Plans for an anaerobic digestion facility at North East Grains, to the south-east of Longhirst and north-east of Pegswood, are recommended for approval at the Tuesday, August 4, meeting of Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee.
North East Grains, a cooperative of about 80 farming businesses, taking in 60,000 tonnes of grain a year to store, dry and process, is a high energy user in terms of electricity, oil and gas.
According to the planning officer’s report, it ‘is seeking to lower its overall energy costs and adopt a greener environmental footprint’ through this development, which would have an overall generating capacity of 500kw, with any surplus to be put into the National Grid. Three new full-time jobs would also be created.
Currently, lower quality grain that can’t be used in farming is transported to ethanol production plants in Teesside and Hull.
If approved, this material would form between 26 and 45% of the feedstock for the digester and the remainder would be made up of grass and maize silage, cattle farmyard manure, cereal grains and possibly chicken manure from the cooperative’s members.
The spent feedstock, known as digestate, would be supplied back to the farms as bio-fertiliser and soil conditioner.
The site, which would feature three digester tanks each measuring about 28 metres across and up to 15.8 metres in height, is in the green belt.
However, the officer’s report concludes that while there would be harm to the green belt, it is outweighed by the benefits of this scheme, which count as ‘very special circumstances’.
It states: ‘The proposal would promote sustainable energy production, reducing the site’s reliance on fossil fuels and presenting the opportunity to feed green energy into the national grid.
‘It would provide a more sustainable and low-odour approach to the management of organic farm wastes.
‘It would offer similar sustainability and economic benefits to a large network of rural enterprises both on a direct and indirect basis.’
Nonetheless, Longhirst Parish Council is ‘strongly opposed’ to the scale of the development and does not believe that it has been shown properly that the proposal does not have an unacceptable impact on highway safety and residential amenity.
Nearby residents have raised the issue of traffic as well, with the report explaining that a maximum of 40 (20 in and 20 out) movements per day would result from the new plant’s operation.
This peak would be during May, June, July and October, with around seven movements a day envisaged in August and September and 12 per day between November and April.
In the planning officer’s conclusion, it says: ‘Concerns have been raised about the harm that this proposal would cause notably on the local road network, however, many of these impacts are already in existence.
‘The relatively small increase in vehicle movements would not lead to a severe impact on the local highway network.’