The company running a small farm in Plaistow, which wants to turn it into an energy production plant, has responded to a legal challenge brought by residents.
Crouchland Biogas, which owns the farm of the same name, is seeking retrospective planning permission to triple the size of an existing anaerobic digester. The equipment turns farm waste, such as grains and manure, into gas, which then can be used to make electricity.
Last week, days before the West Sussex County Council planning committee was due to debate the application, a legal challenge by Plaistow and Ifold Parish Council caused it to be dropped from the agenda after being recommended for approval.
Crouchland Biogas has now responded saying the company hoped the council would uphold its support for their development.
Managing director Leon Mekitarian said: “Dairy farming is in crisis. As with many similar farms across the country, we’ve had to make difficult decisions to ensure we are able to survive in the community that we have worked in for over a century.
“We have invested in biogas at our farm to ensure its long-term future, protecting the tens of jobs we support, both at our farm and at the many local farms that rely upon us remaining in business.
“We are pleased that West Sussex County Council’s planning officers recommend our proposals for approval, and that their Highways Department has no objection to our application.
“Their support brings us one step closer to ensuring that we are able to run a stable business for many more generations and produce much-needed renewable energy from what would otherwise be farm waste.
“We understand that there are many in the community who do not agree with the expert findings of the planning department at West Sussex County Council.
“This application actually proposes stricter regulations on our plant than are currently in place and would limit the number of vehicle movements that are of concern to the community.
“We are confident that the legal technicality that has slowed down the democratic process will soon be solved, and the council will be free to determine our proposal as it sees fit. It is in everyone’s interest that local representatives and not lawyers determine our application.
“If there are members of the community that would like to learn more about our farm, we would encourage them to visit our website at www.crouchlandbiogas.com, or to pick up the phone and call us on 0800 319 61 75
Councillor Josef Ransley has replied as follows;
To the Editor,
Having read your recent report on ‘Plaistow dairy farm hits out at villager opposition’ I’d remind readers Kirdford Parish was one of the first communities in the country to deliver a Neighbourhood Plan, not exactly a NIMBY vocation. My view is that perhaps Crouchlands is trying to mislead the community and WSCC Councillors?
The facts as recorded on the case file by officers at CDC and WSCC appear straightforward:-
Crouchlands Farm was a long established and respected local dairy farm, with a large herd circa 1500 cows, which got planning consent, with local support, from CDC for an on farm anaerobic digester to produce electricity in 2007 & 2008.
Crouchland Biogas Ltd. is a new company formed in 2011, to trade in converting waste into gas and electricity. They have acquired the farm, expanded the plant, yet have reduced the herd to circa 300 cows, and were served a planning enforcement notice by WSCC in 2014 for changing an on farm facility into an industrial scale plant importing circa 35,000 tonnes of waste and other material from across the county and beyond. This seems to have nothing to do with farming diversification or local job retention in agriculture, indeed the jobs that would be created, if it were a lawful operation, can require specialist skills and create additional commuting rather than employment for local people.
The investment in industrial waste processing made by Crouchlands BioGas Ltd. was made without even the most basic enquiry of WSCC of whether it complied with local planning policy or that the location was suitable for such use. They submitted a legal challenge to force a change or a set aside of the WSCC Highways objections when they were published, such objections being of major significance and virtually guaranteed a recommendation to refuse, on their retrospective application. To then say WSCC highways officer's support their application is spurious at the very least.
Not surprisingly, given they have consistently flouted planning regulatory considerations to date; they welcomed the proposed voluminous conditions added to the WSCC planning report that has now subsequently been withdrawn. Having used a legal challenge to try and influence the democratic process to suit their objective they now blame the local community for raising a legal technicality and slowing down the process. The legal advice submitted by the Parish Councils was not a ‘technicality’ but made it clear a Queens Counsel’s view that Crouchland Biogas Ltd. was in breach of its 2007 &2008 planning consents and that they would need a separate consent to build the industrial scale operation they are currently using. Such opinion means the original WSCC Highways objections were, and still are, valid.
Lastly, Crouchland’s refer in their press release to WSCC applying stricter regulations and perhaps we'd all gain by our relevant authorities doing exactly that. Such authorities, from what I've been advised in this case, should also include Ofgem and our local Rates Valuation Office.
The negative effort and expense this company has obliged local authorities at county, district and parish level to spend so far, (given it’s our rates that fund them!) is distressing and yet they seem set on pursuing the principle of "divide and rule" which to be fair appears to have been very successful for them so far. This process has been going on for a couple of years and is likely to go on for another couple more, and meanwhile Crouchlands continue a lucrative trade in waste processing, without planning consent and with its main apparent revenue also coming out of taxpayers’ money!
Councillor Josef Ransley
Chichester District Ward for Kirdford & Wisborough Green
Further comment; If so many local farms rely on Crouchland Biogas to remain in business, why did they only receive 5 letters of support?? Please remember that there were 431 letters objecting to the application; and there have been over 1000 people sign an E-Petition against it, in the last 4 weeks. The Community has spoken!