report and we do not accept their recommendation and we’re seeking legal opinion.

“Our response will be determined by that opinion. It could go several ways.”

CDC ward member for Kirdford and Wisborough Green Josef Ransley is supporting them in opposing the plans.

He said: “Having had the opportunity to study the WSCC planning report and recommendation as well as the legal counsel opinion they obtained I can only express the view that whilst I’m no legal or planning expert, I have been involved with planning policy making, served on a LPA development committee and successfully managed numerous major applications around the country by relying on the application of a test of reasonableness and basic planning principles.

“This application may be seen as a complicated one unless we remember the basic principles and then it only too apparent that it is simply inappropriate.

“I believe WSCC Planners may have lost sight of the principles and purpose of Development Management and are failing to see the wood for the trees.

“A refusal on February 3 by councillors would demonstrate that local decision makers will only support appropriate development and not be pressurised into supporting inappropriate development under any circumstances.”

Objections have also been raised by Kirdford Parish Council and more than 400 others, with concerns about the adverse impact on the rural area and the noise and working hours of the plant.

The Protect Our Rural Environment group (PORE) has collected around 900 signatures for a petition against the plans.

Resident and PORE member Paul Jordan said: “Residents are surprised and confused by the local Highways Agency’s latest response to the planning authorities.

“In one breath they withdraw their objection to the application, but in the next breath they say they still have concerns about the suitability of local roads for HGV movements. Either the roads are suitable or they aren’t.

Ben Wibaut lives in Foxbridge Lane, Kirdford, which is directly affected by the application site.

He said: “WSCC’s recommendation is for a massive industrial plant with a capacity of at least three times this.

“And what’s more they would approve in one fell swoop the applicant’s ability to liquify gas, which is something never envisaged in the original application and thereby generate yet more HGV traffic, as the gas is transported by tanker to Portsmouth.

“There are many reasons to object to this scheme, but the overriding damage comes in the form of HGV movement.

“The biogas site is fed by narrow and winding village lanes completely unsuitable for the unrelenting barrage of HGV lorries to and from the site.”

Despite the recommendation for approval, councillors at the meeting in County Hall North in Horsham reserve the right to refuse permission.

However Leon Mekitarian, managing director of Crouchland Biogas, said: “We are pleased that West Sussex County Council has recognised the excellent design of our proposals, which offer locally sourced renewable energy.

“We have worked hard to ensure that every aspect of our planning application is suitable for the area. This application will help us to support our 20 staff and the 20 local farms that we work with.”