Update on proposed biomass wood fuel processing development

A couple of weeks ago we reported that members of Stockport’s Planning and Highway Committee would meet on the 16th February to decide on  Stockport Homes application to build a biomass woodchip operation on Battersea Rd, Heaton Mersey.

They had received representations from businesses and residents to say the proposed site (marked in red on map at top of this page) is totally inappropriate for this type of activity and the application should be refused on the basis that it lacks the required operational detail/plans and an effective assessment of all the environmental and transport impacts. Air pollution, in particular is a local and UK concern as described in this BBC video “What does air pollution do to our bodies?”

So what was the decision?  There wasn’t one. The committee members were told that the application was deferred to enable an air quality assessment to be carried out.  We have been advised that it will return to the planning committee at some point and it is uncertain if people will have an opportunity to respond to the amended application.

Given growing concerns amongst the local community about both this planning proposal and the procedure, and the applicant is a Stockport Council business, HMVCG is taking an unprecedented step for us of writing to Stockport Council’s CEO to ask him to look into the matter.  The detail of the letter is provided below.

We hope to receive a satisfactory reply but, in the meantime, we are holding a public meeting 7.30pm, Thurs 9th March, Heaton Mersey Sports and Social Club, Harwood Rd, SK4 3AW for sharing of views on this and other challenges facing our local area.  We hope you will be able to attend and have your say.

Letter to Eamonn Boylan, Stockport Council’s CEO :

Please note, the term ‘biomass plant’ used below refers to the proposed operation of producing woodchip fuel from timber, which includes 2 biomass boilers heating a woodchip dryer, and transporting it to Stockport Homes’ biomass heating systems operating around the Borough.

Dear Mr. Boylan

HMVCG has felt compelled to write to you and to Helen McHale at Stockport Homes (SH) to ask for some oversight and scrutiny of this wholly inappropriate planning application, which appears to be occupying a significant amount of council officer time and wasting valuable resource, whilst vexing the community and local businesses.

We should add that both the community and local businesses have been angered by the lip service being paid to statutory regulations designed to protect health and safety; by the sheer absence of plain common sense and the complete failure to engage any meaningful safeguards for the public by the council planning department. We have a number of concerns we want you to consider.

  1. We were dismayed that the Stockport Homes (SH) planning application DC/063772 (Q.8) failed to adequately explain their relationship with the council as referenced by their own memorandum of association and feel this could be construed as a failure to declare an interest. The accounts of SH state each year: “The ultimate controlling party of Stockport Homes Limited is Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council”.  Stockport Homes claims to operate its business in an open and transparent manner but their application does not demonstrate this.
  2. When the applicant was asked (Q.16) if the proposed bio-plant generated ‘trade waste or effluents’ the applicant answered NO. There seems to have been either a typing error or an incorrect response here, which in itself should have been grounds for rejection.

Stockport’s Council Planning Department appears to have been unable to follow proper procedure in relation to this specific biomass plant application. Biomass production generates serious air pollution. The original planning application completely failed to acknowledge this. If it had it should have at least contained detailed evidence of some attempt to mitigate any such pollution through dispersal and remediation. It didn’t! And yet again it was not rejected.

There was and has been no subsequent, genuine acknowledgement of the impact of biomass plant emissions by the developer or the planning authority. Reactive environmental reporting in response to requests from local businesses can only described as inadequate and deeply flawed. The biomass plans clearly include two boilers that will be working all day, every day evaporating 12 MT of water. This means there will be waste gases and particulates from the two biomass boilers and on top of this there will be gases and particulates from the drying process. This is not inconsequential.

We note the proposed bio-mass plant emissions will include:

  • Nitrogen Dioxide
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Particulates
  • Other volatile organic compounds
  • 12 tonnes of water vapour per day which is also likely to have an odour.

Our concern is Stockport’s Council Planning Department seem to have accepted without question poor, evasive and over simplistic attempts at any environmental assessment. It appears noise concerns have been the only and overriding concern by planners, elevated above air pollution. The original supporting documentation for the application itself did not in any way constitute a required level of information to enable anyone to arrive at any considered decision and there seems to have been an ongoing failure by planners to follow proper procedure.

  • The planning application contained no proper traffic report but suggested the main HGV movements to and from the site would take place between 3-4pm and 5-6pm. Traffic tables were nonsensical and simply did not add up. Vehicles appear to arrive but not leave. Given the characteristic grid lock on Didsbury Road at both these time junctures we could be forgiven for thinking the proposal is looking to maximise disruption not to ameliorate impact on currently already problematic traffic flow. We don’t understand why there was no requirement for a full traffic assessment.
  • Sadly this planning application is littered with other clear examples of failures in the planning process. The original application was for a 5 day operation. At some point after initial scrutiny this was amended to 7 day working and no notification was sent out to anyone already engaged in correspondence with the planning department. We find ourselves asking again and again how can a planning application which changes in such fundamental detail from that which was originally proposed (in scope, emissions, requirements and protocols) or which contains so many obvious errors in calculations be allowed to progress without even a recourse to public consultation, or to seem to be immune from any requirement for reconsideration?

Taken together we view this as an abdication of responsibility and a failure of duty by the council to police the application properly. How can it be, in this case, that it seems to be wholly acceptable for the planning department to arbitrarily ignore clear legal requirements to assess environmental impacts and air quality issues, to dismiss the damaging consequences of even mitigated but still significant noise pollution and the devastating impact of increased traffic on the immediate and outlying areas?

It seems equally inconsequential to the council planners that there are significant fire risks associated with the proposed plant as evidenced by examples in Sweden, Tilbury and Southampton. But there has been no risk assessment. Furthermore the particulates emitted by the plant drying process constitute an explosion risk as evidenced by numerous examples in Denmark and America. That is why biomass plants are generally situated away from other activity and preferably at the site where wood is to be harvested.We can only assume that the lack of recognition of any environmental impact through emissions is why there has been a complete failure to consult appropriately despite the fact this proposal impacts on the wider community and everyone’s health. The only people notified about this planning application were four businesses adjoining the proposed site. The two nearby nurseries appear to have been ignored completely despite the vulnerability of users.

We can only assume that the lack of recognition of any environmental impact through emissions is why there has been a complete failure to consult appropriately despite the fact this proposal impacts on the wider community and everyone’s health. The only people notified about this planning application were four businesses adjoining the proposed site. The two nearby nurseries appear to have been ignored completely despite the vulnerability of users.

We were (and are) also concerned that Stockport Council planners advised us it ‘does not’ and ‘ should not’ need to consult residents about a development which has serious, indeed life threatening implications for the public; when it will directly contribute to an immediate reduction in air quality and increase in damaging contaminants and particulates. We think the two children’s nurseries practically adjacent to the proposed site should have been consulted because children under 5 are deemed ‘vulnerable receptors’. For planners to quote planning regulations vis-à-vis geographical proximity and boundaries as a justification for not doing so is both patronising and overly simplistic when context is key. We aren’t talking about a large extension in someone’s back garden and privacy issues. This relates to public safety.

This proposal impacts hugely on the wider community and everyone’s health.  Emissions and particulates move with air flow and are impacted by weather conditions. Yet there has been a corresponding complete failure to consider or even attempt to undertake any Health Impact Assessment (HIA) despite the councils own health and wellbeing strategy (2017-2020) which places a focus on prevention. We want to know why?

The Battersea Road Embankment Business Park butts up against the trans-Pennine trail, Mersey Vale Nature Park and other green sites all intended to promote walking and cycling. This river valley, area is one of Stockport’s 13 landscape character areas where protection from air, noise, vibration and odour pollution is paramount.  The investment in the regeneration of the riverside and the Trans Pennine Trail was designed to take people off polluted roads and provided recreational space needed for improved health and wellbeing. With the M60 at Heaton Mersey moving away from the river, this part of the riverside is particularly valued by visitors who enjoy bird watching, cycling, walking, running and simply sitting in a tranquil place or frequenting Burnage Rugby Club to enjoy more formal sport.

The introduction of a biomass site can only be construed as problematic for green space users and contradictory from a planning perspective. Given the current failure to address the need to mitigate air pollution in the site proposal the council is intentionally or otherwise driving residents and visitors into areas of contamination and increasing the likelihood of conflict with increased traffic from HGVs.

We are aware the Battersea Road Business Park is a category B2 site. But we draw your attention to the fact the main occupiers are engaged in hi-tech clean industry as exemplified by the number of nurseries; yoga and film studios; digital print and design agencies. The hi-tech business activity is highly sensitive to external environmental conditions in terms of pollutants and noise.

This is currently a successful employment area. The businesses employ over 1,000 people. Many businesses have made clear statements that the co-location of a biomass plant is not acceptable because this will impact on the very feasibility of their business operations. If existing businesses are affected adversely by the proposed biomass operation and lose clients; or fail or choose to leave, the replacement site tenants are only likely to be heavy or dirty industrial businesses. This will have a significant and detrimental impact on the local area and environment.  We don’t need to labour the point in relation to the impact on the three residential areas immediately adjoining the site that would also be adversely affected given the issues we have already raised.

We understand the biomass plant is likely to create 2.5 jobs and yet it threatens the loss of up to 1,000. It just doesn’t add up. We feel there is a failure here to consider the implications of the biomass activity for local jobs and the wellbeing of the Stockport economy and impact on future investment. We would therefore request that this planning application is dismissed and/or rejected for all of the above reasons and the right of communities to live safe and healthy lives are respected

End letter


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