Dairy cows walk past an AD plant on Crouchlands Farm

West Sussex anaerobic digestion (AD) business Crouchland Biogas has been ordered to stop importing feedstock and dismantle parts of the industrial-sized plant it developed unlawfully.

Crouchland Biogas has been producing energy from a plant at Crouchland Farm, near Billingshurst, since 2010, generating more than 106GW hours of electricity.

Planning permission was originally given for an on-farm AD plant so the 186ha dairy farm could comply with nitrate vulnerability zone regulations requiring the storing of slurry and dealing with the disposal of farm waste.

See also: Tips for maximising AD plant performance 

But the AD plant has been enlarged into an industrial-sized plant, without planning permission, and feedstock is imported from outside the farm.

Three appeals by the company against a refusal to grant retrospective planning permission by West Sussex District Council, and enforcement notices issues by Chichester District Council, were heard at a 10-day public hearing earlier this year.

The company argued it could expand its on-site farming operation to feed its AD plant, but this would have an even greater impact on the surrounding area.

But planning inspector Katie Peerless dismissed this argument, saying it would constitute a change of use, as the farm would become secondary to the AD operations.

Safety

Ms Peerless has now dismissed all appeals on the grounds of highway safety, the living conditions of nearby residents, and the local character of the surrounding area.

In her decision, she acknowledged the benefits the AD plant would have on farm diversification and employment and said it was conveniently situated for accepting feedstock from other farms.

But she added: “The scale of the operation is such that it would amount to an industrial process to which the original farming enterprise would then be subservient.

“The development plan policies resist the location of such industrial development in the countryside.”

Feedstock

Crouchland Biogas must cease imports of feedstock within one month, and dismantle unlawful development within 18 months.

Since the end of the public enquiry, both Crouchland Biogas and the company running the farm have gone into administration.

Local action group Protect Our Rural Environment said of the ruling: “This is a very positive decision for our community.

“The inspector recognised the harm and detriment to our rural environment and the safety issues of the unlawful operation.

“[Crouchland Biogas] can still operate the original, permitted, small-scale on-farm AD which the community supported,” it added.