All posts in Environment

Durham Planning Committee agreed to grant permission for another Anaerobic Digestion plant at the site of a dairy farm outside Sedgefield. The scheme will deliver 500kw of electricity into the national grid, processing the waste manure from the 600+ dairy herd on the site. The scheme was supported by officers who, at our instigation, had visited other AD schemes promoted by Prism already in operation. These visits had proved that the feared noise and odour, cited by residents as reasons to refuse the scheme, was simply not in evidence. Interestingly, during the debate in the Council Chamber, reference was made to the AD scheme at High Hedley, also submitted to the Council by Prism some years before and initially opposed by the Council. The Council’s decision was overturned at appeal and Prism got a full award of costs against the Council. The member who led the opposition to that scheme had recently passed by the site and advised the committee that it was a good scheme and he was wrong to have initially opposed it! This scheme is the 12thAD scheme that Prism have successfully obtained planning permission for, establishing ourselves as the market leaders in promoting this type of specialist renewable energy. We have several applications running with various local authorities across the country and hope to continue our success record of partnering with JFS and Associates to deliver green electricity and gas.
Hambleton Planning Committee unanimously voted to grant planning permission for up to 40 dwellings on Land to the Rear of Long Street, Thirsk, bringing to an end a 35 year saga concerning the development history of the site. The site, which is laid to grass and located adjacent to Thirsk Community Primary School, had once been allocated for recreational development. However the funds for its development never materialised and a Local Plan Inspector required the recreational allocation to be struck out of the Local Plan unless it could be properly funded. Members of the Planning Committee recognised that the long term future of the site now lies with residential development and were happy to grant Prism Planning an outline consent for up to 40 dwellings on the site as a way of bringing the site back into beneficial use. The site is probably one of the most sustainable housing sites ever to come forward in Thirsk in recent years, lying just at the back of Long Street and within convenient walking distance to the town centre. The permission was granted subject to a Section 106 Agreement being completed relating to the provision of affordable housing and financial contributions towards public open space. In granting the planning permission, members recognised that Prism Planning and its partner consultants had worked hard at canvassing the views of local residents and responding to the positive criticism that had come forward. Members are looking forward to seeing the reserved matters application in due course so the hunt is now on for a development partner interesting in taking the site forward.
Public Consultation on a major new biomass plant got under way this week with members of the public having the chance to attend consultation events at The Forum in Billingham and Port Clarences Community Centre. The new power station will be fuelled by waste wood and will be located on land adjacent to Koppers, opposite the Riverside Stadium on the North Bank of the Tees. 

The planning application for the plant will be submitted to Stockton Council early in the New Year and the consultation exercise will run until 3rd January. Anyone wanting to view the exhibition on line can go to; http://www.resultscommunications.co.uk/consultations/01%20Teesside%20Renewable%20Energy%20Plant_031213.pdf.

Prism Planning are coordinating a multidisciplinary team of development professionals to ensure that the planning application is both comprehensive and easily understood.

Watch this space for more exiting news of this £160 million project.
Prism had a busy day at a North Yorkshire Planning Committee with two of our applications for new Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plants and an intensive livestock building on the agenda in the same afternoon. We had our work cut out with strong local objection to two of the proposals but fortunately members were persuaded by the strength of our arguments and granted planning permission. The success means that we have now successfully obtained permission for no less than 5 AD plants this year which must be something of a record. We aren’t stopping there however and have an application lodged for another scheme due to be considered in December and have two more on the drawing board. We hope that we will be able to continue our run of success with this most sustainable of renewable energy schemes. It’s clear that we still have a great deal of work to do in educating and persuading the public of the benefits of AD and we will continue to work hard on this. It will hopefully be made a little easier by one of our first schemes at Howla Hay, Guisborough nearing completion. It’s always helpful to be able to show a real life example of an operational plant and there haven’t been too many farm scale schemes built locally in North Yorkshire and County Durham.
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.
Its not very often that a client comes to us in receipt of a listed building enforcement notice requiring him to take down a flue to a log burning stove -but this is just what happened to one of our clients recently.  Thanks to Prism efforts, a Planning Inspector has just decided that he can keep the stove and the LPA have been found to be heavy handed in their actions.

Living in a converted barn, our client had installed a very efficient log burning stove. Following the best practice guidance of English Heritage (EH), he had installed a modern flue that ran  up inside the barn and which just ‘peeped’ out of the gable below the ridge. As recommended by EH he had gone to the additional trouble and cost of having the flue coloured matt black to minimise its visual impact. The LPA thought this was wrong and took the unusual step of issuing a listed building enforcement notice requiring the removal of the flue.

The success rate of appeals against these types of actions isn’t high, with the benefit of the doubt often going to the Council. Prism recommended an informal hearing to try to get across to the Inspector the full facts of the case and to more effectively challenge the arguments of the Council. Normally the Inspectorate take 6-8 weeks to make their findings known but in this case just a week after the hearing the Inspector found for our client and allowed the flue to remain. 

The Inspectorate fully supported the use of logs as a renewable fuel and accepted  that our clients proposals hadn’t had the damaging impact upon the building that the Council claimed. He also noted that the neighbours, who had complained about the flue, had an even bigger and more obtrusive flue on their own property!

Its very unusual for Listed Building Enforcement Notices to be served and still more unusual for the Councils actions to be overturned at appeal. Prism are delighted to have been able to win the case for the client.
Well perhaps not just yet but we have certainly taken a major step towards this position this week with a key decision being made by Hambleton Council to grant planning permission for what we think is the first farm based anaerobic digestion facility at Bonnie Hill Farm, Great Broughton.

For those who aren’t quite sure what this involves, farmyard manure along with grass silage and other organic matters is placed in a sealed vessel and allowed to ferment away under controlled conditions. This produces methane which can be used to fuel a generator producing electricity and hot water. After supplying the farms energy needs any spare electricity can be exported back to the Grid and earn the farmer an income. The heat from the generator can usually be used to good advantage –in this case helping to reduce costs in the on-site milk bottling plant. Other uses include warming stock buildings or heating glasshouses to produce cash crops. Once fermented the resultant product, known as ‘digestate’ can be spread upon the land. Its more useful for plant growth and a lot safer than ordinary slurry and has hardly any smell! AD isn’t a new concept and has been used on the continent for many years and the technology is proven. What is different about this project is that it is based upon the farm and uses manure and other crops produced on the farm. This means that there are no transport costs or off site implications for the local road network. From many peoples perspectives it is a lot more attractive than more wind turbines going up in the countryside.

We are delighted to have provided the planning support to such a great idea proposal. The new NPPF places a great deal of emphasis upon such sustainable forms of renewable energy generation.

Because the country isn’t yet very familiar with AD as a general concept, there is a steep learning curve with the detailed issues involved. Our clients, newly established , JFS based at Stokesley have however provided all of the answers and look set to make their mark upon the future of farming. Already there are two other similar projects at the pipeline that JFS have worked upon and farm based AD looks to have major potential for farmers who have livestock units. If it brings and end to the distinctive smells of slurry spreading, it will also get widespread support from the general public as well! If you’re interested in the potential of AD or want to know more about the issues, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Planning permission has just been granted by Hambleton District Council for new vertical access wind turbines at the site of AMR Autos near Great Ayton. The garage already have outstanding green credentials through installing LPG systems to cars and generate a lot of their own power needs from Photo Voltaic panels on the roof. The two new turbines will help out on the windier winter days.
 
The turbines aren’t your average windmills that give rise to so much controversy. They are elegant horizontal machines that are near silent in their operation and are ideally suited to residential areas. Indeed avid followers of the Olympics will have seen them turning away in the main Olympic park looking more like artistic sculptures than pieces of technical wizardry.

Its hoped that these machines will help gain more widespread acceptance than their big brother counterparts and allow small wind turbine generation to become more familiar and common place.
In January 2013, just a few months away, a number of planning authorities will seek to ratchet up build standards for new dwellings to deliver more sustainable properties. The standard tool used for assessing sustainability is the Code for Sustainable Homes, a sliding scale of numerical targets where the higher the number the more sustainable the building. Currently our building regulations require us to build at just below Code level 3. Code level 6, the highest standard represents the nirvana of the ‘Carbon Neutral’ House. Government policy is that all new homes will have to achieve level 6 by 2016.

Here in the Tees Valley, Stockton and Redcar and Cleveland Councils are both seeking to increase their minimum standard of construction from Code 3 (present) to Code 4. Middlesbrough and Hartlepool have no such commitments at this time.  

Although the cost of achieving higher levels of sustainability have been coming down, there is no getting away from the fact that building to higher levels of sustainability costs more money and the jump from Code 3 to Code 4 is not an easy one to make without careful consideration of renewable energy generation. Simply adding in more insulation into the structure at this level of the Code won’t achieve the transition from Code 3 to Code 4 –more draconian steps are called for.

For anyone thinking about carrying out new development in Stockton or Redcar areas in the coming months, if you want to minimise your build costs, you need to consider the above situation. We can help and advise and have an extensive network of contacts who can tell you the costs of incorporating different parts of the Code in your project. Your choices cover enhancing the ecological value of your project through rainwater harvesting and up to on site generation of renewable technologies. For anyone wanting to try to build to Code 3 rather than Code 4 in the areas affected, you don’t have very much time to secure permission and get started on site. Don’t delay, get in touch with us straightaway .

I’ve been back from planning committee for a few days now and am still reeling from the decision to refuse planning permission. Apparently the fact that no technical objections exist, the site is allocated for housing and the scheme provides for much needed affordable housing doesn’t really count for much when the local community don’t want it on their doorstep.  The quality of the debate wasn’t the greatest I have seen although it was most spirited. However the committee thought it was high time they set aside all of these allocations that keep constraining their decision  making!  So much for the comfort of a plan led system.  It remains to be seen whether the Inspectorate will remedy the situation and overule the local planning authority but you will be unsurprised to know that the appeal is ongoing.

We are running up to the demise of our RDA’s in just a few weeks time and one of the last grants they will issue in the North East has been awarded to a major manufacturer we are representing. The proposals need to be rushed through as quickly as the system allows so that a start can be made on site before the end of the year: No start = no grant and the loss of the inward investment to another part of the European Union.

An SCI event has been undertaken with overwhelming community support and the planning officer has also been broadly supportive, noting that the site is allocated for industry in the Local Plan. Everything seems to be going in the right direction and even the Highways Agency are being supportive -all that is apart from the possibility of newts getting onto the site.

A formal objection has been received from our national ecological team on the basis that we might have newts present and need to survey for their presence. There are newts in the area so there is a kernel of legitimacey to their objection. But the catch 22 to the situation is that we can’t survey for the newts until the weather warms the land in April/May, by which time the opportunity to attract the grant and the business it supports will be gone.  Two impartial sets of ecologist have looked at the site and pointed out that any newt on the site would have had to cross a busy main road to get there and would probably not have the best of genetic material to extend the newt gene pool. However its a classic dilema to the LPA as to whether they go for the certainty of securing inward investment or the possibility, however unlikely, of a protected species being present.

I’ve blogged before about the pre-eminence we give to protected species and I’m in danger of apearing like the dodgy developer on Corrie who persuaded his bats to leave in a manner not approved by Natural England. I’m not really authoring a book with Gordon Ramsey on 101 ways to cook newts but have to admit that it is becoming increasingly challenging getting the balance right between reconciling new forms of development and investment with the ecological issues.  By way of example; we recently had a decision from a planning authority that prevented us from working on the site between November and April because of the possibility of bats being present. Subsequently they then went on to restrict work in the summer between May and September because of the possibility of swallows being present. Not too many weeks of available construction time in that permission yet the planner’s couldn’t see anything wrong with their decision.

Rather than wasting time trying to get Localism to work in a positive manner, I would rather the boffins put some serious effort into sensible guidance on how we can more properly consider the integration of development with the protection of any said species. At the moment we have a very blunt and unwieldy system that gives far greater weight into the possibility of protected species being present than it does job creation and inward investment.

Now,  who is for pickled newts on toast…?