AD expert; THE PLANNING SYSTEM HAS BEEN TREATED WITH CONTEMPT

Certificate of Lawfulness Appeal Update

All parties have now submitted their cases for Crouchlands appeal against the limitations that were set by WSCC on the lawful use of the site. The appeal will be heard by a planning inspector at a two-day hearing on 12th & 13th May.

Each party’s statements (WSCC, CDC, Ifold & Plaistow and Kirdford Parish Councils and PORE) are now publicly available for viewing on the WSCC planning portal under case number WSCC/036/15/PS in ‘Documents’ in the ‘Post Decision’ folder.

They run to quite a number of pages as you’d expect, so we have read them all and thought it useful to provide a short summary (sorry not that short, but as short as possible)

Remember this appeal is one of many and this one just relates to establishing what the lawful use of the site was and is. WSCC Council members did not agree with the WSCC Officer’s report and voted to limit the lawful use of the site, essentially excluding imports from outside Crouchland Farm itself, limiting it to agricultural use and denying the export of biogas. Crouchlands are appealing this decision.

So what do the interested parties statements say?

Ifold & Plaistow and Kirdford Parish Councils:

  • The Parish Councils have done a thorough job presenting the legal case against the appeal, on the basis that the original permissions were only for agricultural use, ancillary to the dairy farm. 

  • In fact, they go further to demonstrate that several of the original permissions have not been implemented in accordance with the permissions granted - which means that the lawful use should be limited even more than what WSCC did grant. 

  • They instructed an expert witness who has “extensive experience of anaerobic digester engineering, design, success and failure” to report on what had been built and to give his expert view on how big it was - versus what the original planning permissions had permitted. Despite being instructed by the Parish Councils he is obliged to prepare an unbiased report of the facts. 

  • He concluded that; 

“To put the size of this system into perspective, CBG built one of the largest biogas refining installations in the UK. Indeed, in the supplier’s list of installations (29 in all), there are only 5 units in Europe that are the same size or larger. This plant is significant on a continental scale”  

“A pattern of behaviour has characterised the planning permissions at this site. Essentially the planning permission process has been treated with contempt and, in the age of the internet, a loss of confidence by the public in the planning process makes future planning decisions on biogas plants much harder to achieve. The pattern that has emerged at Crouchland is that the applications have the stance of a minor agricultural improvement (NVZ storage) to a working farm and this has been repeatedly granted by the council.”  

“Instead, one of the largest biogas to biomethane gas refineries in Europe is built” 

“It would appear to me that the CBG company has built an industrial unit while attempting to disguise it as an agricultural enterprise when applying for planning permission” 

  • The Parish Councils request that the appeal be rejected and that the inspector considers limiting the lawful use even further

WSCC

  • Significantly WSCC recognise that the legal advice given by the Parish Councils’ QC was in fact correct in law and that the legal advice relied on by WSCC planning officers in their report to committee (which concurred with CBG legal advice) was not the correct interpretation of the law.

  • The WSCC councillors had voted to issue the certificate of lawfulness based on the Parish Councils’ QC opinion and not their officers’ opinion

  • WSCC therefore request the appeal be rejected

CDC

  • CDC agree with the Parish Council & WSCC legal opinions that the permissions did not allow for unrestricted imports of materials from outside the farm nor the export of biogas

  • CDC request the appeal be rejected

Crouchland Biogas  

  • They maintain their original legal argument that the permissions did not limit them in any way and that they are free to import as much as they like from wherever - and to export biogas.

  • They say they are at a significant disadvantage because they only just heard of WSCC legal opinion and want to restate their case.

PORE

  • We submitted evidence on the basis of how a ‘Reasonable reader’ would interpret the permissions based on what the applicant had actually written in his applications. We made the point that it was very clear that the permissions were for storing cow slurry from Crouchlands Dairy Farm and that it was agricultural use, ancillary to the farm and that no reasonable reader would conclude that it enabled importation of materials from far and wide - nor the export of biogas

  • We also made it clear that the applicant had himself defined Crouchland Farm as being that which we all know to be the Dairy Farm in Plaistow and not any other farm that they cared to import materials from.

In Summary

There are 3 councils whose legal advice differs to Crouchland Biogas’ opinion - and all of whom agree that the appeal should be rejected

For us residents the striking point is that we have long believed that what had been built was huge and inappropriate for this rural area, which is why we are fighting so hard. We also thought that Crouchlands had attempted to pull the wool over the planners’ eyes. Now we have confirmation from an expert in their own industry that we were right – it’s huge and they tried to make out that it was a small agricultural development.

So now we await the Planning Inspector’s Hearing and decision; our fight is far from over, but in our opinion all the parties against have submitted strong cases.