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Green Belt policy affirmation could hit AD expansion

Ministers have slammed the door on hopes in the waste sector for greater flexibility towards anaerobic digestion (AD) and other facilities in the Green Belt.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has responded to consultation on a national planning policy for waste which will sit alongside the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework which asserts that most new development on Green Belt areas is inappropriate and should not be approved “except in very special circumstances”.

Currently, the waste sector is dictated by Planning Policy Statement 10 (PPS10) which says planning authorities can give significant weight to ‘locational needs’ and wider environmental and economic benefits when considering applications in protected areas.

DCLG’s 12-page report on the consultation to replace PPS10 notes that 75% of 115 respondents believed that maintaining strict criteria on the Green Belt would have a negative impact in terms of proposals for waste management facilities.

They felt this less flexible approach could hit applications such as AD and composting plans which are better suited to rural locations.

But DCLG has confirmed it will adopt such approach because of the “great importance” of the Green Belt. It calls on waste authorities to work collaboratively to identify suitable sites to avoid putting pressure on the Green Belt from inappropriate development.

The DCLG response also states that local authorities should be considering only existing waste management operational capacity when assessing applications.

This followed concern that the policy referred to capacity that had planning consent but was not yet operational, contradicting recent planning decisions where only operational capacity was taken into account.

DCLG said: “The policy has been clarified to make it clear that in both preparing local plans and determining planning applications only existing operational capacity should be taken into account when assessing need.”

Charlotte Morton, chief executive of the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association, said it supported the need to re-develop of brownfield sites and protect the Green Belt, but she called for planning framework that recognised the contribution of industries like AD in rural areas.

“AD plants integrate with farms to reduce odour and emissions from slurry, and make farming more sustainable. All plants need to be able to recycle digestate to land to replace artificial fertilisers, so planning authorities should consider how they promote effective resource management and ensure a more secure, efficient UK food and energy market.” 

Also in the report:

  • DCLG rejects concern that policy was focussed heavily towards municipal, commercial and industrial waste rather than other streams, saying the new policy makes it clear that authorities must plan for the sustainable management of all waste
  • Waste planning authorities are told to avoid carrying out their own health studies and assessments
  • Practice guidance will indicate key principles for the potential sources and use of data
  • Clarification that local authorities must both monitor and report on their waste arising and waste amounts

Communities secretary Eric Pickles said: “I am crystal clear that the green belt must be protected from development, so it can continue to offer a strong defence against urban sprawl. Today’s new rules strengthen these protections further, and ensure that whether it’s new homes, business premises or anything else, developers first look for suitable sites on brownfield land.”

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