A Plaistow energy farm at the centre of a planning row with residents is launching a new venture offering bottled gas to homes and businesses.
Alongside its dairy farming activities Crouchland Farm operates an anaerobic digester breaking down organic material to produce biogas and rather than sell this wholesale, ‘CowPow’ would see it market gas cylinders directly to customers.
Speaking to the Midhurst and Petworth Observer, Leon Mekitarian, Crouchland’s managing director, believed there was a ‘great appetite’ for biomethane instead of natural gas, and by cutting out the middle man their product would be marketed at a more competitive price.
He said: “Once the noise of the planning application has subsided we would hope to put this behind us. The ability of offering green energy and providing a local financial benefit, that’s of interest and use to local residents in the immediate and wider Sussex area, which is fantastic.”
As a gesture of goodwill Crouchland will be offering the local parish council free gas to heat its village hall.
The farm’s activities and its planning applications have attracted strong opposition from residents over the last few years.
West Sussex County Council (WSCC) refused retrospective planning permission to upgrade Crouchland’s anaerobic digester and other equipment back in March 2015, and two enforcement notices issued by Chichester District Council (CDC) last year.
The first of three planning appeals, due to start this week, is on the county council’s decision to grant partial approval for a certificate of lawfulness, which Mr Mekitarian said was to remove any ambiguity and should have been a legal decision on ‘do we have permission for what we are doing or not?’
Instead he felt the planning committee overturned the officers’ recommendation for ‘political and planning reasons’.
He added: “We are expecting a positive outcome [from the appeal] to secure the future of our business going forward.”
The certificate of lawfulness relates to three planning permissions granted by CDC in 2007, 2008 and 2011.
Mr Mekitarian continued: “We have had a long journey on this but we are incredibly proud of what we do and remain at the centre of the community now and in the future as the largest employer in the village.”
While there were a number of farming businesses in the area years ago, Mr Mekitarian felt they were ‘guilty of being the last man standing’ and have been subject to ‘unprecedented attention’ during the process of regularising their activities.
Although there are no controls on the permissions granted by CDC he said they had ‘never abused these conditions’ and have managed their operations ‘as sensitively as possible’.
He also apologised for a pollution incident back in March where one of the neighbouring farms was affected by a digestate spill from one of Crouchland’s lagoons.
He explained that his staff had worked very hard, with the Environment Agency, to deliver prompt remediation, and added: “I’ve put measures in place to make sure it does not happen again and we’ve made our sincerest apologies for this unfortunate event.”
Potential customers can register their interest in CowPow at www.cowpow.co.uk
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