Colchester: Birch Airfield composting plans rejected by council

PLANS to build one of the largest food and green-waste composting plants in the country on a former airfield will be “vigorously opposed” by a council.

Colchester Borough Council’s planning committee agreed last night to strongly object to the application submitted by the owners of Birch Airfield.

However a final decision about the development lies with Essex County Council.

Campaigners say the plans would be a blot on the surrounding countryside and handed over a petition with more than 760 signatures to councillors.

Speaking at the meeting in Colchester Town Hall, campaigner Derek Marriott told members that 300 signatures had come from the villages of Messing, Birch, Easthorpe and Layer Marney, and another 400 from Tiptree and beyond.

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“This is no small scale, local waste operation,” he said. “This is about the industrialisation of an agricultural site in open countryside, from which there will be no return.”

The Blind Lane application is for an anaerobic digestion plant which is capable of turning 25,000 tonnes of kitchen scraps and garden waste into compost and producing its own electricity in the process.

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Andrew Ellis, the councillor who proposed the motion to strongly oppose the development, said: “Birch Airfield has no buildings on it and is a high point in the area. The planned building is industrial in design and would be very prominent in the landscape, despite attempts to screen it.”

Although he strongly objected to the plans he added that the applicants, Birch Airfield Composting Ltd, were a “hard-working farming family who did a lot of good for the community”.

Peter Chillingworth, who voted to oppose the plans, recognised the need for this type composting plant.

“We can only raise our percentage of recycling by having facilities like this to take the material,” he said. “Regretfully this is the wrong place for it.”

He added that the development would be particularly conspicuous to people in Messing.

Owner of Birch Airfield Jim Strathern, who started composting waste at the site on a small scale in 2002, accepted there were concerns about the visual impact, particularly from Messing, but said they would do everything they could to “make the screening work”.

“A sustainable waste management facility of this type will be needed in the future to meet the growth of demand from the Colchester area,” he said.

Mr Strathern added that buildings needed to be large to so they could carry out a dry composting process which has many benefits over a wet process which would be cheaper to run.

He said that any odour from the plant could be contained within the building and they could treat both food and green waste.

Members voted to oppose the plans by 11 to none with one abstention.

Essex County Council is due to make the final decision in April.

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