Despite concerns being raised in respect of flood risks, pollution and the potential impact on colonies of rare bats, newts and butterflies, the High Court has opened the way for development of a huge ‘energy from waste’ facility to serve the needs of all Buckinghamshire's 500,000 residents.
In July 2012 Buckinghamshire County Council granted planning consent for the plant on farmland adjoining a landfill site. The facility, which the council said was a central plank of its waste management strategy, will treat up to 300,000 tonnes of household and business waste annually and is intended to take all the waste generated by the county's half-a-million residents. The site will be served by a new access route, running along a disused railway line from the A41.
In a double-pronged attack on the proposals, campaigners went to the High Court, complaining about the impact on wildlife habitats and claiming that the area is prone to flooding and that the plans posed a real risk of contaminating the area with poisonous dioxins. However, Mr Justice Lindblom dismissed both judicial review challenges, paying tribute to the care with which local planners dealt with the application.
In the first case, Christopher Prideaux argued that the council had failed to pay adequate regard to the impact on wildlife colonies along the old railway line, including three European protected species - pipistrelle and brown long-eared bats and great crested newts. There were four sites of special scientific interest within a kilometre of the railway line which is also home to 10% of the national population of the black hairstreak butterfly.
However, the judge said that it was not the court's task to second-guess the council on ecological and habitat issues. Nature conservation concerns had been dealt with in depth in planning officers' reports and, in response to objections, the access route had been redesigned to save as much scrubland habitat as possible.
The old railway line access was considered 'essential' to divert heavy vehicles away from local villages but alternative routes had been carefully considered in a detailed environmental impact assessment. The approach of planning officers' had been 'pragmatic and right' and the council's conclusions on ecological issues were in line with government policies and 'perfectly rational’.
In the second case, Kenneth Kolb argued that the planning consent was unlawfully granted and that, as a result, hazardous waste containing toxic dioxins would be dispersed in an area prone to flooding. However, rejecting those arguments, the judge said that a detailed flood risk assessment had been carried out and the council had carefully followed government guidelines on the pollution issue. Arguments that the procedure followed was unfair were 'untenable' and the council had given clear and adequate reasons for its decision.