A hotly contested planning application to build a construction waste recycling centre in the village of Small Dole, West Sussex, has been withdrawn due to intervention from the communities and local government secretary.
The proposal by Focus Recycling to build the facility on the site of a former sawmill at the Mackley Industrial Estate in the South Downs village has been the subject of much controversy in recent months, with former shadow environment secretary Nick Herbert entering into the debate before the general election.
MRW has been following events surrounding the application closely, and has today learnt that Focus Recycling will be withdrawing its application following instruction from the Government Office of the South East (GOSE) acting on behalf of the secretary of state.
Focus wanted to recycle virgin construction materials such as timber and new-build plasterboard, one of the most problematic landfill materials, housed in existing warehouses on the site. The planning application was submitted to West Sussex County Council on 1 March and processed on 3 March. But on 23 August, Focus received a phone call from Sam Dumbrell, senior planner at the council, who advised that a Screening Direction had been issued by the secretary of state, via GOSE, requiring that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) be submitted in support of the planning application.
According to Focus Recycling environmental manager Richard Staveley, West Sussex council had maintained from the outset that the development was not significant enough within a local context to warrant a full EIA, which was why one was not submitted.
Staveley said: “It was felt that any issues that might cause concern from our development, such as increased transport going through Small Dole, would be covered within the Transport Statement. Furthermore, despite rumours to the contrary, Focus Recycling has never intended to, or applied to, process any dangerous or hazardous materials.”
Even though Focus did not submit an EIA, the guidance from the Government is such that the planning application will not be considered without it.
Advice in an email from Dumbrell to Focus stated: “My advice regarding formally withdrawing the application in its current form following GOSE’s Screening Direction is my professional recommendation in these circumstances.
“However, I should have advised you that, as the applicant, you must inform the council within three weeks. ie not later than 14/09/10 if you wish to continue with the application, indicating that you intend to submit an Environmental Statement.”
Focus has said that it will be unable to resubmit its application before 14 September so the company is formally withdrawing it. Staveley explained: “There is no way we would be able to prepare the relevant documentation by then.”
This latest news comes after efforts by Focus to engage with residents of Small Dole as it encountered stiff opposition because the village also happens to be home to the large Horton Landfill Site, currently operated by Viridor. Residents felt their community was not an appropriate choice for the new recycling facility, given they already dealt with so much waste coming into their community on a daily basis. This view was shared by Herbert while he still held the post of shadow environment secretary.
Staveley said: “We have wasted six months, spent a great deal of money, and have missed the opportunity to recycle thousands of tonnes of material because West Sussex council has not been aligned with those in senior government.
“As time passes, our project becomes less and less viable. Our case seems to be representative of everything wrong within the waste and recycling industry. Here we are, well in to the new Government’s first term, and we are still suffering the same inconsistencies that we did under the last administration.”
Focus has said it is unlikely to resubmit plans for the same facility and is currently in the process of running the site as a bulking station for materials, which can be brought on to the site under Environment Agency exemptions.