On 8 May 2013, the Planning Inspectorate overturned the decision of a local planning authority and granted permission for the development of a waste transfer station in Colchester. The plant would focus on the treatment of waste paper, cardboard and plastic and would involve the change of use of land from B8 use (storage and distribution) to sui generis use, including the construction of a weighbridge and weighbridge office.
The original application was made by Woodland Recycling Ltd in July 2011, but was rejected by Essex County Council in April 2012 on the grounds of highway safety. As a result of the refusal, Woodland Recycling started appeal proceedings under powers contained in s.78 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
The appeal was heard by the Planning Inspectorate. A site visit was held on 19 April 2013 before the Planning Inspector issued his decision in favour of the appellant and granting planning permission subject to certain conditions.
In finding in favour of the appellant, the Inspector identified two main issues.
The impact of the proposed development on the amenity of local residents.
The effect of the appeal facility on highway safety.
Issue 1: residential amenity
The appeal site is located in an area with a mixed commercial and residential use. While the appeal site is part of an office and warehouse estate, there are a number of live-work units nearby, some of which have been converted for residential use only. There is also a sports ground close to the site highlighting the diverse mix of uses in the locality.
The original application received a number of objections from local residents concerned about the negative impact that the new facility may have. In particular, residents noted that the original application envisaged the new facility being operational 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with the clear potential for causing noise and disturbance outside of normal working hours.
The Inspector noted that these concerns had been satisfied to a certain extent as a result of the appellant submitting a revised application before the appeal. The revised application proposed reduced operational hours, meaning that the facility would not be active throughout the night as previously intended.
However, the Inspector emphasised that it was still necessary to take into account local and national planning policies that are designed to protect the living conditions of local residents. In particular, policy W10E of the Essex and Southend Waste Local Plan (the “Waste Local Plan”) and policies RLP 35, 36 and 75 of the Braintree District Local Plan (the “Local Plan”) require a decision-maker to be satisfied that new developments will not cause harm to residential amenity due to noise, smell, dust, pollution or other forms of disturbance before granting planning permission.
Taking these policies into account, the Inspector turned to consider the information provided by the appellant regarding the expected activities at the new plant. The proposal indicated that the waste received at the facility would be stored at all times inside the existing warehouse. The paper-baling operations would also take place in the warehouse, thereby minimising the potential for noise emissions to affect nearby residents and for waste materials to escape.
The appellant also emphasised that the waste accepted at the facility would be limited to waste paper, cardboard and plastic. These types of waste have limited potential to generate offensive odours or dust and are unlikely to be waste types that would attract rodents or other pests.
In agreeing with these observations, the Inspector highlighted that the new facility had to be considered against the backdrop of the current use of the appeal site. The planning permission for the existing storage and distribution use contains no limitations on either the operating hours of the facility or the number of vehicle movements that are permitted each day.
The Inspector noted that there was no substantive evidence before him to suggest that the proposed development would result in a material increase in noise levels at the site compared with those that could be generated under the existing use. Nor had it been shown that there would be an increased risk of fire or pollution from the new use as some residents had suggested.
While the impact on local residents had to be given due consideration, the Inspector emphasised that the live-work units had been built after the existing facility. It was therefore reasonable to assume that the occupiers of these properties had been aware of the nature of the operations at the appeal site and the potential for noise and disturbance from the lawful use of this site.
On the basis that the new operations would not cause a material increase in noise or other disturbance (a matter that had not been refuted by the evidence), the Inspector held that the proposed change in use would not have a material impact on the current living conditions of local residents.
The Inspector therefore found in favour of the appellant on this issue.
Issue 2: highway safety
In considering the second issue, the Inspector highlighted that the council’s reason for rejecting the initial application was concern over the impact on highway safety. In particular, the local authority had taken into account the advice of the Highways Agency to reject the proposal on the grounds that it would prove dangerous to users of the surrounding road network.
The concerns raised about highway safety focused especially on the junction of Colne Road and the A120, which is close to the appeal site. It was accepted by all parties to the appeal that the junction is below the standard to be expected for the volume of traffic passing through it.
The Inspector stated that his site visit had supported the claims of both the council and the Highways Agency that the junction was unsuitable for use by heavy goods vehicles (HGVs). This was particularly the case where HGVs were queuing to turn right at the junction because the central reservations for right-turning traffic were too short. This results in a blockage of oncoming traffic when HGVs are waiting to turn right.
The council noted that the junction was known to be dangerous, with 11 personal injury accidents occurring there between September 2008 and September 2011. In considering these concerns, the Inspector identified a number of relevant planning policies to take into account.
These were policies W4C, W8A and W10E of the Waste Local Plan and policies RLP 36 and 75 of the Local Plan. These require new waste treatment facilities to have appropriate and sufficient access routes. Taking these policies into consideration, the Inspector turned to consider the practical impact of the appeal development on the use of the surrounding roads and the Colne Road junction. The appellant’s evidence stated that waste would be delivered to the site in loads of up to 10 tonnes with treated waste removed in amounts of up to 20 tonnes. A total of 48 vehicle movements a day were expected with the majority of these being by large vehicles or HGVs.
In considering these projected figures, the Inspector drew attention to the findings of the appellant’s detailed transport statement. These suggested that the current permitted use of the appeal site for storage and distribution purposes could reasonably generate up to 200 movements a day. This would be far in excess of those proposed under the appeal facility. The Inspector noted that these calculations had been prepared using the TRICS database and should be considered as correct unless evidence was provided to show otherwise.
On the question of safety, while the appellant accepted that the junction in question was dangerous, it noted that only 1 of the 11 accidents listed by the council had involved an HGV. Thus, the increased presence of HGVs on the road did not in itself lead to the conclusion that there would be an increase in the number of accidents.
Indeed, because there were no limits on the number of vehicle movements for the existing use, it could be argued that the appeal proposal posed a smaller degree of risk than the existing use. In this light, the appellant argued that granting planning permission would provide greater control over use of the appeal site as any new permission could be made subject to appropriate conditions to control vehicle movements. This would help to remove the potential risk posed by the current planning permission under which there was no such limitation on the number of vehicle movements.
Considering these points together, the Inspector emphasised that the junction was clearly inadequate for its level of use and was in need of significant improvements. The Inspector stated that, if this were a new proposal for unpermitted land, it would be highly unlikely that permission would be granted because of the concerns about the safety of the users of the junction.
However, the fact remained that the site was already subject to planning permission and contains no restrictions on traffic volume or operational hours. On this basis, the Inspector agreed with the appellant’s contention that granting planning permission would offer the opportunity to impose conditions that would help to reduce concerns over highway safety and also protect the living conditions of residents.
The Inspector therefore held in favour of the appellant on this issue.
Having found in favour of the appellant on both issues, the Inspector proceeded to grant planning permission for the appeal development subject to a number of planning conditions. These included restrictions on operating hours, a maximum weekly limit on the amount of waste received at the site (designed to impose a restriction on the number of vehicle movements) and requirements for the use of silencers on all plant, equipment and machinery used on site.
Last reviewed 14 June 2013