Another Appeal Success for Prism!
A Planning Inspector has just overturned a decision by Durham County Council and granted planning permission for a new 500KW anaerobic digestion (AD) plant on a farm at East Hedleyhope, Bishop Auckland. The proposed plant and associated combined heat and power plant would provide electricity and heat out of digesting farmyard manure and other organic wastes. The case establishes Prism as one of the leading planning consultancies with expertise and in depth knowledge of the AD process. Prisms involvement was secured by Paul Palmer of CH4 Sense, a leading provider of AD services ch4sense.co.uk
The application was submitted to Durham County Council in June 2012 and although initially supported by officers, was refused by the planning committee in November 2012 with members disagreeing with officer’s assessment of the case. Members were concerned over the visual impact, odour, noise and the overall sustainability of the project. The decision of the Council was taken to appeal and an Informal Hearing took place in April 2013.
In allowing the appeal, the Planning Inspector noted that the Council had not considered the National Anaerobic Digestion Strategy and considered that the Council’s policy base carried very little weight, being written well before the publication of the National Strategy in 2011. The Inspector considered that the tanks, although large in scale, would present itself as components of an existing farm and would have been properly screened by the landscape belt proposed in the application. In looking at the noise nuisance, he noted that the scheme did not breach World Health Organisation guidelines for night time noise and in looking at the odour decided this was something which would be properly regulated by the Environment Agency in due course. He considered that the Planning Authority were wrong in trying to adopt a precautionary stance in assuming that matters might go wrong. He went on to consider that this was a highly sustainable location for this type of development and was consistent with the National Anaerobic Digestion Strategy published by the government. He criticised the Council for seeking to locate such developments in existing industrial areas noting that certain types of AD facility would require large amounts of land to operate and they could not be expected to locate in general industrial areas to apply the presumption on favour of sustainable development established in the National Policy Framework for Planning and granted consent.
Unusually, he went on to allow a full claim for costs against the Council noting that the members had departed from the professional advice of their officers without proper grounds. He was very critical of the Council applying a precautionary principle when advice clearly states that it is not their role in the planning system to do so. He concluded that the Council’s reasons for refusal were not justified or supported by any written or visual evidence and that the Council had put the appellant to the unnecessary cost of preparing evidence for and attending the appeal.
Prism, and their client were delighted with the outcome of the appeal, noting that it was a complete vindication of the case they had argued and presented to the Council throughout the planning application process. In particular, Prism had supplied the Council with information covering all the points of concern and had sought to allay fears in these important areas. That this presentation of information was ignored by members is regrettable. However the AD process in the UK is still at a relatively young stage and it is perhaps understandable that fear of the unknown creeps into the decision making process. Hopefully this decision will show clearly that AD is here to stay and are properly considered proposals with well argued evidence should not be refused except on very specific and clear grounds. Prism look forward to working with the Council to get the scheme up and running in the very near future.