Plaistow residents feel like they are ‘living in the shadow of a ticking time bomb’ as administrators of Crouchland Farm were given more time to fully decommission the site.
The controversial anaerobic digestion plant based at the farm, in Rickmans Lane, was shut down last year after administrators were appointed.
This followed decisions by a planning inspector to dismiss appeals against both enforcement notices from Chichester District Council and West Sussex County Council’s refusal to grant retrospective permission for expansion of operations.
Due to the scale of the decommissioning project the district council has received a request to extend the compliance period specified in the enforcement notices from May 2019 to May 2021.
This was approved by CDC’s planning committee today (Wednesday October 17).
The discussion focused around lagoon three, which is storing digestate produced by the anaerobic digestion plant.
While this can normally be spread on fields as fertiliser during the summer months but first its composition has to be fully established.
It is currently covered as the lagoon is still producing gas.
Dave Jordan, speaking in objection, said they wanted the site decommissioned quickly but safely as per the inspector’s ruling, but said they were ‘shocked’ to read the Environment Agency’s assessment.
He added: “It makes us feel we are living in the shadow of a ticking time bomb that could go off at any moment.”
He asked if councillors were confident decommissioning could be achieved within two years and whether officers had seen a detailed decommissioning plan.
An officers’ report explained how the time extension was being sought because the administrators advised they would not be in a position to continue in their position if there was a risk of criminal liability through either unsafe decommissioning of the site or by being unable to complete the requirements of the enforcement notices by May 2019.
Sara Burrell, chairman of Ifold and Plaistow Parish Council, said: “Over the last six years we have learnt to be very wary. We are surprised at the undue haste to achieve an extension.
“We believe it’s reasonable to ask why this sudden urgent rush coupled with a veiled threat to abandon 53,000 cubic metres of potentially toxic waste.”
She asked if a six-month rolling deadline with regular updates would be a better way of proceeding.
Janet Duncton (Con, Petworth) said: “I do not want to tie their [the administrators’] hands to something that can’t be achieved and we are stuck holding the baby at the end of the day.”
She added: “I would like to see it sorted out ASAP and ASAP means two years. I would like to give them that opportunity to prove they are honourable people.”
Richard Plowman (LDem, Chichester West) added: “It seems a great deal of progress has been made admittedly not as quickly as we would have liked.
“If we are too draconian we could be having to pick up the bill for this.”
Environment Agency officers explained that the digestate from lagoon three could not be spread on land during winter as it could be washed off and pollute water courses and may need to be pre-treated.
An alternative to send it to landfill could cost as much as £10m.
Michael Turner, an area manager at the Environment Agency, described how the lagoon was being inspected regularly adding: “We do not believe it’s hazardous waste but there are hazards that come with the waste.”
Bob Hayes (Con, Southbourne), chairman of the committee, said: “I would rather give the two years and get it done properly rather than rush it. The risk for me is not worth it.”