HMVCG supports community objection to biomass woodchip plant

What’s going on?  Stockport Homes  (a subsidiary of Stockport Council) has submitted an application to run a wood fuel storage, processing and distribution plant at Battersea Road in Heaton Mersey.

This only came to our attention very recently when we heard on the grapevine that it had gone before the Heaton’s and Reddish Area Committee.  They determined that it should go to the Stockport Planning and Highways Regulation Committee for decision; this meeting takes place Thursday 16th February.

The overwhelming view of local businesses, residents and our local councillors is that the application is entirely inappropriate and should be refused.

The application fails to meet national and local planning principles and policy, the latter agreed with Stockport residents, which exist to ensure developments are appropriate both environmentally and economically.

The basis for this conclusion is as follows:
  1.  Stockport MBC, in its Employment Land Review, characterises the Heaton Mersey business/industrial park as ‘an attractive employment location that will continue to attract a variety of office and warehouse developments’.  A heavy industrial facility of the type proposed will prejudice the attractiveness of this park to the detriment of existing businesses and will deter future occupiers. The planning officer says the biomass plant will have 2.5 workers and this satisfies employment use policy requirements.  Not considered here is what the development could mean in term of loss of existing workers from the surrounding businesses and future employment opportunities.  A review of the Embankment Industrial Park and type of business it suits should be undertaken in order to provide the existing businesses with future certainty and the continued growth of the business park.
  2. One of the criteria listed by Stockport Homes for a suitable site is “No immediate housing – chipping does make noise and generate dust”.  Not mentioned is the biomass boiler (to power the dryer) which emits fumes, especially Nitrogen Dioxide and particulates, and a likely odour from the dryer.  This creates a risk in particular to children who are ‘sensitive receptors’.  The Battersea Rd site is in a river valley which means any chimney will need to be extremely tall.  The application includes a noise assessment which shows the noise levels are too high and that noise mitigation measures will be needed. However, the solutions are not totally satisfactory and this demonstrates how the applicant is having to ‘shoe-horn’ a heavy industrial activity into an area where it clearly does not fit.  As there is no air quality or pollution assessment the planning committee will be unable to determine the total impact of noise, dust and other pollutants from the proposed plant and in particular its impact on the following groups:
    • nearby offices and high-tech companies with skilled employees that the businesses need to retain and be able to provide a safe and productive working environment. The proposal would result in unacceptable noise pollution for these (and for nearby residential properties).  The wind-blown dust and particulate contamination would be a serious risk factor to nearby high tech users. Any particulate that contains volatile hydrocarbons (such as oils and resins in woods) would be a serious risk factor. In addition, the shock and vibration of dropping loads of logs is likely to affect instrument calibration.
    • there are two children’s nurseries nearby and two primary schools where the prevailing wind will blow the fumes. This is aggravated by the fact that the schools are much higher than the plant, making dispersal much more difficult, if not impossible.
    • visitors to the adjacent Mersey Vale nature park and users of the Trans Pennine Trail.  These include local families, schools, educational outdoor activity groups and employees from the business park enjoying this tranquil and desirable section with open views to the river and fields beyond.   Previously neglected and derelict riverside land, it was transformed in early 2000 at a cost of around £1 million to provide a safer, cleaner and greener environment, new leisure opportunities and a habitat for wildlife. More recently, TfGM invested in upgrading the off road, quiet TPT route for the benefit of cyclists, walkers and horseriders.  The health and wellbeing outcomes of providing such an outdoor space are well documented and part of Council policy.
  3. The planning application contains no traffic statement or traffic impact assessment and the highway engineer says  “further information or clarification is required to enable this application to be fully considered”.  This means the planning committee will be unable to determine how safely and effectively the proposed HGVs will move in and around the locality. The vehicle trips model provided by the highway engineer shows that HGV movements will further exacerbate existing and acknowledged local highways and traffic congestion problems, particularly between 3 pm and 4 pm and 6 pm and 7 pm when the majority of fuel deliveries from the site are scheduled.  Didsbury Road is a highly used road both for commuters but also pedestrians including school children and parents with pre-school age children walking to the high number of schools clustered around Heaton Mersey village. With the negative health effects of air pollution from vehicles being very well established, it would be negligent to act in a way that increases this. The applicant also forecasts 1 to 2 timber deliveries to the site on weekday mornings but no information is given on how the wood supply will be collected together so it arrives as one or two large loads.  Despite all the above the planning officer states that “no objections are raised to the proposal from the council highway engineer” and concludes that “the proposal is considered acceptable with regard to the issues of traffic generation, impact on the highway network, access, highway safety and parking, in accordance with [stated] saved UDP policies”.
  4. It is clear that a facility of the scale proposed is capable of processing many times more material than is documented in the application (to supply fuel to the biomass boilers at 7 of the applicant’s sites across Stockport).  A  greater output will cause further increased environmental impacts including noise, dust and heavy goods movements.
Where are we now? Today, the planning and highways committee visited the site – and one of the businesses affected by the proposed developed – in advance of their meeting on Thursday to decide.

A group of local residents and businesses attended to show their concern. Emma Curle, the lead planner for Stockport Council let the protesters know that recent HMVCG electronic communications about the very real community concerns about this planning application had been received by the committee. We await the outcome on 16 February.

To keep up to date with what is happening, visit the ‘Say No to Biomass Plant in Heaton Mersey’ FB group here:

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