Campaigners’ anger at West Sussex County Council Crouchland Biogas delays

Crouchlands Farm
Crouchlands Farm

CAMPAIGNERS have criticised West Sussex County Council after they said it ‘washed its hands’ of a farm’s planning breach.

Crouchland Biogas, based at Crouchland Farm, Plaistow, has been fighting to gain retrospective planning approval for energy-production equipment that turns farm waste into gas, which can be used to make electricity.

How much public money has been spent to date? They are turning their backs on it while Crouchlands continue to use unauthorised equipment on site. It’s quite incredible

Following the county council’s decision to refuse that permission last month, officers said while there had been a breach, it was now within Chichester District Council’s jurisdiction to take enforcement action.

A report will be considered by the planning committee on April 28 but the district council has already contested the county council’s position.

A district spokesman said: “We have advised West Sussex County Council that we have not seen any persuasive evidence that material matters have changed since consideration of the recent planning application by the county council, sufficient to warrant this case now being considered as a district matter.

“Chichester District Council is therefore of the view the county council remains the relevant local planning authority in respect of enforcement action and any applications or appeals arising from the current operation taking place.”

Meanwhile, residents are angry the matter could be left unresolved. Paul Reynolds of the Protect Our Rural Environment protest group said: “This has dragged on for almost a year in terms of planning process.

“The planning committee refused it, but they are just washing their hands of it. How much public money has been spent to date?

“They are turning their backs on it while Crouchlands continue to use unauthorised equipment on site. It’s quite incredible.”

A spokesman for the county council said: “We are aware of Chichester District Council’s concerns and will discuss it with them prior to planning committee’s consideration of the item. We can’t comment any further at this stage.”

District councillor Josef Ransley said: “On April 27 WSCC Planning Committee are being recommended to refer the Crouchlands matter to Chichester District Council (CDC) as the relevant planning authority. This recommendation from WSCC officers sets aside the Crouchlands activity being an unauthorised commercial waste processing plant, making us wonder why it invited Crouchlands to submit a retrospective application in the first place. The report argues that based on the answers provided to WSCC by Crouchlands after its application was refused, the operators are no longer processing any significant waste. No effort has been made to check the answers provided, consult local parish Council’s or residents on what’s happening on the ground, or even meaningfully consult on the matter with CDC or other agencies.

“Notably, the report was prepared by senior management staff and not Planning Development Management or Enforcement Officers, even though it is a planning matter. Senior officers of West Sussex County Council seem intent on thwarting the decision of their Planning Committee for reasons, unrelated to planning matters, which we can only speculate upon. The effects of this breach of planning policy have and continue to be a financially, environmentally and socially damaging issue in the NE area of Chichester District, mainly because WSCC officers appear to have lost sight of the principles that support all planning policy. Instead they appear to be focusing on the financial consequences or other circumstances, of potentially misinterpreting legal points relating to an activity that crosses differing planning policy, rather than looking to take enforcement action on an unauthorised development and commercial activity as determined by their own Planning Committee on March 3.

“If WSCC, as the relevant planning authority, by way of its officers felt itself challenged to address the issues, for whatever reasons, and at risk whether financial or otherwise, consequential of any potential legal case, it could surely have referred the matter to others or a higher authority for clarification rather than try to permit or set the matter aside as it has and continues to do. WSCC Planning Committee made its decision and refused the retrospective application on 3rd March making the unauthorised installation, equipment and development unlawful. Members sought advice on the nature and scope of enforcement action to be taken and agreed to officers having the time to prepare a report on the same. They did not invite officers to try and undermine the intent, validity or effect of their determination of the matter in accord with due process.

“Given the planning process provides for an appellant to appeal to higher authority, I have written to WSCC seeking assurances that they will urgently seek to correct this matter to ensure that the established planning process is not undermined and that consequential of the Planning Committee’s decision, the appropriate enforcement action is rigorously pursued.”