THE first plant in the country to convert organic waste into energy is set to be approved on Thursday for the Fenmarc factory in March

Cambridgeshire County Council is recommended to allow Local Generation’s anaerobic digestion plant, which will take waste food and transform it into biogas to generate electricity.

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Councillors on the development control committee will be told the scheme is the first in a series of applications for such plants throughout the UK.

Principal planning officer Helen Wass said: “It is the government’s view that anaerobic digestion will become an established technology in this country for treating organic waste, particularly food waste, and that it will make a significant contribution to the recovery of energy.”

The plant will have a 30,000-tonne capacity – 25,000 tonnes are expected to be imported food waste, with the remaining 5,000 tonnes coming from Fenmarc.

Electricity generated will be supplied to the grid and Fenmarc, and surplus heat produced will be available as heating for either commercial or domestic use.

The end product of the process – a digestate – will be exported to farms producing potatoes supplied to Fenmarc. It will be used as soil conditioner, helping displace the use of chemical fertilizers.

There will also be an organic water recycling plant, to clean the water used by the digestion process and at the factory.

The water will be cleaned by using carp, snails, clams and a range of plants. Once clean, the water will be re-circulated with the excess being discharged into nearby ditches.

An attached visitor centre will provide the chance for educational visits to the plant.

Up to 15 full-time equivalent jobs will be created at the plant on the operational side, together with some administrative and support staff.

Five residents of Wisbech Road, close to Fenmarc, have raised objections with concerns mostly about highway safety. Their suggestions included reducing the speed limit along the A141 to 40mph.

However, highways officers said the extra 34 two-way movements every day will have a “minimal impact on the highway network”, but in and out access points are set to be modified to improve visibility.

To reduce the visual impact of the complex, at the back of the Fenmarc factory, a three-metre tall hedge and trees “in groups of three to five” will be planted.

Archaeological digs will also be carried out before construction starts. The site has a known prehistoric landscape, with Bronze Age settlement sites known in the area and the Fen Causeway nearby.

Ms Wass said Local Generation “accepts that it is necessary to undertake physical investigations on the site before development commences”.

Noise assessments were carried out modelled on a worst case scenario and predicted the levels will be “significantly lower than those currently experienced as a result of existing activities at the packaging plant, the road network and the railway”.

And air quality tests found there will be “no detectable odour or any harmful airborne residues experienced by any of the sensitive receptors” after concerns were raised by residents.

But the biggest obstacle has been that of drainage – March and Whittlesey Internal Drainage Board objected to the plans.

It said the watercourse to the south of the site is protected by the boards’ byelaws and that flood risk assessments didn’t meet the board’s requirements. It also asked for tests to prove the water disposal system will work effectively for years to come.

Local Generation replied to those fears two months ago and said that the amount of water reaching the water course will not increase because of green roofs and collection/recirculation of surface water within the site.

Also, the system will not use soakaway drainage and push water away from homes, and a diverted drain will be designed to reduce the chances of blockages.

Ms Wass said: “The IDB has not yet, after a period of two months, commented on this additional information. It is considered, therefore, that the provision of surface water drainage details be the subject of a pre-commencement planning condition.”

She added: “There is no land use planning reason why permission should be withheld.”

WHAT OTHER AGENCIES SAY

• Fenland District Council – raise no objections.

• March Town Council – recommended approval, subject to site access being away from nearby homes.

• Environment Agency – No objection.

• Natural England – No objection.

• Access Officer – Four parking spaces for blue badge holders is “considered excessive”.

• Fire and Rescue Service – Adequate provision needed for fire hydrants.

• CCC Environment Policy and Projects – Landscape impact will be “slight adverse” but will be reduced by planting along western boundary. The proposed trees – Beech and Hornbeam – are questioned as they are not typical species for the area.

CONDITIONS

• An archaeological programme must be implemented.

• Access on to the A141 out of the Fenmarc site has to be improved before work starts.

• Work cannot start until a detailed landscape planting and management scheme has been approved.

• If any tree (or one planted in its place) is removed, uprooted, seriously damaged or dies within five years of planting, another tree of the same species and size as that originally planted must be put in its place.

• A biodiversity plan must be approved before work starts.

• Deliveries cannot take place outside 7am-7pm Monday to Friday, except bank and public holidays, and 8am-1pm Saturdays.

• Waste preparation takes place between 8am and 4pm.

• No external lighting can be installed without planning permission.

• Waste will not be imported to the site from outside Cambridgeshire and Peterborough or from a 45km radius, whichever is greater. In January and July each year reports must be compiled providing summary waste input information for the previous six months.

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