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AD plant to go ahead after appeal with full costs awarded

ADBA MEMBER PRESS RELEASE

Plans for a farm-based anaerobic digestion facility in County Durham will go ahead after the planning inspectorate allowed an appeal against the proposals being refused.

Full costs have also been awarded to the appellant after Durham County Council’s planning committee went against officer recommendations when they refused the development, which comprises a waste reception building, two digester tanks and two pasteurisation tanks, together with a combined heat and power (CHP) plant on one ha site on High Hedley Hope Farm (HHHF) at Tow Law, County Durham.

The proposal detailed how the AD plant will produce energy and biofertiliser by breaking down organic waste to release methane that can be used to drive a generator. Feedstock for the proposed facility will originate from the farm (farmyard manure and grass silage) and also be imported from food manufacturers and abattoirs.

High Hedley Hope Farm AD Plant AIThe AD plant would have a power output of 500 kW which is sufficient to power over 600 homes. The Farm will use a small fraction of the generated electricity with the balance going directly into the national grid. Only a small portion of the heat generated can currently be used on the farm; however there are already plans for a significant sized poultry rearing units on the same site, which would use all of the excess heat produced by the plant. During the November 2012 planning committee, however, councillors reported ‘serious local concerns’ about the impact of the development from odour, traffic and noise, and stated that they considered the proposal to be contrary to the waste local plan due to its size and location.

But in considering the appeal by Prism Planning on behalf of their applicant Mr WJ Drennan owner of HHHF and Paul Palmer of CH4 Sense, the project delivery partner, which was heard in April over two days, the planning inspector ruled that although the National Planning Policy Framework (the Framework) does not deal with waste policy, it does propose the creation of renewable energy as a core planning principle and establishes the presumption in favour of development that is sustainable, giving:

very strong encouragement to projects that would lead to a reduction in greenhouse gases

He went further in favour of the proposal, pointing out that in the government’s national Anaerobic Digestion Strategy and Action Plan, published in 2011, there is a commitment to increasing energy from waste through anaerobic digestion and, at the time of publication, more than half the active schemes were located on farms.

In his finding, he [the planning inspector] said:

Crucially, this was not a document the Local Planning Authority was aware of when it took its decision to refuse the appeal scheme. There are several more references in the Framework to sustainable development and meeting the challenge of climate change. In summary, government evinces very strong support for the types of process proposed at High Hedley Hope Farm.

Steve Barker, of Prism Planning, said:

To win the appeal is a great outcome for a proposal which in our view – and the planning inspector – should have been approved in the first instance is a great outcome for our client. To be awarded full costs reinforces the strength this application had in terms of its benefits and appropriateness in terms of its siting, environmental and visual impact and sustainability.

 

While it is common for appeals to overturn a refusal at planning committee, it is the norm to see full costs awarded in one in 1,000 hearings, so we are extremely pleased and very happy about this double win.

Paul Palmer of CH4 Sense added that he and his client were delighted with the team at Prism Planning having the original decision overturned and will undoubtedly use them again for the poultry development and other farm based AD projects across the region.

The inspector also found weaknesses in the council’s reliance on planning policies and strategies which were revoked earlier this year, but recognised that while certain relevant policies had been saved it was accepted that Local Plan policies had been drafted when AD technology was in its infancy, before commercial anaerobic digestion and ahead of the government’s support for it, he added:

Under these circumstances very little weight can be accorded the strategic policies, though the Local Plan does acknowledge the benefits of farm diversification.

In considering the appeal, the planning inspector identified three key areas of issue – first, the effect the proposed development would have on the environment, with particular reference to visual impact; the implications for the living conditions of nearby residents, especially with regard to noise and odour; and the sustainability accreditation of the project. After detailing his findings in his 15-page report, the inspector stated that:

…there are no cogent reasons why the appeal scheme should be resisted. There would be some changes visually and possibly to the noise environment. However, these would not be inordinate and are far outweighed by the encouragement and policy direction evinced by government through the Framework and the Strategy, especially on the lines of sustainability.

Prism Planning is regarded as the expert planning consultancy when dealing with planning applications for AD plants. The proposal for High Hedley Hope Farm is the latest AD application Prism Planning has secured for clients, with one scheme already under construction, two approved pending commencement of works, and several other applications being prepared for planning consideration.

The appeal hearing was heard during 17 and 18 April 2013. The full details of the findings are located at http://www.pcs.planningportal.gov.uk/pcsportal/CaseSearch.asp, reference APP/X1355/A/12/2188741.

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