PART OF the 570ha (1400 acres) farmed by JF and CM Strathern in Essex is a former World War II airfield with private access roads and a 40m wide concrete apron that was part of a runway. When Jim Strathern decided to start a composting operation this was the obvious site.
There are no houses or public roads nearby and his Park House Farm, near Colchester is in an area which produces large amounts of green-waste from civic amenity sites and doorstep collection services.
Mr Strathern started his composting operation on a trial basis in 2002 with a contract for up to 4000t a year under a waste management licence exemption. The results encouraged him to seek planning permission to extend the site and to apply for a full waste management licence.
He submitted the application in 2003 but had to wait almost 18 months until February this year to hear that both had been approved.
Conditions attached to the planning permission included improved vehicle access from the public road, mesh fencing to trap rubbish blowing from the site, plus tree and hedge planting for screening.
The maximum number of lorry movements onto the site is specified and any topsoil removal must be reported in case there are archaeological considerations.
The tendering process to expand the tonnage coming to the site will mean further delays amounting to several months, but it will be some years before throughput reaches the maximum level allowed under the licence.
“We voluntarily restricted our application to 20,000t because there were some local concerns about the impact of the operation,” says Mr Strathern.
“The full tonnage has been granted, but it will take a further three years before we can increase supply sufficiently to operate at full capacity.
“The whole process has taken a very long time and involved a lot of form filling – as far as I am aware this seems to be fairly typical.
“It will also be quite expensive to meet some of the planning requirements, particularly those relating to vehicle access, despite the fact that the site is particularly suitable for this type of operation.”
An application for a Rural Enterprise Scheme grant to fund some of the site work and special machinery should help the fledgling business.
Equipment already on site includes a weighbridge equipped with a wind generator, plus two elderly 360 excavators that were already on the farm. Mr Strathern has a Doppstadt SM-518 screening machine on trial, and hopes the grant will buy something similar, either new or second-hand.
He also hoping it will fund a sealed lagoon to store run-off from the concreted area to provide water for dust control and moistening the compost in the summer.
So far the compost has been used as a soil conditioner on the farm”s chalky boulder clay soil and as a source of potassium and smaller amounts of nitrogen and phosphate.
“I started the composting operation because I like the idea of being paid for taking something that has an end use,” says Mr Strathern.
As output expands he plans to sell compost locally and has already received inquiries from farms and fruit growers.