Countryside charity slams proposals for anaerobic digester plant near Keynsham

The countryside charity CPRE is calling for plans for a new waste-to-power plant near Keynsham to be rejected and for what has previously built on the site without permission to be torn down.

The Avon & Bristol branch has written to Bath & North East Somerset Council to object to the proposed anaerobic digester (AD) facility at the old Queen Charlton quarry site in Charlton Field Lane.

The previous unfinished AD plant closed in October 2017 when administrators were appointed.

Resourceful Earth Anaerobic Ltd (REAL) wants to increase capacity from the previously approved 25,000 tonnes of organic material per annum at the site to 92,000 tonnes. The AD facility would produce gas and electricity for local grid networks and the company proposes to restore ecology in the old quarry.

But CPRE says in a letter to the council that it objects “very strongly” to the planning application: “The amenity damage to the Green Belt is unjustifiable; the traffic and safety implications are unacceptable, the environmental impact on people’s homes will be unacceptable and in overall terms we do not believe that the proposals are environmentally or economically sustainable.”

It adds: “We also seriously doubt whether this facility will provide overall reductions in carbon emissions, and therefore whether its approval is in line with the council’s climate strategy.”

CPRE believes that the plant would only be processing around 30% of actual waste and some of the materials would be grown specifically.

It says it is in principle sympathetic to the use of AD as a “green” energy technology, but in sensitive rural settings this is usually best achieved by very much smaller “farm” facilities.

“These proposals are for an industrial-scale facility with huge adverse implications for the Green Belt and for neighbouring communities.

“It should also be noted, and taken into account, that the proposals are in effect an attempt to circumvent an existing egregious abuse of planning law. The structures that have already been erected on the site are outside any previous planning consents and are quite correctly now the subject of an enforcement notice requiring their demolition.

“Previous commitments to return the old decomposting site to its natural state and restore the compatibility with the Green Belt have been ignored. We also understand, from the complex and long history of the site, that previous planning consents relate only to much smaller scale waste decomposting facilities, not to AD facilities utilising large quantities of agricultural produce. B&NES should now ensure that the enforcement notice is fully complied with and that the site is indeed properly and fully restored.”

The letter continues: “CPRE nationally has considerable experience of evaluating AD facilities and this only adds to the considerable concern we have over this application. Other plants, and particularly those with “open” silos, as is proposed in this instance, have given rise to significant loss of amenity due to unpleasant and potentially toxic odours and emissions, despite endless assurances by operators that such problems would not occur.

“When the earlier composting plant on this site was operational, we understand from neighbouring landowners that it was not unusual for unpleasant odours, significantly worse than from normal agricultural sileage, to drift across the countryside, including the important network of footpaths to the south as well as to the north of the site.

“The environmental impact in this respect of an industrial AD facility of the type proposed will be very much worse. This is of course – and rightly – of huge concern to residents of south west Keynsham, where significant housing development has taken place in recent years and who would be subjected to odours being carried by the prevailing south-westerly winds. It does however also have significant implications for rural residents and amenity use of the neighbouring countryside as well.”

CPRE flags up concerns about the impact on local roads including Woollard Lane and Charlton Field Lane, saying they may be two-lane but are essentially rural roads, and the introduction of very large vehicles serving the AD plant is well beyond their design capability and would put other road users at risk.

The charity also says: “Proposed access to the site is from the A37 junction with Woollard (Lane) and Sleep Lane. This is a complex junction involving several intersections before actually joining the busy A37. The various intersections themselves are unsuitable for the very heavy vehicles involved in servicing the proposed plant.”

Keynsham Town Council, Whitchurch Village Council, and Publow with Pensford Parish Council have also raised objections as has Whitchurch Village Action Group. And campaigners from the group Protect Our Keynsham Environment (POKE), which was set up by concerned local residents, have started a GoFundMe page which to date has raised more than £2,400 which has enabled them to engage a planning expert. They say they need further donations to instruct a transport expert.

B&NES Council’s target date for making a decision on the application is 11th May. As we reported In Issue 670, the authority’s own highways team has already raised road safety concerns.

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