Thursday, 11 February 2016

Report on Strategic Planning Committee: biogas plant at Higher Fraddon

This morning, Cornwall Council’s Strategic Planning Committee considered the two applications relating to the biogas plant at Higher Fraddon, namely the regularisation of the site as built (PA15/03073) and a variation of the traffic movements to the site (PA15/05220).

The session took three hours and four local residents spoke at the meeting; Emily Martin, Helen Martin, Philip Potter and Anne Woolcock. Michael Hopkins spoke on behalf of the Parish Council, while David Manley and Darren Stockley represented Greener for Life. Obviously, I inputted as well.

I will do my best to explain what happened … though it is very complex.

It is fair to say that, as at the last meeting on the 19th November 2015, the members of the Committee were universally horrified about what has happened at Higher Fraddon in planning terms.

Councillor followed councillor in criticising the two proposals and there was particular anger at the “flawed” / “inaccurate” / “misleading” non-material amendments (agreed without any democratic or community consultation), which had (i) allowed the amount of feedstock imported into the site to be increased from just over 6,000 tonnes to 35 tonnes, and (ii) led to a larger number of 44-tonne vehicles assessing the site.

If I take the applications in turn.

Numerous councillors set out their stalls early that they wished to refuse the first “Section 73” application to “regularise” the site which had not been constructed in accordance with plans (while lowering one of the three domes).

However, the planning officers argued that if councillors wished to refuse the application they had to find a reason specifically linked to the size and shape of the domes. It was also suggested that if the applicant appealed such a refusal, it would be difficult to defend the decision at an appeal hearing.

The officers also argued that while councillors might not be able to refuse the application on grounds such as traffic, etc, they were able, through a Section 73 application, to impose new conditions to control aspects of the application (including traffic).

Councillors also expressed concern about the proposed conditions, particularly those on traffic which many felt were unworkable.

The end result was that councillors voted to defer the application so that all the conditions could be reviewed – I think many were keen to see a reduction in the number of large vehicles in Higher Fraddon – and a revised application brought back to a future meeting of the Strategic Planning Committee. 

The vote was 11 to eight in favour of this, but those people in favour of the deferral made it clear that they would not necessarily be supporting the application on its return.

Planning officers, the Chairman and Vice-chairman of the Committee, plus myself and other interested parties, will now be tasked to review and reconsider how such an application might be controlled through conditions.

The second application was tt modify the traffic movements on the previous consent PA12/01700 and associated NMAs. It was noted that this proposal was therefore linked to a planning permission (which the applicants had failed to comply with) and which the applicants were not seeking to regularise, and therefore were unlikely to rebuild in a different form to comply with the previous consent.

Councillors understood this, and the fact that the issue of traffic was being considered under the auspices of the first (deferred) application. They also set out their concern at the extent of requested vehicle movements and voted to refuse the application. The vote was unanimous.

There is now likely to be much toing and froing before the application goes back to Strategic Planning and I will do my utmost to keep people informed.

I trust that made some sense!

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