Following more than three hours of debate, Northallerton-based North Yorkshire County councillors remained split over whether EP UK Investments should be allowed to extract and export about 23 million tonnes of ash from a 108-hectare man-made hill at Gale Common, nearly 60 miles from the county town.
It fell to planning committee chairman Councillor Peter Sowray to use his casting vote to approve the scheme close to the villages of Womersley, Whitley, Great Heck and Cridling Stubbs, which aims to provide pulverised ash waste originally from Ferrybridge and Eggborough power stations for use in the construction industry.
The decision came as the council is arguing it should become England’s largest unitary authority by area, dismissing claims that it would be unable to focus on local issues.
Residents had lined up to explain why they regarded the scheme as “completely unacceptable”, highlighting concerns over the emissions the “constant stream of HGVs” would create and the head teacher of one primary school on the lorry route appeared to suggest parents may seek alternative schools as a result.
Concerns were raised about how council officers based in Northallerton would be able to ensure conditions imposed to mitigate the scheme’s impacts would be adhered to.
The meeting also heard claims underlined by the Commercial Boat Operators Association that using a conveyor belt and barges to transport the ash on the nearby canal network was a viable and environmentally-friendly and more profitable alternative to the proposed scheme.
However, a spokesman for the applicants said using HGVs to transport the ash was the only realistic option and the scheme would play a vital part in resolving a number of the country’s most pressing issues, such as housing shortage and self-sufficiency post-Brexit.
He also emphasised how “turning waste into a valuable resource” would save 20 million tonnes of carbon emissions by reducing the need for limestone in cement, the equivalent of planting 54,000 hectares of trees, an area twice the size of York.
He said: “We are very aware of the impact that the Gale Common development could have on the local community if it is not properly managed.”
While five councillors called for a decision to be deferred to examine alternatives to the use of HGVs, five councillors, including Cllr Sowray agreed it was most important to consider “the bigger picture” and in 25 years’ time HGVs could all be clean, electric models.
After the meeting, a number of the objectors said they felt the decision had been influenced by officers and councillors who did not fully understand the area or the strength of opposition.
Ian Phillips, chair of Cridling Stubbs Parish Council, said: As was pointed out during the meeting, even where expressions of support had been received, these were mainly from overseas or far flung parts of the UK. None were from local firms – indeed there is only one firm locally that uses the material in question.
“Anyhow, the planning officer’s handling of things aside, I guess the way the final votes were handled was the most disappointing thing.
“The chair’s rationale for rejecting a deferral was that he didn’t want to have to hear all the arguments again before making a decision and his rationale for approving was that it would have to be in someone’s backyard, so it might as well be here.”
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