The High Court has overturned a decision by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to refuse planning permission for Veolia’s proposed energy-from-waste plant in New Barnfield, Hertfordshire.
In a judgement issued on Thursday (January 22), Mr Justice Holgate claimed the decision by Eric Pickles in July 2014 to refuse permission for the Recycling and Energy Recovery Facility (RERF) “failed to take into account” a number of key factors.
In particular, the judge questioned whether Hertfordshire county council’s adoption of a Waste Site Allocations 2011-2026 Local Plan was taken into account when determining whether there were ‘special circumstances’ to allow the facility to be developed on green belt land.
According to Veolia, the allocation of the site for waste purposes had been assessed in accordance with the Plan and the Plan also envisaged that the site would be deleted from the Green Belt in future and would therefore not need protection.
Justice Holgate said: “I have reached the firm conclusion that the Secretary of State failed to take into account the factors set out in paragraph 84 above, and in particular to weigh them in the “very special circumstances” balance alongside those matters which the Secretary of State did take into account”.
He added: “Consequently, the decision of the Secretary of State dated 7 July 2014 refusing Veolia’s application for planning permission must be quashed by the Court.”
The decision will now have to be re-assessed by DCLG, taking into account all factors.
Originally approved by Hertfordshire county council in October 2012, Veolia’s proposed 380,000 tonnes-per-year plant was proposed to treat both municipal and commercial and industrial waste. Veolia said that facility would help to divert 100% of municipal residual waste from landfill once operational and said the green belt land it was proposed for had already been partly developed.
We feel that the right decision has been made in this instance, and we now await a redetermination of the planning application by the Secretary of State as early as possible in 2015
However, the approval was called in by the Secretary of State in January 2013 and a public inquiry held in September and October that year. During the inquiry, concerns were raised over harm to the green belt, noise and air quality and planning permission was then refused (see letsrecycle.com story).
Following the refusal by Mr Pickles, Hertfordshire county council asked Veolia to come up with some alternative proposals in November 2014 (see letsrecycle.com story).
The New Barnfield facility is being proposed under a 25-year, £800 million residual waste treatment contract between Veolia and Hertfordshire county council, which was signed in August 2011. Defra committed £115.3 million in PFI credits towards the project.
Commenting on the High Court decision, Terry Douris, cabinet member for highways & waste management at Hertfordshire county council, said: “We acknowledge the judgement regarding Veolia’s High Court challenge. The county council will continue to follow developments regarding this case while awaiting a revised project plan from Veolia. We are fully aware that there have been concerns in the local area about these plans and we remain sensitive to these.”
Veolia welcomed the news and said it looked forward to the planning application being re-assessed.
A Veolia spokesperson said: “We are pleased that the High Court has today accepted Veolia’s challenge and quashed the Secretary of State’s decision to refuse planning permission for the Recycling and Energy Recovery Facility at New Barnfield.
“We feel that the right decision has been made in this instance, and we now await a redetermination of the planning application by the Secretary of State as early as possible in 2015.
“Veolia are under contract to deliver a long-term solution for the management of Hertfordshire county council’s residual waste. Hertfordshire county council’s requirement remains for a solution for the 275,000 tonnes of residual, local authority collected waste that needs to be sustainably managed every year. We believe the proposed facility at New Barnfield is the best option and would save the county £450 million, providing investment to the local economy, jobs to the local community and green energy to the National Grid.”