The controversial plans for a huge anaerobic digester (AD) plant near Keynsham that would have seen 28,000 additional HGV journeys a year through narrow country lanes have today been refused by Bath & North East Somerset Council’s planning committee.
Council officers had recommended refusal on four grounds – that it is not in a location deemed acceptable for such a facility, would harm road safety, would be inappropriate development in the Green Belt and would harm protected species, including bats and barn owls.
There have been issues with unauthorised development at the previous unfinished AD plant at the site in Charlton Field Lane. Resourceful Energy Anaerobic Ltd (REAL) applied to increase capacity from the previously approved 25,000 tonnes of organic materials or ‘feedstocks’ (crops and food waste per year to 92,000 tonnes, with the facility producing gas and electricity for local grid networks. The company also planned to restore ecology in the old quarry at the site.
Phil Gerrard, a director of REAL director told today’s meeting at the Guildhall in Bath that the council’s planning report was “misleading” and contained “serious inaccuracies”.
But the committee unanimously rejected the scheme.
Local councillors spoke at the meeting about the harm the proposals would do, as did planning consultant Rob Duff representing campaign group Protect Our Keynsham Environment (POKE) which has been coordinating opposition to the proposal from more than 800 objectors.
Cllr Alan Hale warned that if the plans were approved, many hundreds of established and new homes in his Keynsham South ward would be affected directly by the inappropriate development and “28,000 additional HGV journeys per year on inappropriate roads”.
Cllr Hale, who is the council’s Member Advocate for Road Safety, said: “Whatever conditions might be imposed, there is every chance that some drivers, perhaps many, will abuse the Charlton Road weight restriction and drive through the town of Keynsham to reach or leave the site. It is suggested trackers will be used to prevent this. Well, money talks and the risks will be taken. Criminals wear trackers and still commit crime. There is little in the way of road policing to prevent this happening.
“If they come through the town on Charlton Road then the HGVs will pass along routes to school for three primary schools and one secondary.
“I should add that the figure of 28,000 plus equates to 112 HGV journeys per day. During the maize harvest this would increase to around about 196 HGV journeys per day. Add to this the necessary journeys to remove the digestate liquor.”
He also spoke about the impact on residents’ health from wind-blown spores from maize from the proposed development, as did fellow ward councillor Lisa O’Brien. Her statement was read out by Publow and Whitchurch councillor Paul May, who also opposed the scheme.
Cllr O’Brien pointed out there were already AD facilities in the wider area that were not operating at capacity, including at Avonmouth, Weston-super-Mare, two near Warminster and one at Cannington near Bridgwater, as well as a large one being built at Shepton Mallet.
Saltford councillor Alistair Singleton, in whose ward the application site lies, branded it a damaging scheme “masquerading in diaphanous green clothing”.
The committee agreed to refuse the scheme with additional reasons suggested by fellow Saltford ward councillor Duncan Hounsell – that the AD plant would impact on the openness of the Green Belt because of land raising; the harm to the health and wellbeing of residents due to dust and pollutants; and the potential for conflict with the proposed ‘liveable neighbourhood’ scheme in Queen Charlton.
After the meeting Cllr Paul May said: “I congratulate members of the planning committee for making the right decision today. Although I support the move towards generating more renewable energy, this site simply is not appropriate for a development of this nature. The impact on the local environment would have been severe, with the costs of the facility far outweighing its benefits.
“Local people have done a fantastic job opposing these plans and I have been proud to support them – this is a victory for them.”
Kerry Morgan, chair of POKE, said: “We would like to thank councillors on the planning committee for making the right decision today, and the planning case officer for their sterling work. We are grateful to our many supporters and everyone who has contributed to the campaign over the past two years. We hope the applicant will choose not to appeal but if, as we suspect, they do, we will be ready to give our best case to the planning inspector.”
In a statement POKE added: “While a planning appeal from REAL is possible, and they have six months to do so, the comprehensive defeat for their proposals, and the reasons for refusal which cannot be disputed, hopefully make this less likely.”
The campaign group added: “The council’s planning enforcement team have previously refused to take enforcement action to secure the removal of the unauthorised landfill which, thanks to Cllr Duncan Hounsell, is now a reason for refusal, and have not taken action to require the restoration of the land in accordance with conditions attached to previous planning permissions for waste composting and restoration.
“POKE will now strongly request that enforcement action is taken as soon as possible and definitely before the applicant makes an appeal.”
Tonight West of England Mayor Dan Norris said: “This is a victory for local people ably led by POKE campaigners. Their tenacity and persistence in coming together to oppose those poor proposals has paid off. I’m pleased councillors heeded warnings and didn’t fall for the company’s greenwash. Anaerobic digesters can be good for the environment but not when farmers plant extra crops to feed the power plant, rather than people. And not when they bring huge lorries to narrow roads in a beautiful part of the country, and noise and smells. This site has a long and troubled past. Let’s hope today truly does mark the death knell for these misguided and inappropriate plans for the Charlton Field Lane site.
“The community still needs to be extremely vigilant when it comes to companies that put profit before the planet. The applicant has six months in which to appeal and I suspect they are likely to do so. I know POKE is already preparing to resist any such challenge. Over the years there has been ‘mission creep’ at this site, where initially small proposals have become larger and more concerning. Let’s protect our local communities in and around the Green Belt in this most beautiful area.”
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