Recommendation: Conditional approval
Proposal: Application to vary condition 7 of planning consent 153172 in order to extend the time for the deposit of engineering/restoration materials (inert waste) from 21 years from the date upon which the deposit operations commenced to 23 years, and to extend the time for the completion of the site’s restoration from 22 years from the date upon which the deposit operations commenced to 24 years
Applicant: Mrs Veronique Bensadou, Grundon Waste Management Limited
The Committee received and reviewed a report, set out in agenda pages 87 to 118.
The Committee were advised that the Members’ Update included:
· An additional condition to allow for monitoring of site progress;
· Further clarification regarding how a consultation response from Maureen Hunt, Borough Councillor for RBWM Hurley and Walthams Ward, was considered and presented within the report;
· Further clarification regarding concerns about litter and smell, which should not be occurring from the subject site as it had now been capped;
· A further letter from the applicant outlining their confidence to be able to complete the site.
In line with the given deadlines, three public written submissions were received for this item. These submissions were circulated to Members in advance, and noted on the evening. The submissions as provided can be found below.
Barton Willmore, on behalf of Residents of Star Lane and Knowl Hill, provided the following submission in objection to this application.
“Barton Willmore submitted a detailed response to the planning application which we trust members have had the opportunity to read and digest.
Fundamentally, this objection focuses on the fact that the case Officer’s report acknowledges the detrimental impact that the Star Works Site has on residential amenity, however there remains a reliance on planning conditions that are neither complied with nor enforced.
In allowing the original application at appeal, the Inspector identified that, notwithstanding the inconvenience likely to be caused by a site such as this (due to the proximity to residential dwellings), the disadvantages would be spasmodic and short lived, and must be set against the considerable long-term benefit.
The application currently before you, seeks to extend the time limit to 2023 to cease deposits of waste material, and 2024 to complete restoration. A total of 5 years beyond that envisaged by the Inspector when they referred to ‘short term pain for long term gain’.
The Council, like the Inspector before them, have historically sought to rely on the ability to enforce against breaches of planning conditions to protect residential amenity; environment and highway safety, and it is noted that the same position has been adopted this time round. Your Officer refers consistently to the existence of Conditions which will protect residential amenity.
However, the fundamental point, is that to serve their purpose and be effective, the conditions must be enforced. The residents of Star Lane and Knowl Hill feel let down by the Council, who have consistently failed to enforce against clear breaches of conditions and have indicated that they are unable to do so; and also let down by the Applicants who have failed to comply with the conditions.
The Council have been made aware of breaches of planning conditions on many occasions over the years, and these continue to this day. Local residents have no confidence in the enforcement of conditions to protect their residential amenity, and therefore it is inappropriate to extend this situation any longer.
They reiterate the objections that have already been submitted on their behalf, and request in the strongest terms that this matter is brought to a close and this application be refused.”
Maureen Hunt, RBWM Ward Member for Hurley & Waltham Ward, provided the following submission in objection to the application.
“I hope Members have had the opportunity to read my email of 6th July as it contains very pertinent information of what Grundon have chosen NOT TO DO and is only related to this application for the restoration and not the B2 use on the whole site.
I and Cllr Johnson have worked hard to get a solution for Grundon and the lack of inert material for restoration as stated in this application.
RBWM have offered enough inert material which complies with the criteria for restoration FREE to Grundon. All they have to do is collect it from a location in RBWM about 4.5 miles away.
They have chosen to REFUSE this offer. They cannot forecast the delivery of enough inert material over the next two years and have even mentioned to me there could be a further downturn in building due to a 2nd wave of Covid 19.
They inform us that with this extension the landfill restoration will be completed. That was said in 2016 when they gained permission for an extension of time.
By asking for an extension of time, Grundon are not adhering to policies in the Berkshire Mineral Plan or the Waste Mineral Plan for Berkshire.
The cost of haulage is not a consideration for this Panel. They knew there was no stockpile of resto ration material when they first gained permission for the Landfill. Grundon have failed to ensure they stockpiled for this over the years and have now REFUSED the help of RBWM. In good faith and for the benefit of the Green Belt and residents of Knowl Hill, they should reconsider the offer made.”
Veronique Bensadou, Interim Head of Estates and Senior Planner at Grundon (applicant), provided the following submission in support of the application.
“Landfilling at the Star Works site started in 1999. Under the current planning permission for the landfill site, the disposal of non-inert waste was to cease by January 2019, the disposal of inert material (soils) was to cease by January 2020, with the restoration of the site (tree planting and grass seeding) completed by January 2021.
The import of non-inert waste was completed during the course of 2018, with the last load of non-inert waste being deposited in April 2018, ahead of the January 2019 deadline. Over large parts of the site, the placing of inert soils has been completed and the landfill site is clearly progressing towards completion and full restoration. However, there are still areas that require completing.
The current planning application requests an extension to the life of the landfill so that we can continue to bring restoration soils to the site until January 2022 and complete the approved restoration scheme by January 2023 (2-year extension).
The site operates under various constraints imposed by planning conditions and in accordance with its Environmental Permit which is monitored by the Environment Agency. The Permit governs the day-to-day operation of the site and sets out pollution and environmental control measures. These controls and constraints are in place to protect the local environment and the amenity of the local area and residents. The areas of the landfill site that still require to be completed are the furthest away from the residential properties (those off Star Lane) as the areas closest to these properties have been completed and restored first. Also the vehicles delivering the soils to the landfill do not pass by any of the houses on Star Lane.
The alternative to the proposed extension of time, is for the restoration of the site to be curtailed prior to the approved levels being reached across the site. Even with a significant proportion of the site already restored, this would result in a landform which would not blend into the surrounding landscape in the way the approved scheme had been designed to achieve. This in turn, would have a long term and (effectively) permanent detrimental impact on the local landscape and the character of the area.
In addition to this, the systems in place to collect and manage the leachate and landfill gas were designed based on the landfill being completed and the restoration levels being achieved. Again, curtailing the restoration of the site prior to these levels being reached would have long term implications on these environmental controls and jeopardize how effectively and efficiently these systems are meant to operate.
In conclusion, officers have carefully considered the application proposals, and have determined that they accord to the local and national planning policy and recommended approval. For this reason and those I have outlined, I hope you will endorse this recommendation.”
Members were asked in turn for any comments or queries on this application. Specific comments or queries are summarised below.
Simon Weeks commented that there were two parts to this site, with the subject application site having been capped and the other part of the site still being active. Simon added that the RBWM Ward Member and Maidenhead MP had made comments regarding the availability of inert waste from the RBWM. Simon commented that if refused, the site would be left in an unusual position where the land would remain scarred and it would not be Wokingham Borough Council’s (WBC’s) responsibility to resolve. Should a refusal decision be appealed, a timescale of approximately twelve to fifteen months could be seen prior to an appeal being heard, during which time the site would remain operable. Simon commented that Members had received a briefing regarding this application due to the complex site history, in which a number of technical queries were answered and clarified
Chris Bowring queried what judgement Members could make regarding the offer, and rejection of, inert material. Graham Vaughan, case officer, stated that paragraph 7 of the officer report outlined that the applicant had reasons why they chose not to accept the offer of inert material. Graham added that it was not a material consideration to judge whether a business decision was a good decision.
Stephen Conway stated that if approved, the applicant could still engage in negotiations with RBWM to make efforts to infill the land sooner. Stephen added his sympathy with the concerns of the residents, and agreed with the summary of the situation as stated by Simon Weeks.
Simon Weeks proposed an informative, asking that the applicant enter into meaningful discussions with RBWM to make their best effort to take advantage of any available and suitable material in order to speed up the restoration of the subject site. This informative was unanimously agreed by Members present, and added to the list of informatives.
Carl Doran queried whether the applicant would be bound by the previous planning permission to restore the site should this application be refused. Simon Weeks stated that the current conditions could not be met in the permitted time, and WBC could not allow a breach of one condition so that another could be met. Graham Vaughan stated that if refused, work on the site would have to cease, which would leave the site in a very unusual and difficult situation.
Carl Doran queried what was left to do on site in terms of restoration, and whether a 1.75m level of soil would be suitable as opposed to the suggested 2m level. Graham Vaughan stated that the applicant had outlined that approximately three hectares of land was required to be infilled with soil, and trees were due to be planted during the next planting season. Suzi Coyne, WBC minerals and waste consultant, stated that a 2m level of soil was required to ensure that the roots of trees would not permeate through the cap.
Simon Weeks commented that many objections had been received regarding litter and smell at the site. Simon added that the subject application site was capped, and the other part of the site owed by the applicant, and not the subject of this application, could be the cause of these complaints.
Malcolm Richards queried how any potential enforcement at the site could be dealt with in future. Graham Vaughan stated that the new monitoring condition would allow WBC an insight into progress made on the site, which would give all concerned reassurance as to how close to completion the site was. This would also allow WBC to engage in earlier discussions with the applicant should progress be slower than expected.
A number of Members commented that they had a great deal of sympathy with residents, however refusing this application would leave the site scarred with little prospect of restoration.
RESOLVED That application number 193392 to approved, subject to conditions and informatives as set out in agenda pages 88 to 89, additional condition relating to site monitoring as set out in the Members’ Update, and additional informative asking the applicant to engage in discussions with RBWM regarding the availability of suitable material.