Agenda item

Attleborough; Proposed Anaerobic Digestion Unit, Land at Attleborough Poultry Farms, off B1077 for S S Agriservices: Reference: 3PL/2009/1143/F (Agenda Item 8a)

Report of the Deputy Chief Executive.

Minutes:

The Principal Planning Officer (Major Projects) (PPO MP) presented the report.  This item had been discussed by the Committee on 15 February 2010.  The application had been deferred in order to gather further supporting information, as well as to invite representatives from the Environment Agency to attend, along with the applicant, to answer questions.

 

Members were shown photographs and drawings of the site, especially in relation to nearby buildings which included St Luke’s hospital, a veterinary practice and an adjacent turkey farm.   The nearest residential property was 250m away.

 

The PPO MP said that National and local policies were generally to encourage renewable energy projects, subject to certain criteria.  He also said that the new landscaping proposed by the applicant was acceptable to the Planning Officers.

 

In terms of impact on surrounding properties, there had been much local opposition, with approximately 150 letters having been received, many of which raised concerns about smell and emissions.  There was some uncertainty about the status of the turkey farm tenancy, and the current operator had strongly objected on a number of grounds, including potential noise and emissions affecting his turkey breeding, which he said was particularly sensitive.

 

Before being able to operate, the proposed anaerobic digestion plant would require an Environmental Permit from the Environment Agency (EA) which would ensure detailed controls over the day-to-day management of the plant.   The PPO MP added that there would be tighter emission controls imposed by the EA permit on the elements located in the open air, than those contained in buildings.  The Environment Agency had made no further comment on the proposal: they did not object, subject to the imposition of certain conditions.

 

Having seen the details of the EA requirements before permit issue, the Environmental Health Officer had confirmed that she was comfortable with them, and had withdrawn her initial objection. 

 

The PPO MP concluded by saying that the EA had declined to accept an invitation to attend.  With respect to noise and appearance, the anaerobic digestion unit was felt to be acceptable in terms of the impact on neighbouring properties, since noise levels were unlikely to be vastly different from those produced by general farm equipment, and silage clamps were fairly common on many farms nowadays. 

 

With regard to traffic concerns, the report detailed the additional information which had been received since the previous discussion.   Highway improvements were part of the planning application.   Work would need to be done on the forward visibility splay at the junction with the B1077.  However the figures quoted were based on reasonable traffic projections in terms of the proposed business combined with existing movements.  It was felt that the additional traffic was not likely to have a significant impact. 

 

The recommendation was for approval, subject to conditions as listed in the report.

 

Speaking on behalf of the objectors, Mr Irvine expressed disappointment at the level of further information provided, some of which he felt conflicted with what had been provided in February.    He mentioned the concerns from the turkey farmer in terms of the potential effect of this proposal on both the turkeys and farm employees.   Government guidelines recommended that this type of plant should be located near industrial or sewage works.   In addition, many objectors had strong reservations about enforcement resting with the Environment Agency – with problems at Banham Poultry being cited as an example.  Finally, there were real doubts that the figures quoted with respect to traffic movements were realistic in terms of numbers, as well as the degree of visibility, at the access to the B1077.

 

Representing the applicants, Mr Evans said that whilst the production of Biogas was virtually unknown in the UK at the moment, the technology was not new.  There were over 10,000 plants located on the continent.  The company had been in operation for over 10 years and were involved with the running of over 30 plants.  He added that the company would not be proposing to invest up to £4 million in an operation which was likely to fail stringent environmental requirements.    The plant would also bring jobs to the area. 

 

He explained that there would be no smell associated with the process.     Primary and secondary agricultural products were used: not actual ‘waste’ itself.   With regard to the turkey farm, the applicant had been given an option to purchase both the application site and the turkey farm.  Mr Evans said that in the event that permissions were not granted for the AD, the site might be used for other forms of farming, such as pig farming, which were not subject to planning permission, but which could potentially produce emissions. 

 

Mr Adrian Stasiak, Ward representative, expressed strong reservations about this application and believed that it should be refused.  He remained unconvinced that previous concerns about smell and Highways issues (including ownership of the land which would comprise the visibility splay) had been fully addressed.   He also believed that there were still doubts about the location of the fuel supply – and the possible further impact on traffic that this might create.  In addition, he was very concerned that the Environment Agency would have the responsibility for the effective overview of the site and permit issue, given their track record with Banham Poultry.  On balance, he felt that the site was in the wrong place: it would be generally less intrusive if it could be located 2-3 fields further away.   

 

The Chairman asked Mr Evans to give the Committee specific assurance that there would be no solid (i.e. animal) waste on the site.   Mr Evans confirmed this, adding that there was no associated smell with this process. 

 

Mr P. Francis raised concerns about the fact that the site was located immediately above an aquifer which supplied public drinking water for local residents.  He drew attention to a letter which he had received from the Environment Agency and asked the Environmental Health Officer if a water assessment had been received.

 

The PPO MP and Solicitor and Standards Consultant explained that this would be required by conditions.  If the EA were not happy that all their conditions were being met, then they would not issue the permit – without which the plant could not operate. 

 

Mr Francis reminded Members that when this application had come before the Committee 9 months previously, the Environment Agency had raised concerns about how close the site was to the town and local businesses.  Their recommendation at that time had been for the silage clamp to be housed within a building.

 

The PPO MP acknowledged this, saying that the previous application had been almost identical to the current one and that, at the time, the EA had raised strong objections.  However, they had since changed their position with regard to this type of renewable energy production, and the Council had to base their decision on current advice.  

 

Mr Evans appreciated Members’ concerns about smell, but confirmed that the company would be unable to apply for the EA permit until the plant had actually been built.   The company would not go forward if they had any reservations that they would be unable to fully comply with all regulations.    

 

It was also pointed out that the minimum distance between the site and nearest dwelling was a ‘recommendation’, rather than a ‘regulation’. 

 

Wider discussion highlighted the following points:

 

  • There remained some concern about the visibility splay, and road safety - not least because there was a considerable dip in the road. 

 

Mr Shaw, NCC, explained that the Highways authority had undertaken adequate research into the site.   Acknowledging that they would have preferred that the splay be transferred and dedicated as part of the public highway, he said that they were content with the proposal, subject to various conditions being in place in advance of work commencing. 

 

  • It was confirmed that visibility splay would remain under the ownership of the current landowner, but that he had accepted the condition of keeping this clear for Highways purposes. 

 

  • It was acknowledged that as this was a fairly new business in the UK the Environment Agency did not yet have a standardised permit regime.  
  • The Chairman pointed out that an agricultural site could potentially be used for pigs or sugar beet production without need for any planning permission – both of which would produce smell.     She added that she had visited a similar operation in North Norfolk and confirmed that there was no smell and very little noise – no more so than from many farms.

 

  • Many local farms operated small-scale silage clamps without any problems with odour. 

 

RESOLVED that

 

1)           the application be approved, subject to the conditions set out in the report; and

 

2)           the Overview & Scrutiny Commission be invited to request a representative from the EA to attend a meeting to explain how they dealt with planning applications of this nature.

 

Supporting documents: