Nimbyism jibe fuels wood-plant battle

A North Yorkshire village has found itself on the front line of the drive to make wood a fuel of the future.

The residents of Wombleton, near Helmsley, would prefer it to stay just like it is.

But Land Energy, the company which wants a big plant making wood pellets on Wombleton's doorstep, is going back into battle for the project – four months after withdrawing its first planning application because Ryedale Council officers supported the villagers' objections.

A new application will be submitted within a fortnight, in the hope the plant can start up for next winter.

Meanwhile, a series of public meetings has been held to try to influence local opinion. And at the last one, in Helmsley Town Hall at the end of last week, the big guns were turned on Wombleton, population 350.

Sir Ben Gill, former president of the National Farmers' Union and ex-chairman of a government task force on use of biomass, accused the Wombleton Residents Action Group of Nimbyism. He said an energy crisis was coming and "everybody has to do something".

The regional director of the Forestry Commission, Crispin Thorn, said the Government wanted much more use of timber and outside the Dalby and Cropton forests, a lot of the woodland of the Moors and Wolds was under-used.

The background to the Wombleton project is a shortage of wood pellets (the dried and compressed version of wood chips). Grant aid for modern wood-burning boilers has created a demand which is met largely by imports.

John Westmacott, a London-based energy business technologist, has family connections in Yorkshire and was introduced to Peter Teasdale, a farmer and entrepreneur in Pockley, near Helmsley.

Mr Teasdale owns a giant shed on Wombleton Airfield which he used to use for sorting and storing potatoes. They formed Land Energy with Richard McLane, who runs a construction business in Helmsley, to pursue the possibility of building England's biggest pellet plant in Mr Teasdale's hangar-size shed.

They say collecting and processing the wood would create 20 jobs; and they could supply cheaper heating fuel to 5,000 oil-burning households within 150 miles.

Many of the 70 people at the Helmsley meeting were interested. But Wombleton residents include experts who dispute all Land Energy's arguments.

They say lorry traffic will ruin their villages. And now they are furious at being ticked off for Nimbyism.

Sir Ben used to farm at Easingwold but is now based in Hereford, working as a consultant on the need for change. He was hired to speak for Land Energy but told the Yorkshire Post he believed in the project anyway.

He said: "Is everyone going to say, 'Not in my back yard?' We can work on that basis forever. But by then we will have a crisis on our doorsteps."

The directors of Land Energy refused to take detailed questions from the floor, because, they said, village meetings at Nawton and Wombleton had degenerated into abuse.

Lorraine Ham, who retired to Wombleton with her husband, former Bradford, Preston and Rotherham footballer Bob Ham, commented: "They wouldn't have a proper debate and they talked down to us. We all know the green arguments. It might be the right plan but it's the wrong place."