Editor's pick: Sludge treatment justifies green belt infrastructure

Wessex Water Services has secured planning permission for a new access track and bridge serving a sewage treatment works in the Dorset green belt, with an inspector accepting that they would not involve inappropriate development or encroach significantly into the countryside.

The company’s asset management plan identified a need to concentrate sludge digestion at a limited number of sites, and the sewage works served by the new infrastructure had been chosen for major investment and upgrading. This required construction of a concrete track 830 metres long and almost four metres wide with three passing places for lorries. A prefabricated bridge 40 metres long would connect the track to the sewage works.

Having regard to paragraph 90 of the National Planning Policy Framework, the inspector accepted that local transport infrastructure and engineering works are not inappropriate in green belt as long as they maintain openness. He also took into account paragraph 80, which state that safeguarding the countryside from encroachment is one of the five purposes of green belt designation.

In his opinion, any built development must compromise the openness of the green belt to some degree. However, he noted that the track would largely be at grade and limited traffic movements on it would not have a significant impact on openness. Any encroachment would be limited, he reasoned. Although the bridge would be more prominent, he judged that its low profile and design would not compromise openness, so it too was appropriate.

The company had considered alternatives for dealing with the sludge, many also involving the green belt. The inspector agreed that it would be impossible to relocate the track and bridge and the alternatives examined offered no particular advantages. The council's suggested alternative of installing a pipeline to transport the sludge would require pumping under high pressure to avoid blockages and would not be practicable on a continuous basis, he found.

He also saw a risk that the pipeline would rupture, causing a serious environmental incident, and that it would be 50 per cent more expensive than the track and bridge. Despite some impact on the local landscape, he decided that the scheme had been fully justified.

Inspector: Roger Pritchard; Hearing

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