A FARM at the centre of a huge legal battle has defended its operations in the wake of mounting criticism.
Leon Mekitarian is the managing director of Crouchland Farm in Plaistow, which has long been using farm waste to produce renewable biogas. However, the farm hit the headlines last year when West Sussex County Council and Chichester District Council served an enforcement notice, forcing the farm to submit a planning application for its operations. Leon maintains Crouchlands is acting in accordance with the law.
“From our perspective, nothing’s changed. We have been operating on our planning permission since 2009,” he said.
“We are very proud of what we do here as a renewable energy plant.
“We import farm waste from other growers and producers but we have always done that and are not prevented from doing so.
“We recognise people’s concerns –we live here too and are embedded in the community.”
He says Crouchlands is ‘weathering the storm of low milk prices’ while bleak national statistics showing dairy farming is ‘in crisis’.
“Dairy farming is in crisis, with farms right across the country leaving milk production daily,” he said.
“We are committed dairy farmers, love our cows and want to stay in milk production. So we’re doing what we can to protect the future of our dairy farm.
“Every single biogas plant in the country gets objections and we are no exception. We have taken in the concerns that have been raised – such as no operations on Sundays or late at night. We produce enough electricity to power homes across the parishes of Plaistow and Ifold, Kirdford, Loxwood, Northchapel, Ebernoe, Tillington and Lurgashall.
“There has been a farm on this site for over 250 years, over that time the community has changed significantly, but this farm has continued to be a working farm, at the heart of the community.
“We’d like to continue to be here for many more generations to come, continuing to provide local amenities like the village shop, the children’s play area and football court.
“To secure our future we’ve had to diversify – that’s what this application is about.”
CAMPAIGNERS felt an increase in lorry movements was one of the key arguments to oppose Crouchlands’ application.
But the farm has tried to address the issue.
“The highways experts have looked at the local roads and our farm and have decided they can support the traffic we need to operate,” said Leon.
“Our application will ensure vehicle movements to and from the farm are controlled, it will limit the amount of traffic on the roads that we, and the community, want to minimise. We have recognised the HGVs we use are of local concern so we have mitigated their impact in this application with mandatory speed controls and legal routing arrangements and local road improvements.
“HGVs are driven with care by our own employees, who also live locally, and carry 50 per cent more payload than the tractor trailer alternatives, reducing the number of vehicle movements significantly. Our trucks are installed with CCTV and GPS tracking devices, the information from which we will make available to the community so that they can see where HGVs are, and where they are not.
“Our HGV vehicles do not travel through Plaistow and we expect in peak months for vehicle traffic to be reduced by a half.”
West Sussex County Council planning meeting
WEST Sussex County Council’s planning committee will consider Crouchland Farm’s application at its next meeting.
The committee was due to consider the application at its meeting on February 3 but it was withdrawn from the agenda following a late legal submission.
The application is for retrospective planning permission to upgrade an existing anaerobic digestion facility to enable the export of biomethane energy to the national gas grid, installation of a new digestion tank, two new combined heat and power (CHP) engines, a digestate lagoon and associated infrastructure.
County officers had recommended approval of the application helped by an 11th hour withdrawal of an objection by the West Sussex County Council highways department.
But it was stalled at the final hurdle. Campaigners said they believed the report was ‘so flawed’ they instructed a top London counsel to look into the matter. The application will now be discussed at the next meeting at County Hall North in Horsham on March 3.
The full agenda for the meeting, as well as the officers’ reports and recommendations, will be available to view online from tomorrow.
Public participation at the meeting is limited and registration for speaking will open after the agenda is published.
Interested parties will need to have submitted a representation to the county council on the application.
Anyone who is eligible and wants to speak at the meeting needs to contact Matthew Evans on 0330 2222538.