Anaerobic digester plant held at odds with policy

Local policies resisting waste facilities in open countryside have prevailed in a decision to refuse retrospective permission for a commercial anaerobic digestion (AD) plant at a West Sussex farm.

200-006-926 (Image Credit: West Sussex CC)
200-006-926 (Image Credit: West Sussex CC)

The 185-hectare site contained a digestion tank, a control building, a digestate lagoon and associated equipment, for which some of the feedstock was imported. The county council had refused permission to upgrade the facilities and issued enforcement notices requiring removal of the existing plant and cessation of the mixed agricultural and commercial use.

A lawful development certificate allowed export of biogas from the existing facility. The appellants argued that authorised uses at the site, including the option of using all the available land to grow crops to feed the plant, would have a greater impact than if planning permission were granted, subject to conditions, for the upgraded facilities they proposed.

The inspector considered that the unauthorised operations would constitute recovery rather than recycling for the purposes of annex ii of the EU Waste Framework Directive. However, a local waste plan policy stated that waste management facilities on unallocated sites would only be permitted in rural areas if they involve no more than 20,000 tonnes of feed material per annum, serve a local need and are well related to the lorry route network.

The appellants sought permission for a throughput of 34,755 tonnes per annum for a plant with a total capacity of up to 75,000 tonnes. In the inspector’s view, this level of production contravened the waste policy in terms of scale, alongside the fact that the site was five miles from the closest local lorry route and 13 miles from the nearest strategic lorry route.

She concluded that the combination of existing and proposed development represented a large-scale industrial plant that would be detrimental to the rural character of the surroundings, undermine highway safety and harm nearby residents’ living conditions from more lorries using country lanes. She did not accept that the appellant’s fallback position could be implemented and afforded it little weight.

Inspector: Katie Peerless; Inquiry

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