Challenge to anaerobic digestion plan moves to High Court

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A Bury St Edmunds woman must wait to hear the outcome of her High Court challenge to controversial plans for an anaerobic digestion plant near her home.

Because of the complexity of legal argument and the issues concerned a judge has reserved judgment in the case and will give it in writing later, athough probably not until after Easter.

Karen Treagus, of 1 Shop Close, Denham, Bury St Edmunds, has attacked Suffolk County Council’s decision, taken in June 2011, to grant planning permission to the nearby Denham Estate for the facility, which will use agricultural crops from the Estate, fruit and brewery waste to produce electricity and heat. The Council also gave the go-ahead for a silage clamp, lagoon and balancing pond to serve the development.

However, the High Court was told that 100 local residents object to the plan because of concerns about the significant effects it is feared it would have on the local environment.

Ms Treagus says the Council failed to give adequate scrutiny to the effect the facility will have on the environment, including potentially significant adverse impacts on groundwater and surface water and the threat posed by release of ‘bioaerosols’ - airborne particles that contain living organisms.

She is asking Lord Carlile of Berriew QC, sitting as a judge at the London court, to quash the decision and order the Council to reconsider the planning application pu forward by Kerstin Gliksten, trading as the Denham Estate at Barrow Road, Denham.

Treagus claims that, when the Council made a ‘screening opinion’ that no Environmental Impact Assessment was required, it wrongly relied on mitigation measures to prevent harm without knowing the full extent of those measures.

She alleges that it failed to require a bio-aerosol risk assessment, contrary to its own policy, and failed to give reasons for not doing so.

In the anaerobic digestion process, bacteria are used to break down organic material in the absence of air, producing methane, heat and a solid and liquid residue called substrate. The Estate plans to burn the methane to provide electricity to be used on the farm and exported to the national grid.

It intends to spread the substrate on its fields as fertiliser, but Treagus claims that it is unknown whether the substrate will be of sufficient quality to avoid classification as waste under European law. If it is so classified, a further planning permission would be required before it could be spread on fields.

Lawyers for the Council argued that the claim should be dismissed, claiming that its decision that a screening opinion was not required was based on the expert advice of Government body the Environment Agency, which it was properly entitled to take into account.

They said that the Council properly approached its task of determining the application for planning permission in accordance with its development plan as a whole, and that its decision cannot characterised as irrational.

They maintained that, at the time when planning permission was granted, the development plan did not even contain a policy requiring a bio-aerosol assessment, and no such policy would apply if the Council were ordered to redetermine the application.