On 10 December 2012, the Planning Inspectorate overturned the decision of a local authority and granted retrospective planning permission for the creation of an inert waste recycling facility in Sunderland.

The development, which was already operational, had involved the change of use of vacant land into a waste recycling facility involving waste stockpiling, a 360 degree excavator, a skip storage area and ancillary parking facilities.

An application for planning permission was first made to Sunderland City Council in September 2011. The authority rejected the application in February 2012 on the grounds that it posed a threat to the character and appearance of the area and to the amenity of users and occupiers of the surrounding area.

Following this, the appellant, Mr Gary Maw, appealed to the Planning Inspectorate under powers contained in s.78 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. The appeal was determined by Mr Martin Joyce, who made a site visit on 21 November 2012 before issuing his decision to allow the appeal.

Main issues

In determining the appeal in favour of the appellant, the Inspector identified three main issues.

  1. The effect of the development on the character and appearance of the area.

  2. Whether the new facility would have a detrimental impact on users and occupiers of neighbouring plots on the Hetton Lyons Industrial Estate.

  3. The effect of the appeal development on the economic viability of the Hetton Lyons Industrial Estate.

Issue 1: Character and appearance

The appeal site occupies a plot of land in the north-eastern corner of the Hetton Lyons Industrial Estate. There are a number of uses in operation on the estate, including industrial and waste-related uses. The size of the estate is significant enough to be the main influence on the character of the area which is primarily of a light industrial nature.

However, the Inspector noted that this finding was mitigated to a certain extent by the proximity to the estate of the Hetton Lyons Country Park. Although the estate was primarily industrial in nature, any new developments had to also be considered in light of any potential impact on the country park. As such, the Inspector emphasised that it was important to ensure that the existing balance between operations at the industrial estate and enjoyment of the country park was maintained.

The site visit had highlighted that the appeal site would be visible from a number of footpaths and other areas within the country park. It was therefore important to ensure that activities at the new facility would not have a detrimental effect on the park.

In this regard, the council argued that the proposed stockpiles of waste to be stored on site would be visible from the park and would be a notable obstruction on the landscape. This would have a negative impact on the current level of visual amenity enjoyed by visitors to the country park. This would in turn be contrary to Policy B2 of the council’s Unitary Development Plan (the UDP).

In response, the appellant argued that this policy was not applicable to the development as it was targeted at developments within the built environment. However, the Inspector held that the policy was equally applicable to cases such as this and that the visual impact of the new facility was an important element of the appeal.

The Inspector noted that, during his site visit, he had observed large quantities of waste stockpiled as well as a number of industrial skips being used to store waste. While these were clearly visible within the site boundary, the Inspector highlighted that the appellant had erected large bunds around three edges of the site to shield on-site operations from view.

These bunds were nearly 6 metres high and sufficiently adequate to conceal the current stockpiles from view outside of the site. Although the bunds were significant in size, the Inspector held that their visual impact was reduced by the use of grass seeding on the exterior of the bunds, giving it a natural effect.

As such, the Inspector held that the presence of the bunds provided sufficient cover for the new facility, and the impact on visual amenity would be minimal. This protective measure could be strengthened by the imposition of a condition in any planning permission granted that the bunds must be kept in place at a requisite height for the duration of operations at the facility. This would ensure compliance with Policy B2 of the UDP.

In finding in favour of the appellant on this issue, the Inspector also noted that the industrial estate was already home to a much larger waste-recycling facility. The presence of this facility supported the appellant’s contention that the appeal development would be in keeping with the existing character of the area and would not be out of place in the surrounding environment.

Issue 2: Impact on other occupiers

One of the council’s main objections to the original application related to the impact that the facility would have on users of the country park and occupiers of neighbouring plots on the industrial estate.

In particular, the council drew attention to a number of complaints that it had received from local residents in relation to operations at the appeal development prior to the appeal proceedings. These complaints related to litter and dust emissions that were escaping from the facility. This was a particularly serious problem given the close proximity of the country park and the damage that such emissions could cause to this area.

In considering these concerns, the Inspector queried how much litter would be generated from activities at the site on the basis that only inert waste would be treated and stored there. While certain types of waste are more susceptible to escape via weather conditions, this was unlikely to be a significant problem for waste mainly made up of construction waste, as here.

However, the Inspector also noted that such concerns could be addressed under the terms of the environmental permit that the appellant would also need to obtain before it could commence activities again.

This could be through conditions preventing the treatment of materials such as paper and cardboard which are more likely to windborne from the site and/or a requirement for procedures to be in place to deal with such waste appropriately if they are received in error. The Inspector also observed that this point had previously been raised by the council’s planning officer who had recommended that permission be granted at the initial application stage.

With regard to dust emissions, the Inspector noted that there were a number of ways in which these could be controlled or prevented. Usual methods included the use of a wheel-wash on site for vehicles entering and exiting the facility and a restriction on operations during windy conditions.

The appellant had already provided details of dust mitigation measures in his proposal and, if secured by appropriate planning conditions, these should be sufficient to meet any concerns in this regard.

As such, the Inspector found in favour of the appellant on this issue.

Issue 3: Economic viability

The final issue centred on the council’s claim that, as a result of the facility’s detrimental impact on the character of the area and the amenity of other occupiers, the presence of the facility would act as a deterrent to other businesses establishing themselves on the industrial estate. This would in turn impact negatively on the economic viability of the estate contrary to Policies EC2, EC4 and HA1(7) of the UDP.

While the Inspector referred to his findings on issues 1 and 2, he also noted that there was little supporting material provided by the council to support this argument. In particular, no details had been provided about the number of businesses on site or numbers on the waiting list to join the estate. There was also nothing to suggest that the unpermitted operations prior to the appeal proceedings had resulted in any complaints from other businesses on the estate.

By contrast, the Inspector observed that there were a number of similar businesses already established on site that appeared to be co-habiting well with other occupiers on the estate. It would therefore appear difficult to argue without further justification that the presence of the appeal facility would endanger the economic viability of the estate when there were already similar uses well established.

The Inspector therefore held that the facility would not be detrimental to the economic viability of the estate and found in favour of the appellant on this ground.

Conclusion

Having found in favour of the appellant on all three issues, the inspector issued his decision overturning the council’s refusal and awarding planning permission for the development. However, in granting permission, he imposed a number of conditions designed to control activities on site and to minimise any potential impact from the facility.

The conditions included:

  • approval of noise and dust control schemes by the council prior to work re-commencing

  • maintenance of the boundary bunds

  • a limit on operating hours to between 7am and 6pm, Monday to Friday

  • a maximum height limit of six metres for any stockpiled waste

  • a restriction on receiving household and organic waste on site.

Further information on the Planning Inspectorate decision is available online.

Last reviewed 13 March 2013