Planning permission is necessary for most anaerobic digestion installations. Small scale digesters using only on-farm waste may be passed as Permitted Development, but it is recommended you speak to your local authority in the early stages to confirm this. Any installation accepting third party waste will need full planning permission.
The planning authorities’ role in dealing with proposals for AD plants in Scotland has been clearly set out in Scotland’s Zero Waste Plan (ZWP) 2010. Advice on the development of AD facilities can be found on the Scottish Government Website. Planning applications in Scotland are dealt with by the local planning authority.
In Northern Ireland planning permission falls under Northern Ireland planning policy, PPS 18: Renewable Energy.
There is nothing that can guarantee any planning application is approved, but the following steps lower the risk of a refusal and save time and money by avoiding resubmissions and planning appeals.
- Initiate a pre-application enquiry with your local minerals and waste development control team at an early stage in your feasibility process. You can find your minerals and waste development control team through your local council here.
- Inform the local community at an early stage. Many successful AD projects have begun their consultation before formal plans have been submitted – this minimises the risk of misinformation being circulated.
- Prepare for a possible Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). This is a must if your proposal is large (accepting over 50,000 tonnes waste per year) or in a sensitive location e.g. Conservation area, Green Belt, close proximity to residential development. However, many councils are adopting a precautionary approach and requesting EIAs for installations well under the 50,000 tonne threshold.
- When submitting a plan, it can be helpful to refer to Planning Policy Statements, which state the Government's principles towards certain aspects of planning. Two particularly relevant documents are Planning Policy Statement 22: Renewable Energy and Planning Policy Statement 7: Sustainable Development in Rural Areas. Planning Policy Statement 22 states that a planning application for an anaerobic digestion plant could usefully include the following:
- site plan and elevation drawings to help determine visual impact
- photomontage of digester, plant building(s) and chimney stack with clear indication of building material
- information on grid connection works, including transformer and transmission lines
- details of emissions to air and an assessment of their impact
- details of vehicular access and vehicular movement
- landscaping provisions
- site management measures during the construction phase
- model of emissions dispersion
- community consultation plans
It is important to communicate and engage with the local population from an early stage in development to ensure they fully understand the proposals, process and terminology. Surveys have shown people are generally positive about renewable energy. However, this doesn't necessarily translate into support for a local AD project.
Common concerns with AD applications are noise, odour, visual impact and transport – ensure communications around these areas are clear , to eliminate local speculation and reduce the risk of objection.
This case study of Merevale and Blyth Estates Biomass plant, produced as part of the Beyond Nimbyism project, covers general planning issues such as trust and engagement.
Detailed designs are required before submitting a planning application, and outline feedstock agreements may also be necessary. A useful indicative list of the documents that may be required to develop an AD project are available here.
Who can benefit from anaerobic digestion?
- Potential for food waste collections
- Energy from a local, renewable source
- Potential for heat to harness for local use
- New jobs
- Cleaner environment
- Reduced odours from slurry
- Reduces emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas
- Produces renewable energy
- Reduces the amount of biodegradable waste sent to landfill
- Produces fertiliser, reducing the demand for petrochemical-derived fertilisers
- Can reduce nitrate pollution by decreasing run-off
Farmers and Energy Entrepreneur
- Can be profitable
- Supports livestock sector
- Digestate provides more nitrogen to crops than slurry
- Helps to deal with Nitrate Directives
- Kills pathogens in the feedstock, reducing potential diseases
- Kills seeds in the feedstock, preventing the spread of weeds
- Helps to meet environmental targets
- Contributes to the renewable energy targets in the Renewable Energy Strategy
- Helps to meet the Landfill Directive
- Can help meet Nitrates Directive implementation requirements
- Can help Local waste authorities with the Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme
- Better organics recycling is a good message for customers
- Easier waste recycling compliance
- Easier rodent and vermin control for food processing industry
- Cheaper than incineration or landfill