FULL REPORT: Dissenting voices continue over Plaistow Crouchland plan

Residents protesting outside Crouchlands Biogas Ltd in Plaistow. They are against expansion of the farm -  picture submitted SUS-140210-162931001
Residents protesting outside Crouchlands Biogas Ltd in Plaistow. They are against expansion of the farm - picture submitted SUS-140210-162931001
  • Crouchlands Biogas plan for anaerobic digester refused permission
  • Villagers voice concerns over HGV traffic and industrialising countryside
  • Farmers say approval was key to ensuring survival of dairy herds

The refused retrospective planning application for upgraded energy production facility at Crouchland Farm, Plaistow, has divided the community.

On Tuesday West Sussex County Council planning committee refused permission for the plans and enforcement is expected in due course.

More than 100 members of the public were there to hear the three hour debate at County Hall North in Horsham.

The opposition - mainly residents and the parish councils - considered the plan to expand anaerobic digestion equipment an over-development of the countryside causing dangerous conditions on the roads and disruption to village life.

However, the farming community hailed the enterprise by Crouchland Biogas as key to the survival of modern dairy farms. The application involved the processing of around 35,000 tonnes of material a year to produce electricity to power around 4,800 homes. It provides an income for not only Crouchland Farm, but also nearby farms which supply them with maize and manure.

Managing director of Crouchland Biogas Leon Mekitarian told the committee: “We employ 23 full time staff, most of whom live locally or on the farm. And we support jobs elsewhere locally.

“Our biogas operation spends over £1million each year with our farming neighbours, local businesses and farm suppliers.

“The benefits of this application will be felt more widely than the communities closest to us.”

Dairy farmer Christopher Wates owns Malham Farm in Wisborough Green, which is one such farm also made a plea to them to approve the plans. He said: “We rely upon them as part of our arable crop rotation. Crouchland Farm has been a key feature in the local economy making the farm a viable business.”

Villagers were backed up by their parish, district and county councillors also speaking out against the proposals.

Leon Mekitarian, managing director at Crouchland Biogas Limited SUS-151202-141841001

Leon Mekitarian, managing director at Crouchland Biogas Limited SUS-151202-141841001

Chichester District councillor Josef Ransley (Con, Wisborough Green) and county councillor Janet Duncton (Con, Petworth) were there supporting residents.

Mrs Duncton said they would need ‘a miracle’ to stop accidents caused by the ‘sometimes terrifying’ HGVs travelling to and from the farm.

But WSCC interim county development manager Jane Moseley told members approval would enable them to fully control the Crouchland Biogas operation, which was the extension of earlier schemes permitted by Chichester District Council (CDC). They would be able to control what material is used, the number of HGVs using the roads, the distance they can travel to and from the farm and the hours in which the farm can export and import gas and materials.

Committee members, however, believed it was far removed from what CDC had approved in 2007, 2008 and 2010.

Chichester District Council did not see this would develop into an industrial process.

Andrew Barrett-Miles (Con, Worthing East)

They echoed residents’ concerns saying the impact on road safety was unacceptable and that it would result in industrialisation of the countryside.

Andrew Barrett Miles (Con, Burgess Hill Town), who later moved a motion to refuse the plans, said: “CDC saw this as a farming operation. They did not see this would develop into an industrial process.

“Are we happy with a process exporting and import from the farm not via the grid, but via the road system because the latter produces greater profit for the farm.”

Roger Oakley (Con, Worthing East) said: “I do not see anything in the 2007/8 CDC permission that change of use was inevitable on this site and certainly not to the scale we are looking at here.

“There’s a clear change of balance between on site material and off site. It is clearly a major change of use.”

Many others agreed and Mr Barrett-Miles’ motion for refusal, seconded by Ashvin Patel (Con, Bognor Regis West and Aldwick) was carried by eight votes to one. There was one abstention.

Enforcement action is likely to follow.

Speaking afterwards residents and councillors for the area were cautiously optimistic.

County councillor Janet Duncton (Con, Plaistow) said: “The work starts here. We’ve got a long road ahead. There’s still concern, but it’s overall positive news and it’s what the residents deserve.”

Stuart East of Plaistow and Ifold Parish Council, added: “The parish council can assume they will now move the equipment and start to empty the lagoon.

“The committee is yet to decide what enforcement action it will take. We will look forward to that.”

Details of enforcement will be heard at the April committee meeting while Crouchland Biogas has not made public its intentions.

At the meeting it emerged it had capacity to increase energy production with its existing equipment without the need for planning permission.

After the decision, managing director of Crouchland Biogas Leon Mekitarian said: “We are disappointed with the outcome of today’s planning committee meeting. However, we remain entirely committed to producing clean energy at Crouchland, and to securing the future of our Dairy Farm.”