By Nick Mann
Plans by Biffa to build a large-scale energy-from-waste facility near Cannock in Staffordshire have been rejected by councillors in Staffordshire, just two months after the same planning committee gave the proposals the go-ahead.
The plans for the 400,000 tonne-a-year capacity plant were originally approved, subject to both planning and legal conditions, by Staffordshire county councils planning committee on July 7.
If built, the Kingswood Energy from Waste Facility would treat commercial and industrial waste and generate up to 36 megawatts of electricity and would be sited on the same location as Biffas recently opened Poplars anaerobic digestion facility.
But, the approval was then referred back to the planning committee at a meeting last week (September 15), where the proposals were rejected. A report considered at last weeks meeting reveals that the decision to reconsider the plans was directly linked to Biffas offer as part of its application to pay 80,000 a year into a Community Fund, which was one of the legal conditions of the original approval.
The report explains that, at the July 7 meeting, certain members expressed concern at the Applicants offer of an 80,000 annual payment into a Community Fund as being inappropriate but it was nonetheless resolved that Planning Permission be granted as recommended in the report.
In view of these concerns expressed Queens Counsels opinion was sought and, following receipt of such advicefurther information was sought from the Applicant in order to decide whether the 80,000 payment could properly be taken into account.
Biffa was told it had to provide evidence of the developments impacts that it thought the Fund would address and how it would address them. If it did not, the application would have to be returned to the planning committee to be considered again, without the inclusion of the 80,000-a-year payment as a consideration.
Concluding that the application needed to be reconsidered, the report states: The Director of Law and Democracy considers, following further consultation with Queens Counsel, that the Applicant had not demonstrated that the 80,000 Community Fund Payment has sufficient relationship to the Development for it to be a material planning consideration that the Committee should have taken into account.
Therefore, the Application has been brought back before the Committee to reconsider the application without taking into account the offer of an 80,000 annual payment.
Planning officers report
As was the case with the original July 7 planning meeting, the planning officers report considered at last weeks meeting again recommends that the application for the facility be approved subject to conditions.
This is despite concerns being raised by local district councils over the impact of the project, and the planning officer acknowledging issues over the need for the facility. These include concluding that the plant would need a wider catchment area than the existing landfill operation on the same site, with only 80,000 tonnes-a-year of feedstock for the plant coming from the same area.
It also states there is no need for a facility of this scale in Staffordshire in order for Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent to achieve the current diversion from landfill targets but does note that these goals are only minimum landfill diversion targets, and could be exceeded.
Reasons for refusal
The issue of whether the facility was needed was among those raised by the planning committee in explaining its decision to reject the application by 10 votes to two at last weeks meeting.
In a statement, the council said: The Committee decided that the benefits were outweighed by the impacts on the local community and their environment.
It said concerns included:
the scale of the development and the prominence of the site and its visual impact
the impacts of traffic generation
the concern that an over domination of the waste industry in the area will affect prospects for local economy and jobs
concerns about local health impacts.
Committee Chairman Tim Corbett said the feeling on the committee was very clear.The majority felt there was clearly no need for this extra waste facility in Staffordshire and that environmentally and socially the costs were too high and the benefits too small for the people of Staffordshire, he said.
Commenting on the decision Jeff Rhodes, Biffas planning and permitting manager, said: We are very surprised with the highly unusual and curious way in which the committee has reversed a decision it made a few weeks ago despite the details of our scheme remaining exactly the same.
This is unique in our experience and does nothing to encourage confidence in the planning system. We obviously have the right to appeal and will now look at taking such action.