After numerous invitations, our local ward member, Councillor Ransley finally paid us a visit at Crouchland Farm the other week, and levelled a number of questions and challenges in our direction. We welcomed the chance to engage directly with the Councillor rather than through his blog or the press but were disappointed he then reverted to form following the meeting. So, since his visit we have been collating our own response, and provide here answers to his comments in his blog.
- “I’ve asked before to be advised which local villages workers employed by the companies operating on the site live in”: All our full time staff at Crouchland Biogas live in Plaistow Parish or within a 3km radius.
- “Please identify the % of Crouchland Biogas revenue produced by the dairy herd compared to the Biogas operation as that would be one way of demonstrating that the biogas production is subsidiary to the farming activity”: The primary land use activity at Crouchland is Diary farming, as it has always been, not least of which is the dairy herd of 450 cows to be found around the farm. Government policy is to encourage and promote a prosperous rural economy, of which farm diversification is actively encouraged. There is no requirement to demonstrate diversification is a subsidiary activity and the financial information you’ve asked for is commercially sensitive, so not something we can release. We’re sure you understand that.
- “Provide a copy of an independent assessment that demonstrates that this [we are a green energy plant producing clean energy] is the case”: Alongside the planning application that was submitted to WSCC we set out a Statement of the environmental benefits of the plant when compared with fossil fuel energy which showed exactly that. We’d be happy to send Cllr Ransley through a copy of this report, a report upon which WSCC Planning Officers sought independent verification before recommending approving the application.
- “Identify what has been written by councils or me that is inaccurate, not by way of your or your PR Consultants subjective opinion but by reference to the facts and I’ll readily have the record amended”.
This one took quite some time – Cllr Ransley has written extensively about Crouchland Biogas on his blog – but there are a number of things that aren’t correct.
- It is incorrect to call Crouchland a “very large industrial plant”. The biogas plant covers no more than 4.3 hectares including the lagoon and access from Rickman’s Lane, and is surrounded by our farmland and woodland that extends to over 170ha and in productive agricultural use, the biogas plant therefore comprises only 2% of our landholding. Crouchland Farm is a current, working dairy farm, at it’s heart.
- “Those that manage or have invested into this company and its operations considered they were exempt or above the law”. This is certainly not the case, remember there is already consent from CDC for an AD plant at Crouchland and the retrospective application was submitted to WSCC to regularise the extension to the Biogas plant to make it more efficient and actually put more constraints on the operation than we are currently permitted to operate within. Nor, indeed, have we at any time “misjudged the integrity and commitment of [CDC] in administering Planning Policy”.
- “Officers were clear that there had been a breach of planning conditions”. Actually, WSCC Planning Officers had to provide further representations to correct the CDC committee report in this regard as they had not said that the AD use of the site is a breach of planning control as there are no conditions to breach! WSCC officers were clear that the breach was only on physical unlawful development.
- “No one could have foreseen that a change in management of the farm in 2011 would result in a move away from farming to industrial waste processing and related importation of waste material and exportation of gas by HGVs.” We ceased importing food waste material to the site in May 2014 and the proposal now is that agricultural and fruit/vegetable waste from local farms will comprise 8% of the feedstock. The exportation of gas is the optimal and most efficient form of renewable energy from this plant rather than putting it through a CHP engine to generate electricity.
- “WSCC consider one legal opinion is a better basis to inform it than another experienced local authority who deals with the majority of planning development in the area … that is also after setting aside [the] legal opinion that was contrary to WSCC’s”. A number of legal opinions were sought before WSCC Planning Officers recommended approval, especially in view of the alternative legal case presented.
- In one blog, Cllr Ransley criticised the Midhurst and Petworth Observer for reporting the other side of the story, the side that explains that Crouchland Farm is a dairy farm. We think that it is highly irresponsible of him to advocate one-sided journalism, and are grateful to the local press for reporting from our perspective as well as from the perspective of those opposing our scheme, so that those less directly involved are left to draw their own conclusions.
- The phrase “abuse of our democratic system” is used in various guises on a number of occasions – this is also an unfair assessment of the case. Crouchland Farm has willingly stepped forward and participated in all democratic procedures required. It has also been suggested that we have provided misleading information – this is also absolutely untrue, we have at no stage said anything that is untrue at the time of writing. WSCC officers in reaching their recommendation consulted widely on the information put before them undertaking numerous unannounced site visits and getting independent verification of the proposed scheme to ensure that it was factually correct, represented good design, was technically correct and would be able to operate within the parameters stated
- “Kirdford Parish was one of the first communities in the country to deliver a Neighbourhood Plan, not exactly a NIMBY vocation”. Delivery of a Neighbourhood plan is entirely that – it means development can be advocated and controlled locally and in some instances contrary to wider local planning policy if it so wishes. This could potentially lead to a discriminatory approach to planning and local land use unless suitably checked.
- We have 450 cows not 300.
There are a number of other matters that we take issue with, but this is just a taste of the factual inaccuracies throughout Councillor Ransley’s blog. We continue to be disappointed that our locally elected representative has not taken an objective position on this matter and looked at the situation from all sides as our local MP clearly did.