A picture is emerging of a breakdown in communications between the authorities involved in planning process which led to a successful judicial review brought by opponents of the St Dennis incinerator in Cornwall.
As reported by MRW in mid October, the High Court overturned the secretary of state’s decision to allow planning permission on the £117m Cornwall Energy Recovery Centre.
Mr Justice Collins overturned the decision largely because crucial work examining the incinerator’s environmental impact was not undertaken.
But the court transcript now released - and seen by MRW - indicates that the agencies involved refused to take responsibility for deciding whether that work should take place.
Instead the question shuttled backwards and forwards between Cornwall Council, the Environment Agency, the Planning Inspectorate, the Secretary of State, and Natural England.
This ‘pass the parcel’ meant that the campaigners did not challenge the Environment Agency’s decision to grant an environmental permit as MRW reported exclusively earlier this week.
But the transcript also reveals that the EA restricted the information it shared with the Planning Inspectorate.
In order to grant an environmental permit, the EA had to decide whether an appropriate assessment was needed. But the judge found that it did not “disclose the full material upon which it relied in order to reach that conclusion.”
The problem was, as Mr Justice Collins said: “This [conclusion] was thought to be merely a preliminary decision and one which had no finality”.
Campaigners have long held the view that the EA work referred to here was flawed as it considered only the effects from the incinerator chimney stack and did not take into account the combined effects of extra traffic. This point was also raised by Natural England.
A shadow assessment carried out by standards and regulations experts Bureau Veritas for Cornwall Council looked at air and water quality, water resources and dust. It concluded that an appropriate assessment was needed and adverse affects could not be ruled out.
The judge also found that the Planning Inspectorate was wrong to conclude that air quality relating to stack emissions was “wholly a matter for the EA” and not the planning process.
He pointed out that the inspector had argued that it was “inconceivable” that the EA, as the competent body, would have issued a permit if it could concluded that significant effects were likely.
But the judge added: “Whilst, of course, it was inconceivable… that wholly misses the point being made by objectors, namely that the Environment Agency got it wrong,”
An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “Our position is that this is a decision against the secretary of state and the validity of the planning permission. It is not against us or our permit, which still stands.
“There is nothing unusual about a company receiving a permit before planning permission and that is unlikely to change. We consider that we did our habitats work correctly within our remit.”
Cornwall waste forum campaigner Charmian Larke said: “The Environment Agency spent a lot of time on this but they were not open. They had no answers to a lot of our questions and they promised to do things that they didn’t do. I think they are probably understaffed.
“I do believe that all the parties have done their best within the existing framework but from their own point of view.
“The objectors started off as nimbies but have undergone a huge change in terms of education and understanding of waste management and the wider environmental issues – and the community has come together.”