Sunday, 22 May 2011

Appeal decision is more like a SITA press release, than a balanced judgement from a Planning Inquiry

Yesterday, I studied the key aspects of the appeal decision and the conclusions of the Inspector and then the Secretary of State. Here are what I consider the key elements of the decision.

First and foremost, the Inspector fully accepted the validity of the Waste Local Plan agreed by Cornwall County Council in 2002, which included a proposal for a 200,000 tonne incinerator within the China Clay Area, and the “Integrated Waste Management Contract” agreed between the County Council and SITA in 2006. He wrote: “The Contract required the appellant to deliver an EfW plant with a 240,000 tonne capacity” on the appeal site. He gave great weight to this.

The local community presented an extremely detailed case to the Inquiry, which demonstrated that this approach was wrong and the selection of the St Dennis site was flawed, but these views were ignored.

The Inspector gave significant weight to the limited amount of landfill space this is available in Cornwall. He was also critical that Cornwall Council did not present an alternative approach or approaches to waste management, or identify what he termed credible alternative sites.

He ignored the representations from Rule 6 Parties about more sustainable waste management methods, the Waste Hierarchy and a range of related issues.

The local community also argued that the 240,000 tonne incinerator was over-sized and much larger that the likely total extent of domestic waste arisings in future years. The Inspector did not accept our arguments and said he would be content to see the plant burning up larger amounts of commercial and industrial waste.

He concluded that “there is a compelling need for the CERC facility to be in place in good time to address [the] pressing problem” of what to do with Cornwall’s waste.

The Inspector also decided that the impact of the incinerator on nature conservation interests, the historic environment, public footpaths or landscape character would not be unacceptably harmful. He also failed to take note of health concerns raised by local people.

But unbelievably, he also wrote that the “CERC buildings would be of a distinctive high quality and innovative design. The curved form of the roofs of the building would reflect the rolling forms of the countryside around St Dennis.” As one person in St Dennis said on Friday: “This reads more like a SITA press release, than a balanced judgement from a Planning Inquiry.”

The Inspector did conclude that the “visual impact of the stack and, to a lesser extent, the buildings would have an intrusive and harmful impact on some shorter distance vantage points” and that noise levels “would adversely affect the amenity of those people living in the properties” at La Mount Corner, which he elsewhere referred to as a “localised” impact.

However, the view of the inspector was that the benefits of the scheme were “substantial and compelling” and outweighed the “harm by way of visual impact and the effect of traffic noise.”

Controversially, he also gave “very substantial weight … to the financial repercussions of the CERC proposal not proceeding,” arguing that the perceived cost presented to the Inquiry would “hit taxpayers and the Council hard at a time of straightened financial circumstances …”

I remain gutted at the findings of the Inspector, many of which I consider unacceptable. I am also angry that so many of the arguments presented by local people have been so casually dismissed.

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