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Welsh biomass plant faces enforcement action over plan changes

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A biomass plant in Barry, Wales, is facing enforcement action after several discrepancies were found with its plans.

According to Barry and District News, Vale of Glamorgan Council could force developers to close down and demolish the site, under planning rules.

The wood-burning power plant has been built but is not yet fully operational. However, council officers claim the plant is ‘significantly different’ to its plans, which were approved in 2015, meaning the buildings are unauthorised.

Building work started in 2016 and caused uproar locally, with residents complaining about noise, dust, hours of construction and air quality. The following year, a controversy arose around a giant water tank, Barry & District News reported, which was built without planning permission.

Then in July 2020, council inspectors found a number of discrepancies between the consented scheme and that which had been built, including the layout and elevation, additional structures, plant and equipment, and an extension of the site to the north.

The plans for enforcement action were revealed in a report to the council’s planning committee, which met on 1 September, when councillors on the committee voted to approve enforcement action.

During the meeting, the council’s head of planning, Marcus Goldsworthy, explained why the action was ‘urgently needed’.

“We have got to a bit of an impasse,” he said. “We are very concerned about the possibility of this development being deemed lawful by virtue of having four years since construction.

“We are very nervous about the position that could arise where – were the development to exist on site for four years and were it deemed to be so different from the original plans as to be not covered by that approval – then we could get into a position where the council was looking at a lawful development without any conditions controlling it.”

Developers told the council they planned to appeal the decision, asking the Welsh Government to overturn it. In a letter to the planning department, developers said the action was “totally disproportionate”.

The Welsh Government has belatedly decided the plant is big enough to need an environmental impact assessment (EIA). Needing an EIA means the public will be consulted on how the facility will impact the environment.

According to Climate Change Minister Julie James, this assessment should not stop the plant from becoming fully operational, as that could cause the developer to lose money. Minister James also emphasised that although the facility burns almost 200 tonnes of wood daily, the developer has said this would ‘withdraw’ 32,644 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere.