East Anglia: Biomass proposal call-in plea rejected

A decision by the government not to “call-in” a proposal for a contentious biomass plant has been met with disappointment by objectors.

Plans to create energy by burning straw and wood chip at a plant off the A11 at Snetterton were given the go-ahead by Breckland planning officials in June this year but, given the nature of the plans, had expected to be subject to further scrutiny by the government.

In a letter to South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss however, parliamentary under secretary of state for Communities and Local Government Bob Neill, rejected her requests to call-in the case, and said the decision should be taken at a local level.

The letter, dated July 12, acknowledged it was not the “preferred outcome” for “a number of constituents”, but said that power to call-in plans should be used “selectively”.

It went on: “In particular, your concerns about the source of fuel for the plant has been taken into consideration, however I consider that the sustainability of the fuel source is not sufficient to warrant call in of this proposal.

“I also note that the proposed site does not lie within any local or national designations and although there are likely to be some minor adverse residual impacts on ecological and historic features, neither Natural England or English Heritage are objecting to the proposal or seeking call-in. “With this in mind, I have carefully considered this case against published guidelines, and I am satisfied that, whilst controversial, this application does not raise issues of the wider strategic or policy nature envisaged by the call-in policy and I am therefore satisfied that this application should be determined at a local level.”

Throughout the process, objections had been raised from nearby parishes over fears there could be an increase in traffic, a rise in straw prices, noise and light pollution.

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Shropham parish councillor Philip Cowen said he was “disappointed” by the government’s decision.

“There was considerable opposition centred on something of this scale being outside the allocation already agreed and it was one of the reasons the planning officers making their submission said they would have to refer the matter to the secretary of state,” he said. “The farming community is also worried, and rightly so. I think this has worrying implications for the rural economy.”

Quidenham and Snetterton parish councillor, Stephen Askew, added: “I’ve always been concerned about the availability of fuel to keep the plant going and I’m disappointed it hasn’t been given further scrutiny.”

The plans, by Iceni Energy Ltd, propose building the 40MW plant on land at Snetterton heath, on a nine-hectare patch of agricultural land between Thetford and Attleborough. This, it said, would generate enough electricity to power 68,000 homes. A substation which could help overcome an energy shortfall in the area by providing a connection to the National Grid, would also be included.

Ms Truss met with energy minister Charles Hendry on Monday July16to speak about the need for a “strategic overview” on biomass plants, and added: “These plants are subsidised by public funds yet I do not feel the tax payer is getting value for money. The bigger picture needs to be looked at; how we protect our food production against the need for energy.”

Work is expected to begin in spring next year, at the earliest, and due to take two-and-a-half years.

Another company, Eco2, is seeking permission for a straw-powered plant at Mendlesham. That application has also attracted controversy.