Agenda item


[Electoral Divisions: Alston and East Fellside]


To consider a report from the Executive Director – Economy and Infrastructure (copy enclosed)





Members considered a report from the Executive Director – Economy and Infrastructure which detailed an application for planning permission to construct a scheme for treating heavy metal contaminated water outfalling from the abandoned Nent Haggs Mine.  This would involve:-


     the construction of an interceptor manhole chamber in the highway;

     provision of a minewater transfer pipeline (mostly underground and mostly in-carriageway; but externally at Nenthall Bridge);

     the erection of 2 stone faced pitched roof buildings to house, respectively, pumping and odour abatement equipment;

     land re-profiling and engineering works to facilitate the creation of 3no. compost based treatment ponds and 2no. aerobic reedbed ponds;

     and other associated ancillary development including, but not limited to, the construction of outfalls, creation of access tracks and hardstanding areas.


The Planning Officer presented a number of slides of maps, plans, photographs and visualisations relating to the proposed location and scheme.


The Planning Officer advised members that all consultation responses and representations received were set out in Section 8 of the report, across pages 565-584. Objections to the proposal from members of the public had primarily focused upon concerns in respect of potential negative impacts on public health and concerns in respect of odour and had contested the need for, and benefits of, the development and the type of treatment process proposed. Other grounds for objection included perceived adverse Landscape and Visual Impact (LVI) and socio-economic impacts, adverse impacts on habitats and species, heritage assets; flood risk, traffic impacts and potential for disturbance of contaminated land.


The officer then drew members’ attention to the update sheet. A further letter of objection had been received since the report was issued but this does not raise any new issues.


The update also summarised issues/queries raised by a further letter received on Friday 17 August 2018 from Julie Ward MEP which voiced concerns of constituents. These include, in short, impacts of diversion of Nent Haggs Minewater outfall on water levels in the 3km stretch of River Nent between the adit outfall and treated minewater discharge point; mitigation to prevent damage to habitat and species and how the view that a biodiversity increase would result from the proposal had been reached; the Environment Agency (EA) classification of the site and the safe movement of and disposal of spent metal contaminated compost. The officer highlighted that these matters had been addressed in the update sheet.


With the exception of the matters concerning nature conservation, the issues raised were for other regulatory regimes.


The main planning issues were considered to be the need for the proposed scheme, the acceptability of development within the AONB, the proposed schemes landscape and visual impact, and potential for adverse impacts relating to human health, odour, ecology and heritage assets. These issues were addressed in detail within Section 11 of the report across pages 587-615.


The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) expected the planning system to contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment by halting declines in biodiversity and remediating contamination. The River Nent was considered to be the second most polluted river in England. This proposal sought to deliver betterment in the water quality of the Rivers Nent and Tyne by reducing metal pollution from the abandoned Nent Haggs mine so as to improve the chemical and ecological condition of these rivers in line with the legally binding objectives of the Northumbria River Basin Management Plan.


It was acknowledged that this scheme in itself would not single-handedly achieve these objectives, but it would make a significant step towards them by addressing a key pollutant source. This scheme combined with the recent check-weir development and further proposed schemes would, in combination, enable the objective to be met. This proposal would help benefit the wider river ecosystem, enabling an increase in biodiversity within the river. Thus it was accepted that there was a compelling environmental need for and benefit arising from the treatment of metal contaminated minewaters. As such the Planning Officer believed the scheme presented exceptional circumstances that justified development within the North Pennines Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB).


Whilst it was possible that the reduction in dissolved metals in the water column that this scheme sought to achieve could potentially lead to a deterioration in the condition of European protected Calaminarian Grassland immediately downstream of the site; it was considered that the proposal would have beneficial consequences of primary importance for the wider environment that outweighed this potential impact and that appropriate monitoring and compensation could be secured via a Section 106 Legal Agreement.


The Council had undertaken an Appropriate Assessment of the proposal and the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) was satisfied that this fully met the tests set out in the Habitats Regulations. This included agreement that there were Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Interest that justified the proposed development. In respect of other habitats and species present on, and in proximity to, the land proposed to be developed; the minewater treatment scheme as designed would not, subject to the conditions proposed, have any unacceptable impacts on these.


As Nent Haggs Mine was the source of metal pollution and was situated within the heart of the North Pennines AONB, it was accepted that there was no reasonable scope to site a scheme for treatment of its contaminated minewater outside of the AONB boundary. Overall the proposed scheme had been sensitively designed to be compatible with the distinctive characteristics of its landscape setting and the AONB and therefore avoided significant adverse landscape and visual impacts. It also avoided any unacceptable impact upon the significance of the Hudgill Lead Mine Bingsteads Scheduled Monument, and with the conditions proposed would not have any unacceptable impacts on non-designated heritage assets.


A great deal of public concern had been raised as to whether the proposed treatment process would result in a level of hydrogen sulphide emissions that could negatively impact upon public health and upon local amenity due to its malodourous characteristics. The World Health Organisation sets a highly conservative limit for hydrogen sulphide in air of 150µg/m3 (micrograms per metre cube) in order protect longterm public health. The applicant applies a series of conservative assumptions to calculate that within the likely operational scenario the proposed scheme would result in average hydrogen sulphide levels in air of less than 0.9?g/m³ over any 24 hour period at the site boundary. Consequently it was the view of both the Planning officer and Eden District Council’s Environmental Health Department that residual hydrogen sulphide emissions from the treatment process would not affect human health.


It was recognised that hydrogen sulphide could be smelled at much lower concentrations in air than those at which it caused harm, with the odour detection threshold for hydrogen sulphide standing at around 0.76µg/m³ (i.e. 1 OUE/m-3).  Odour dosing with hydrogen peroxide had been embedded into the scheme design and the dispersion modelling submitted indicated that the 98th percentile average annual hourly concentration of hydrogen sulphide would not exceed the odour recognition threshold (i.e. 3 OUE/m-3) at the site boundary for the operational scenarios modelled.


All the other potential adverse impacts of the scheme were considered to have been satisfactorily identified and addressed by the application. The applicant had set out a series of measures to control and reduce potential negative externalities associated with the proposed Minewater Treatment Scheme so as to ensure it does not generate any unacceptable impacts and that it complied with planning policy. A comprehensive set of planning conditions were proposed to ensure that this was the case.


Taking account of the environmental information submitted in connection with the application and the collective issues considered within the report and update sheet; it was concluded that the proposed development was in accordance with the development plan and was acceptable in planning terms with there being no material considerations that indicated otherwise, provided a Section 106 Legal Agreement was first completed.


Mr A Sawyer spoke about the proposed technology, which he felt was still experimental, not yet fit for purpose, and was not proven.  In two or three years time if it was deemed to be unsuccessful it would be too late for Nent Haggs.  He wanted to see how credible the assurances were.


He also raised concerns with the proposal, and the scheme behind it, which he did not feel were sustainable or of benefit to the Nent valley.  All the references to the scheme referred to the site as passive, he felt this was a misnomer, and it should be referred to as ‘semi-active’.  It was not passive, as measures would be taken to deal with the bi-product.  At Rampgill, similar measures had been taken which had failed, and he felt members were being asked to approve pollution control technology with no proven record of success.


In finishing he asked the members for an additional commitment not to approve any further applications such as this, until this scheme had been built and the success of the operation had been proven. 


One of the members asked Mr Sawyer if he agreed with the statement that the River Nent was the second most polluted river in England.  Mr Sawyer did agree with this but he did not feel that the scheme would resolve the issue of pollution of the Nent.


Ms Millie Rudd spoke on behalf of Nenthead Ward Council’s Footpaths Group. 


Ms Rudd had lived in Alston for 35 years, and over time she had seen huge changes in the population, which had grown vastly.  This had resulted in an increase in tourists and traffic, and many of these tourists came to walk the footpaths in and around Alston.


Closure of any of these footpaths would have a detrimental effect on the number of tourists visiting the area.  She also had concerns about the smell from the plant, which may also put walkers off using the paths.


Ms Rudd was also worried about the possible drying out of the River Nent and the impact this would have on the endangered species within the AONB.


An increase in the number of trucks and tankers travelling through Alston would create hazardous situations on the roads, and she feared it was an ‘accident waiting to happen’.


One of the members asked about accident statistics in this location and Ms Rudd said she had seen many accidents over the 35 years she had lived there.


Ms Maxine Shepherd, a representative, on behalf of Mrs Beverly Spillard,  read out a statement on behalf of her client.  Mrs Spillard had a property located very close to the proposed treatment works, and was worried about the effect this application would have during construction. During construction her concerns were about the amount of traffic accessing the site, and the noise and disruption this would cause.  Her worries for afterwards were in relation to the effect this scheme would have on the health of her partner, who suffered from asthma.


Ms Shepherd urged members to consider the impact of this application on the area and the people of Alston.


Annette Lauder, on behalf of the Coal Authority spoke to members about the following:-


   The Nent catchment and its failure to reach good status or good potential under the Northumbria River Basin Management Plan (RBMP)

   The Waste Abandoned Metal Mines (WAMM) programme has ranked the River Nent as the lowest quality in the Northumbria RBMP, and one of the lowest quality rivers in England

   The Coal Authority, along with the EA as its development partner has undertaken a significant amount of engagement with the local community, prior to the application being submitted 

   Thanked the officers for their careful handling of the planning application and welcome the resolution to grant planning permission subject to the completion of the Section 106

   The application accords with key planning policy considerations, including reflecting the core principles of sustainable development

   The Coal Authority recognise that the local community are concerned by certain aspects of the MWTS including the potential for odour associated with the proposed development but  they were confident that no demonstrable impacts would result

   Welcomed the comments of the District Council as an independent statutory consultees who have stated that: ‘The scheme has been remodelled as a result of our queries and concern and is now our view that it represents a robust model which will not give rise to a statutory nuisance’

   Outline of scheme benefits

   The development can be controlled by condition.


Members asked for more details of the public consultation and engagement events.  Ms Lauder provided the detail.


The Local Member for Alston and East Fellside then spoke.  She said this was a difficult and emotive application, and she felt very torn.  She understood and shared many of the concerns raised by the community, with particular concerns about traffic and disruption during the construction phase. She emphasised the need for the committee to balance these concerns with the potential benefits of the scheme for future years and generations.


One of the members asked how the operation of the works would be affected in extreme weather conditions, such as Storm Desmond.  The officer replied that the lower reed beds would be raised about the level of the fields, so would be protected.  The ponds would have overflows in so water could be diverted in extreme conditions.  In freezing conditions the site would have enough stock of hydrogen sulphide on site to last up to 3 months, so the officer did not feel this would have any impact.


Members felt the scheme would provide a betterment for environment issues in this location, and wondered why the Coal Authority would invest in this facility if it was not going to provide any benefit.


Officers said it was fair to say there would be betterment, but the issue for the community was that they did not feel it would be as great as the Coal Authority was implying.


The Planning Officer advised that like a wastewater treatment works for sewage, this was proposed to be a permanent development so no formal restoration measures were required.  However, the Coal Authority had given a firm commitment to the community that if the scheme was not proven to be successful the site would be de-commissioned.


The Vice Chair highlighted his experience of hydrogen sulphide and recognition of the effectiveness of hydrogen peroxide dosing and that in light of the amounts he felt assured that dangers/issues were addressed.


The Local Member for Cleator Moor West commented that the issue of the smells caused by the use of hydrogen sulphide was something that had affected his community for many years.  However, in recent years hydrogen peroxide dosing had been introduced and this had improved matters greatly..


The Planning Officer explained that with the planning conditions proposed, any potential harm would reasonably be mitigated.  Furthermore, any potential harm to interests of acknowledged importance was likely to be negligible and would be outweighed by the environmental benefits of the development. The officer was therefore recommending that, subject to the applicant first entering into a Section 106 legal agreement with the County Council to secure off-site monitoring of and contingency compensatory measures relating to the Tyne and Nent SAC; Planning Permission be granted subject to the conditions set out in Appendix 1 of the report.


This was proposed and seconded and then put to a vote and with 17 for, 0 against, and 1 abstention, it was


RESOLVED that,     having first taken into consideration the environmental information as defined in The Town & Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017 [the EIA Regulations]; and subject to the applicant first entering into a Section 106 legal agreement with the County Council to secure the monitoring of and potential interventions to the Tyne and Nent Special Area of Conservation (SAC); that Planning Permission be Granted subject to the conditions set out in Appendix 1 of the report.

Supporting documents: