A decision on a controversial Plaistow energy farm has been hailed as a ‘step in the right direction’ by residents.
Crouchland Farm’s bid for a certificate of lawful use or development was approved in part by West Sussex County Council’s Planning Committee this afternoon at County Hall in Chichester.
It confirmed the lawfulness of the operation of an anaerobic digester at the farm in Rickmans Lane, the collection and processing of biogas, the generation and exportation of electricity, and the production and exporting of digestate for use as fertiliser.
But committee members also decided that importing waste to use in the digester and exporting biogas represented a change of use that had not been approved under planning permissions granted by Chichester District Council (CDC) in 2007, 2008 and 2011.
Afterwards David Jordan, who spoke for residents during the meeting, said: “Councillors have taken the reasonable decision and seen the planning permissions for exactly what they are and this is great because that’s all we have ever asked for.
“I think the residents will be very happy. It’s not the end of the journey but I think it is a big step in the right direction, that this facility was never permitted to be an unrestricted waste site.”
This follows the committee’s previous decision in March to reject Crouchland retrospective permission to regularise its existing activities on site, while CDC has also brought enforcement action against the farm in recent months.
Leon Mekitarian, who runs Crouchland Farm, said: “We are very pleased West Sussex County Council’s Planning Committee voted to accept the officers’ recommendation and grant a partial approval. We will focus our efforts on our planning appeal.”
In the last few years residents have objected to the scale of the operation at the farm, which involves an anaerobic digestion plant breaking down organic material to produce biogas.
Tuesday’s debate centred on what had been permitted under separate planning permissions received by Crouchland from CDC, and since the 2007 and 2008 permissions did not have any conditions whether this opened the door for unrestricted use of the farm.
Officers explained that a certificate of lawful development was about looking at the evidence to establish a legal position and was not about discussing planning merits.
Mr Mekitarian described how they were ‘green energy pioneers’ and that their operations underpinned a loss-making dairy farm, but Sara Burrell, chair of Plaistow and Ifold Parish Council, felt it was about ‘what a reasonable reader would understand had been permitted by the 2007/08 planning consents’.
She urged the committee to confirm the consented anaerobic digestion facility as being ancillary to farm use.
Meanwhile councillor Janet Duncton, who represents the area, congratulated residents and the parish could for their ‘diligence and hard work’, and said that while she supported the original application for an anaerobic digester at the farm she was not in favour of ‘what we have now’.
Councillor Simon Oakley proposed deleting both mention of importing waste and four metal gas containers to aid gas conditioning from any certificate of lawful use as he felt these represented a change of use. This was accepted by the committee.
Officers had also recommended that the flare and separator were excluded from the certificate.
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