Rural residents kick up a stink over plans

Rural residents have voiced strong opposition to a proposed development on a north Northumberland farm.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 03 May, 2018, 12:06
Tillmouth Village Hall was busy for a public meeting.

More than 50 letters of objection have been lodged in response to a planning application by John Laing, of Stickle Heaton Farm, near Tillmouth.

His company, Dalbury Ltd, wants to build an agricultural gas-to-grid anaerobic digestion (AD) facility to generate renewable energy from cow slurry, farmyard manure, grass and cereal silage.

A public meeting attended by some 65 local residents was held in Tillmouth Village Hall on Thursday night.

The application plans and supporting documents were on display for public viewing, with planning officers from Northumberland County Council taking questions in a Q&A session which lasted more than 90 minutes.

Clare Dakin, a local resident, then summed up the key planning grounds for objections which have been raised and which could be put to the council by the public.

Mick Plunkett, chairman of Cornhill Parish Council, said: “The primary concern of the community is that this appears to be a potential solution to Mr Laing’s poor management of effluent at his New Heaton dairy farm.

“However, a closer look at the application reveals that it is in fact a significant proposal for an industrial scale plant for which Mr Laing’s operation could provide less than one eighth of the organic waste required.

“Running this plant would require at least 60 lorry journeys per day along an unsuitable, narrow, minor country road passing in front of the Old School House award-winning bed and breakfast and the Grade II listed Tillmouth Park Hotel.

“In all likelihood, The Old School House road frontage would become a passing place for this large volume of traffic and the peace and tranquility their guests come for would be ruined.

“In addition, we are all horrifed at the prospect of Mr Laing being given permission to operate an effluent processing plant on this scale, he has demonstrated that he is absolutely not competent to be trusted with such a complex operation. We sincerely hope the council will turn down his application.”

Last month, Mr Laing was fined £2,854.56 in fines and costs at Berwick Magistrates’ Court for failing to fix the source of pollution from a silo storage unit into a tributary that flows into the River Till. He had been fined £19,000 for the original offence.

Mr Laing was invited to attend the public meeting but did not attend or send a representative.

The 54-year-old farms 650ha of land at New Heaton, Stickle Heaton, East Learmouth and Branxton.

Jim Campbell of SAC Consulting, in a report on behalf of Dalbury, said: ‘The installation of an anaerobic digester at New Heaton is being contemplated as part of a restructuring of business activities to provide an alternative income stream to compliment the existing enterprises. It is proposed to source a large proportion of the feedstock for the digester from within the existing business.

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‘The applicant regards this proposal as an extremely innovative project that can enhance the viability of a rural business while improving the sustainability and carbon footprint of the area.’

The report adds that material movements to and from the site would be restricted to between 8am and 6pm.

‘The proposals seek to upgrade and realign the existing junction point where the farm track meets the main road to improve circulation for vehicles entering and exiting the site. The access road would be widened.

‘Home produced slurry and FYM would be delivered to the site by tractor and trailer; movements such as these are already taking place around the farm and these journeys would not add to existing traffic. These vehicles will access the site from the south over farm land or via the existing unclassified road between New Heaton and Stickle Heaton.

‘Imported feedstocks (including manures) will be transported by a mixture of farm vehicles and HGVs resulting in an estimated 13 additional journeys per day. Digestate will be separated into solid and liquid fractions as it exits the AD system with the solid fraction being transported by tractor and trailer to East Learmouth for storage prior to spreading in accordance with crop requirements.

‘Assuming that solid digestate is removed from the site on 250 days per year then an average of 8 loads per day will be moved to East Learmouth. The liquid fraction will be stored within the proposed slurry lagoon prior to spreading.

‘Spreading on the land within the farm business will be carried out using farm equipment and where possible an umbilical spreading system will be used to spread to adjacent land at New Heaton and Stickle Heaton to minimise vehicle journeys.

‘A further portion will be spread by tractor and trailed spreader on the land at East Learmouth and Branxton in line with crop requirements.

‘Farm vehicles spreading this material will access the site from the south over farm land or via the existing unclassified road between New Heaton and Stickle Heaton.

‘The remaining digestate will be removed from the site by HGV tankers for temporary storage at farms external to the business. In most cases these will be the farms who supply FYM as feedstock. These HGV vehicles will access the site via the upgraded access. Assuming that liquid digestate is removed from the site on 250 days per year then an average of 11 loads per day will be moved via this route.’

The report concludes: ‘The proposed AD plant at New Heaton is in accord with the principals of sustainability and will secure the viability of the farming business which in turn will provide significant environmental, economic and social benefits within the local community.

‘Taking account of the national and regional policies, and the environmental assessments as set out in this report, it is considered that the balance lies heavily in favour of the desirability and benefits to be gained from the generation of clean renewable energy from the proposed AD plant.

‘It is believed the proposal offers a sustainable and modern approach whilst complying with relevant planning policy.’