A condition restricting road-borne refuse derived fuel (RDF) imports to the Runcorn EfW has been relaxed following an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate. Issued on 5 March 2014, the decision will be welcomed by the waste industry and may help pave the way for the removal of other restrictions on existing energy from waste facilities.

The related costs decision also acts as a stark reminder that where reasons for refusal are not substantiated at appeal, especially where an application has been refused against an officer’s recommendation for approval, the Council is likely to be required to meet the appellant’s full costs of the appeal

The condition

In its original application in 2008, the proposal was to deliver 480,000 tonnes of RDF per annum by road and the remainder by rail or water. This was restricted to 85,000 tonnes per annum in the section 36 consent issued by the Secretary of State. The condition which was the subject of the application, stated:

Unless agreed in writing with the Council, the quantity of refuse derived fuel imported for use in the operation of the development by road, shall not exceed 85,000 tonnes in any twelve month period and the Company shall record the date and volume of waste delivered to the site and, where requested by the  Council, shall copy records to the Council within 5 working days

The application removing the condition sought to increase the amount of RDF, which could be delivered by road, in line with the original proposal of up to 480,000 tonnes per annum. Against its officer’s recommendation for approval, Halton Borough Council refused permission. The Council’s sole reason for refusal was ‘to minimise road traffic movements in the locality

Overall, the Runcorn EfW will have capacity to receive up to 850,000 tonnes of RDF per annum

Issues at Inquiry

The Inspector considered three main issues at the inquiry, being effects on residential amenity (particularly in terms of air quality and noise); effects on vehicular and pedestrian safety; and whether the proposal  constituted sustainable development in line with the NPPF. In considering whether the development was sustainable the economic, social and environmental role of the development was reviewed. Commenting on the economic role the Inspector noted:

  • The significant changes in the economic climate and the way in which local authorities and businesses manage their waste compared to when the original application was made (which assumed that RDF could be sourced primarily from local authorities in the North West);
  • The shortfall in recovery capacity in the North West, with the prospect that commercial and industrial waste suitable for use at the Runcorn EfW would be landfilled if the condition remained in place;
  • That given the site was already served by rail and the investment made in rail sidings and cranes, there was every incentive for utilising rail freight where it offered the most feasible and cost effective transport solution;
  • That in more recent energy from waste decisions (post 2008) conditions restricting the  operator’s commercial freedom to process waste from different sources dependent on how it was to be delivered to the site were not imposed. Instead, reliance was placed on the use of conditions requiring that opportunities to use (or make further use of) non-road modes of transport for delivery of fuel were pursued where possible and practical;
  • That the condition placed the Runcorn EfW facility at a commercial disadvantage when sourcing fuel supplies (because all other existing major operational and permitted facilities in the Country, save for Belvedere, were not so restricted); and
  • A concern for the potential delay to delivery of existing permitted renewable energy generation capacity, for which there is an urgent national need.

It was also acknowledged that the preference expressed in the overarching energy National Policy Statement (EN-1) for water-borne and rail transport over transport by road applies only where it is a cost effective solution.

The Inspector’s decision

In granting permission two new conditions were imposed. The first is in line with the application, restricting the amount of RDF imported by road to 480,000 tonnes in any 12 month period. The second amends an error contained in the original permission.

Reflective of the Planning Inspectorate’s nervousness of tail pieces, the Inspector found it necessary to delete the tail piece proposed in order to render the condition lawful and, accordingly, no tail piece has been included on the new condition.

A section 106 Agreement was also submitted to provide for a HGV routing obligation; to require the operator to use reasonable endeavours to use commercially feasible sustainable modes of transport for fuel delivery; and to retain and maintain acoustic fencing.

The costs award

The Planning Inspectorate also made a full award of costs against the Council who, by not taking any active role in the inquiry, failed to justify its reason for refusal of the application. In making the Costs Order the Inspector said,

Planning authorities are not bound  to accept the recommendation of their officers but, if they don’t, they will need to show evidence at appeal to substantiate reasons for refusal with reference to the development plan, and all other material considerations…’ and ‘…the absence of any evidence to substantiate the single reason for refusal means that its behaviour was unreasonable…and, given the outcome of the appeal, involved the appellant in unnecessary and wasted expense. A full award of costs is therefore justified.’

Comment

The condition removed in this instance was not one usually applied to EfW consents post 2008. But this is still a useful decision for any operators that have similar conditions on historic permissions, and also for EfW operators seeking to remove other restrictions which can no  longer be justified given subsequent EfW decisions, recent restatements of policy or justified in the current economic climate

DEFRA call for evidence- Refuse-derived fuel market in England

On 12 March the Department of Environment Food & Rural Affairs issued a call for evidence on the RDF market in England for both domestic use and for export. It includes a request for information on the number of facilities producing RDF and the amount, quality and type of RDF produced (including whether RDF is being stockpiled); as well as views on whether the export of RDF is stopping investment in innovative and more efficient technologies for waste management. Responses received by DEFRA will be considered in the context of whether there is a need for intervention to deliver desired environmental outcomes and, if so, to develop workable policy options for this.

For those interested in responding the deadline to do so is Friday 9 May.

The call for evidence can be found here: Refuse-derived fuel market in England DEFRA call for evidence.