Ambitious plans for a state-of-the-art waste recovery centre – which were approved by local planners just a week before £65 million in central government funding for the project was withdrawn – have been given the green light by the High Court.
North Yorkshire County Council granted planning permission in February 2013 for development of a former quarry, near Knaresborough, into a waste recovery park, comprising a tipping hall, mechanical and anaerobic treatment facilities, a unit housing six air-cooled condensers and an ‘energy from waste’ plant.
The consent was granted in the expectation that the government would provide support for the project in the form of £65 million in private finance initiative credits. However, following a national reappraisal of the projected need for waste recovery plants to meet EU targets to reduce reliance on landfill, that offer was withdrawn a week after the planning consent was granted.
The planning permission was challenged by Marton-cum-Grafton Parish Council on the basis that the government’s shift in policy had been heralded in advance and that the County Council’s planning officers should have anticipated that the finance package was at risk. It was submitted that, in the circumstances, officers should have referred the matter back to the County Council’s planning committee rather than proceeding to take the delegated decision to grant consent.
Dismissing that argument, however, the Court found that the relevant officers had been unaware prior to their decision that government finance was to be withdrawn. Although the Court acknowledged that the change in the funding position was a ‘dramatic event’, it noted that the planning committee, which had earlier resolved to grant consent, had been specifically advised by officers to give no weight to the availability of the government grant.
Arguments that the County Council had failed adequately to consider whether there was a pressing need for the development – particularly in the light of similar schemes that were under consideration in the Leeds area – were also rejected, as were the Parish Council’s pleas that the environmental statement that accompanied the planning application had failed to deal thoroughly enough with issues relating to need and environmental impact.