WHAT IS THE LINK BETWEEN THE NEW OWNER OF CROUCHLAND FARM AND THE PREVIOUS BACKERS OF THE BIOGAS PLANT?

PORE have been asked today to amend the wording in a previous post which stated that the new owners of the farm, Artemis and the funders of Crouchland Biogas, Privilege Asset Finance were 'associated'.

We may not have been technically correct, but let us explain the link between the companies.

It is very clear that the companies have a significant link in Craig Reeves. (We apologise if we were in error by stating that the companies were 'associated.')

CRAIG REEVES;
• Is a person with significant control of Privilege Holdings Ltd, which in turn has significant control of Privilege Asset Finance (which financed the original biogas plant at Crouchland Farm)
• Is also a person with significant control of West Sussex Agri Ltd (WSA), which in turn is registered as ‘a person with significant control’ of Artemis Land and Agriculture Ltd. (WSA owns Artemis which is the new owner of the farm)
• is also a board member and founder of Prestige capital finance, which is linked to Privilege Asset Finance

In short, Craig Reeves has significant control of companies which in turn have significant control of both Privilege Asset Finance and also the new company which has bought Crouchland Farm, Artemis Land and Agriculture Ltd.

Please read below to see what “significant control or influence” means;

An individual who has significant control or influence over a company can be a person or legal entity, such as another company or firm. As per some examples provided by Companies House, “control” and “influence” can be exercised in a number of different ways:

A person directs the activities of a company, trust or firm.

A person can ensure that a company, trust or firm generally adopts the activities which they desire.

A person has absolute decision rights over decisions related to the running of the business of the company, for example relating to:
– Adopting or amending the company’s business plan.
– Changing the nature of the company’s business.
– Making any additional borrowing from lenders.
– Appointment or removal of the CEO.
– Establishing or amending any profit-sharing, bonus or other incentive scheme of any nature for directors or employees.
– The grant of options under a share option or other share based incentive scheme.

A person has absolute veto rights over decisions related to the running of the business of the company, such as adopting or amending the company’s business plan, or making additional borrowing from lenders.

Where a person holds absolute veto rights over the appointment of the majority of directors, meaning those directors who hold a majority of the voting rights at meetings of the board on all or substantially all matters.

A person who is not a member of the board of directors but regularly or consistently directs or influences a significant section of the board, or is regularly consulted on board decisions and whose views influence decisions made by the board.

A company founder who no longer has a significant shareholding in the company they started, but makes recommendations to the other shareholders on how to vote and those recommendations are always or almost always followed.

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Artemis buys Crouchland Farm

Artemis Land & Agriculture Limited, whose chairman is Anthony Fairbanks Weston, has now purchased Crouchland Farm. Artemis has however opted NOT to purchase the area known as ‘lagoon 3’ which has reverted to William Luttman-Johnson, the original landowner and operator of the biogas plant.

West Sussex Agri Limited (WSA), the owner of Artemis, was the senior creditor in the receivership and the administrations

The community looks forward to hearing more about the plans for Crouchland Farm and to meeting Mr Anthony Fairbanks Weston. As a priority, urgent plans need to be made to avert an environmental disaster at lagoon 3.

Read more at; https://www.wscountytimes.co.uk/news/business/new-owner-takes-control-of-crouchland-farm-site-1-8801980

Who is protected on insolvency: the environment or the creditors?

Crouchland Biogas are not actually in liquidation, but back in administration due to an error by the administrators. The big question is why is the Environment Agency just letting them off the clear up of lagoon 3? What happened to “The polluter pays”?

The following article from Burges Salmon citing Scottish cases, suggests that it could be possible for the EA to push harder to ensure that the clean up is met as part of the administrators duty.

There seems to be a real imbalance where everything is done to try and help the creditors, but little is done to clear up the mess that their investment enabled.

It is worth remembering that Burges Salmon acted for Crouchland Biogas Ltd. As they themselves conclude, 'This is an area that is ripe for further challenge.'

https://www.burges-salmon.com/news-and-insight/legal-updates/who-is-protected-on-insolvency-the-environment-or-the-creditors/

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A disaster waiting to happen - and who could be liable?

Last week, 10th January, Crouchland Biogas was put into liquidation by FRP the administrators; prior to that in December the two Privilege directors (lenders to Crouchland Biogas) Phillip Neil Gerrard and Andrew Michael Vernau resigned as directors of Crouchland Biogas.

The big question is who will be held responsible for complying with the dismantling required by the enforcement notices and particularly addressing the gigantic lagoon of digestate that the EA is very concerned about?

Interestingly, one day before the liquidation, the EA served an Anti-pollution Notice on Crouchland Biogas in which they stated that “The Environment Agency is satisfied that poisonous, noxious and polluting matter, namely digestate ……… being stored in lagoon 3 is likely to enter controlled waters, specifically ditches designed to drain Crouchland Farm, as well as the River Lox which drains the catchment at this location, as a consequence of the failure of the integrity of the bund walls which retain the digestate in lagoon 3, and that works and operations are required to prevent the entry of this polluting matter”.

Previously in a report written for the EA and based on a site visit 12 months ago, an engineer reported that “The proximity of buildings below the lagoon suggest that an uncontrolled release of the contents could endanger lives not in a community. Moreover, environmental /pollution consequences of a major release of the digestate would be immense and there would be high costs associated with the clean up. These factors suggest that the lagoon is a high risk installation.” He went on to report that “he was concerned that little progress had been made with emptying, and that those responsible for the site either empty the lagoon as soon as practicable or implement properly designed works to stabilise the embankment as soon as practicable”

We don’t think it would be unfair to describe the situation as a disaster waiting to happen; that the severity of the risk has been known for well over a year by the EA; that those responsible for the site in that year, namely FRP Administrators acting for Privilege Finance have as far as we’re aware done nothing substantial to address the situation and that the EA yet again have proved themselves ineffective in protecting the environment.

What FRP the administrators have done is liquidate Crouchland Biogas Ltd and declare the environmental permits as “onerous property” in the hope that it removes them from any liability. Technically we’ve been told it can and it appears the EA think so to.

However it may not be that simple; it’s not our expertise but an article on line by Burgess Salmon suggests that Directors could still be liable if they had knowledge of an issue and reasonable opportunity to do something about it; they could also be subject to a civil claim. Land owners could be liable. Apparently there’s even a case in law where the insolvency practitioners could be held personally liable if there was a polluting effect, despite declaring onerous property. The article even suggests that lenders could be liable if they knew about it and failed to act.

So of course we hope that whilst everyone sits on their hands a disastrous pollution event doesn’t happen. HOPE, OF COURSE, IS NOT A STRATEGY.

All we can say is that should the unthinkable happen, no-one will be able to say they didn’t realise - and there are a number of entities who can be held to account.

The whole thing is ridiculous of course, but we’ve learnt to not be surprised anymore.

(A reminder that West Sussex County Council have closed all the footpaths near the lagoon, due to the dangers raised by the Environment Agency Engineer's report)

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WSCC closes all footpaths around lagoon 3 in the interest of public safety


As a result of the Engineers Report by Atkins Ltd (described as one of the world’s most respected design, engineering and project management consultancies), West Sussex County Council has now taken the decision to formally close ALL the public paths surrounding lagoon 3 at Crouchland Farm - on the grounds of public safety.

https://www.atkinsglobal.com/en-gb

The Engineers report highlighted the design faults of the lagoon walls; the many slippages visible in the walls; and the risk to people and the environment. Our previous post was as follows;

The ENGINEERS REPORT ON LAGOON 3 has been sent to the Parish.

If you would like to read it, please email us on help@pore.org.uk

The site visit was 9 months ago (January 18) when the engineer was told that the disposal of the lagoon was imminent. Three months later (April 18) the engineer had written back to the Environment Agency telling them that he was concerned that little progress had been made emptying the lagoon. He advised them that the lagoon should be emptied as soon as possible or that works were carried out to stabilise the walls of the lagoon. We are not aware that either of these things have taken place even now in November.

He reported that significant lengths of the face of the embankment had slumped due to slope stability failures and that 50% of the eastern bank appeared to have failed. Complete failure of the embankment appears to be reliant on the integrity of the 2.5mm geomembrane lining!

He explained that 'The proximity of the buildings below the lagoon suggest that an uncontrolled release of the contents of the lagoon could endanger lives not in a community. Moreover, environmental/pollution consequences of a major release of the digestate would be immense and there would be high costs associated with the clean-up. These factors suggest that the lagoon is a high risk installation.'

The Engineer went on to make 4 recommendations, none of which we can confirm have happened. Crucially, none of the digestate has been removed - and none of the walls of the embankment have been stabilised.

We have asked to be sent a copy of an Emergency Plan to prevent an uncontrolled release of the contents of the lagoon. We have also asked what we should do if, whilst walking on the adjoining footpaths, the walls of the banks should fail.

The Environment Agency have also been asked why there has been no attempt, in light of the report they commissioned, to avert a disaster. The winter months are now upon us and with that the greater likelihood of heavy and prolonged rainfall,which can only increase the risk still further of failure of the lagoon banks . This is now a very serious matter. The EA have identified that the Lagoon is in danger of failing and there is little understanding of how the lagoon has been constructed, which would indicate that time is of the essence to act and remove the digestate immediately to a safe place; failure to do so promptly with the risks the EA have identified, would be a serious dereliction of duty.

The activity on site is regulated by the EA under a Permit and as such the EA is the authority responsible for requesting immediate action from the operator Crouchland Biogas Ltd and the Administrators FRP Advisory LLP and enforcing it via a formal notice.

The EA have also been requested to advise all householders and land owners who may be significantly adversely affected by failure of the lagoon, of the risks. In particular the owner and tenant of Crouchland House which sits directly below the lagoon. Additional measures should be taken to protect this Grade II Listed building which is one of the foremost houses in the Parish.

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Sale of Crouchland Farm

We understand that in the bidding for Crouchland Farm last week, an adjoining landowner has offered over £5 million for the farm, INCLUDING THE LAGOON AND ITS CLEAR UP.

Hopefully sense will prevail and the administrators will accept the dual benefit of a generous offer and a solution to the lagoon clear up, at last.

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Engineers report on lagoon 3

The ENGINEERS REPORT ON LAGOON 3 has been sent to the Parish.

If you would like to read it, please email us on help@pore.org.uk

The site visit was 9 months ago (January 18) when the engineer was told that the disposal of the lagoon was imminent. Three months later (April 18) the engineer had written back to the Environment Agency telling them that he was concerned that little progress had been made emptying the lagoon. He advised them that the lagoon should be emptied as soon as possible or that works were carried out to stabilise the walls of the lagoon. We are not aware that either of these things have taken place even now in November.

He reported that significant lengths of the face of the embankment had slumped due to slope stability failures and that 50% of the eastern bank appeared to have failed. Complete failure of the embankment appears to be reliant on the integrity of the 2.5mm geomembrane lining!

He explained that 'The proximity of the buildings below the lagoon suggest that an uncontrolled release of the contents of the lagoon could endanger lives not in a community. Moreover, environmental/pollution consequences of a major release of the digestate would be immense and there would be high costs associated with the clean-up. These factors suggest that the lagoon is a high risk installation.'

The Engineer went on to make 4 recommendations, none of which we can confirm have happened. Crucially, none of the digestate has been removed - and none of the walls of the embankment have been stabilised.

We have asked to be sent a copy of an Emergency Plan to prevent an uncontrolled release of the contents of the lagoon. We have also asked what we should do if, whilst walking on the adjoining footpaths, the walls of the banks should fail.

The Environment Agency have also been asked why there has been no attempt, in light of the report they commissioned, to avert a disaster. The winter months are now upon us and with that the greater likelihood of heavy and prolonged rainfall,which can only increase the risk still further of failure of the lagoon banks . This is now a very serious matter. The EA have identified that the Lagoon is in danger of failing and there is little understanding of how
the lagoon has been constructed, which would indicate that time is of the essence to act and remove the
digestate immediately to a safe place; failure to do so promptly with the risks the EA have identified, would be a serious dereliction of duty.

The activity on site is regulated by the EA under a Permit and as such the EA is the authority responsible for requesting immediate action from the operator Crouchland Biogas Ltd and the Administrators FRP Advisory LLP and enforcing it via a formal notice.

The EA have also been requested to advise all householders and land owners who may be significantly adversely affected by failure of the lagoon, of the risks. In particular the owner and tenant of Crouchland House which sits directly below the lagoon. Additional measures should be taken to protect this Grade II Listed building which is one of the foremost houses in the Parish.

PS this is NOT a photo of lagoon 3

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Two year extension granted for enforcement at Crouchland Farm

CDC planning committee agreed today to a two year extension to the enforcement notice regarding the decommissioning of lagoon 3.

This now takes the date of compliance to May 2021 and will include the largest Digester 3, Lagoon 3, plus the Separator, Lagoon 4 and Pipework (all apparently needed for the decommissioning of lagoon 3).

So these parts of infrastructure will now remain for yet another 30 months, whilst funding and a contractor is hopefully found for the decommissioning process

Photo 1 shows the lagoon 3 last week
Photo 2 shows lagoon 4 in the foreground with digester 3 on the left and the separator on the right
Photo 3 shows the construction of digester 3 in July 2013 - and which still needs to be removed with the ground returned to its original state

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Watch catch-up of BBC SOUTH from last night, after the main 6pm and 10pm news, for coverage and comment from our community representatives, plus the Environment Agency.

Scroll along the bar to 04:20

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bn88pl/south-today-evening-news-17102018

Listen to yesterday morning's coverage before the planning meeting on Radio Sussex - scroll the bar to 1.41.45; https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p06lv2k0

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