LETTER: Facts recorded on the case file

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Having read your recent report on ‘Plaistow dairy farm hits out at villager opposition’ I’d remind readers Kirdford Parish was one of the first communities in the country to deliver a Neighbourhood Plan, not exactly a NIMBY vocation. My view is that perhaps Crouchlands is trying to mislead the community and WSCC councillors?

The facts as recorded on the case file by officers at Chichester District Council and West Sussex County Council appear straightforward:

Crouchlands Farm was a long established and respected local dairy farm, with a large herd circa 1,500 cows, which got planning consent, with local support, from CDC for an on-farm anaerobic digester to produce electricity in 2007 and 2008.

Crouchland Biogas Ltd is a new company formed in 2011, to trade in converting waste into gas and electricity. They have acquired the farm, expanded the plant, yet have reduced the herd to circa 300 cows, and were served a planning enforcement notice by WSCC in 2014 for changing an on-farm facility into an industrial scale plant importing circa 35,000 tonnes of waste and other material from across the county and beyond.

This seems to have nothing to do with farming diversification or local job retention in agriculture, indeed the jobs that would be created, if it were a lawful operation, can require specialist skills and create additional commuting rather than employment for local people.

The investment in industrial waste processing made by Crouchlands BioGas Ltd was made without even the most basic enquiry of WSCC of whether it complied with local planning policy or that the location was suitable for such use.

They submitted a legal challenge to force a change or a set aside of the WSCC Highways objections when they were published, such objections being of major significance and virtually guaranteed a recommendation to refuse, on their retrospective application. To then say WSCC highways officers support their application is spurious at the very least.

Not surprisingly, given they have consistently flouted planning regulatory considerations to date, they welcomed the proposed voluminous conditions added to the WSCC planning report that has now subsequently been withdrawn.

Having used a legal challenge to try and influence the democratic process to suit their objective they now blame the local community for raising a legal technicality and slowing down the process.

The legal advice submitted by the parish councils was not a ‘technicality’ but made it clear a Queen’s Counsel’s view that Crouchland Biogas Ltd was in breach of its 2007 and 2008 planning consents and that they would need a separate consent to build the industrial scale operation they are currently using. Such opinion means the original WSCC Highways objections were, and still are, valid.

Lastly, Crouchland’s refer in their press release to WSCC applying stricter regulations and perhaps we’d all gain by our relevant authorities doing exactly that. Such authorities, from what I’ve been advised in this case, should also include Ofgem and our local Rates Valuation Office.

The negative effort and expense this company has obliged local authorities at county, district and parish level to spend so far (given it’s our rates that fund them!) is distressing and yet they seem set on pursuing the principle of ‘divide and rule’ which to be fair appears to have been very successful for them so far.

This process has been going on for a couple of years and is likely to go on for another couple more, and meanwhile Crouchlands continue a lucrative trade in waste processing, without planning consent and with its main apparent revenue also coming out of taxpayers’ money!

JOSEF RANSLEY

(Con) Chichester district councillor for Kirdford and Wisborough Green, East Pallant, Chichester