Replacement sawmill to west of site, construction of co-products bunkers to north at former Cooks Hold Farm site, new access road from site entrance to co-product bunkers, with associated landscape, drainage and car park.
The Senior Planning Officer, Jennifer Jennings (JJ) gave a detailed presentation on the report relating to the abovementioned planning application, a copy of which had been circulated (for copy see file of minutes). Members noted that the written report was supplemented by a visual presentation which included photographs of the site. The Senior Planning Officer (JJ) advised that Members of the Committee had visited the site and were familiar with the location and setting. The application was for a replacement sawmill to west of site, construction of co-products bunkers to north at former Cooks Hold Farm site, new access road from site entrance to co-product bunkers, with associated landscape, drainage and car park and was recommended for approval, subject to the conditions as set out in the report.
The Senior Planning Officer (JJ) noted since the publication of the report, an additional objection to the proposals had been received, citing issues including the impact of light, noise, 40 tonnes vehicles traveling along the roads at speed, and numerous complaints from residents in the area. She added that an additional condition relating to security lighting to be retained would be required, should Members be minded to approve the application.
The Chair thanked the Senior Planning Officer (JJ) and asked Councillor B Kellett, Local Member, to speak as regards the application.
Councillor B Kellett thanked the Chair and Committee and explained he had lived in Low Pittington for 45 years and recalled when the business in question had been a small company, with only a trickle of traffic generated at that time, that had now grown to a gigantic amount. He added the proposals represented a blot on the landscape that while they may be screened by additional tree planting, it would be in around 10-25 years by the time the trees matured to give that screening. He explained that he received numerous complaints from residents as regards the issues associated with the business, including with light, noise and traffic.
Councillor B Kellett noted around two years ago, on a visit to the public right of way (PROW) alongside the site, all those present had experienced particulates and were required to clean a layer of sawdust from their glasses. He noted the dangers of dust disease and his concern for local residents in that regard. He referred to the report mentioning the removal of ‘low value hedges’, however he believed all hedgerows were of value and that damage to the environment should be prevented with those that had attended the site visit having been able to see the potential impact. In respect of the PROW, he noted that the people of Sherburn Hill were being deprived as what was thought to be temporary rerouting of the PROW was now in fact permanent.
In relation to traffic from the site, Councillor B Kellett noted that it had gotten increasingly worse and worse over time, going through the centre of the village, and the Members on the site visit had witnessed two large HGV travelling along the road at considerable speed. He noted that such traffic was 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, citing an example of one such vehicle travelling past his home at 4.35am. He added that last summer, residents had been unable to open their windows due to the level of noise. He noted that the previous owner of the business had signed a statement that they would abide by conditions and explained that he hoped the new owner would abide by the conditions should the application be approved. Councillor B Kellett explained that residents had previously not been respected and reiterated that the issues raised were serious and that it was residents that were having to live with the noise and disruption.
Councillor B Kellett concluded by noting that jobs were important, and they were welcomed, however, not to the detriment of local residents and that therefore any conditions imposed must be enforced.
The Chair thanked Councillor B Kellett and asked L Thompson, representing the applicant, Taylormade Timber, to speak in support of the application.
L Thompson thanked the Chair and Committee and explained she was General Manager for Taylormade Timber Products and that the site operated a sawmill and secondary processing facilities with around 160 employees, the majority being County Durham residents. She explained that the application was essential, in order to replace obsolete equipment and to maintain a competitive edge in terms of the business, mitigating the risk to jobs by modernising the facility. She added that the application would improve the facility in terms of being a business and noted that it showed a commitment in terms of helping mitigate in respect of the objections raised. She noted there had been seven letters of objection, not a large number, however she stressed that the concerns they raised were taken very seriously.
L Thompson noted that the application would help improve the current situation with decreased noise levels though a combination of new equipment, sound deadening material, and works to create bunds.
She explained that there was around £4 million of investment and that the proposals would represent a reduction in working hours, with no Sunday operation. She added there had been £2 million investment in terms of the new treatment and environmental improvements, with the removal of reverse beepers and subsequent replacement safety equipment costing around £150,000. She noted that other improvements included new roller doors and acoustic fencing. She reiterated the reduced hours of operation and noted that Saturday operations would only be when needed.
L Thompson noted the objections referred to transport on the roads and explained the company had worked with residents to ensure the application did not represent an increase in traffic, rather maintained levels. She concluded by thanking Members for their time and asking, on behalf of all the employees of the company, that the Committee approve the application and support the future of the business for the workers and their communities.
The Chair thanked L Thompson and asked the Committee for their comments and questions.
Councillor C Kay noted he had a similar business in his local area and noted anecdotally evidence as regards similar types of issues experienced. He added that local small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) with 160 jobs were very laudable and should be encouraged. However, he had some questions relating to whether the reduced hours of operation were conditioned, and whether the operation had outgrown the size of the existing site. He also asked as regards the airborne particulates as referred to by Councillor B Kellett along the nearby PROW.
The Senior Planning Officer (JJ) noted that Condition 20 set out the hours relating to the processing of logs, with requirements being: ‘log handling machine, main sawmill and processing operations within the former sawmill building shall not operate outside of the hours of 0600hrs to 0000hrs Monday to Thursday, 0600hrs to 2300hrs Friday and 0800hrs to 1800hrs Saturday, with no operations on Sunday and Public/Bank Holidays’. She referred to the Principal Public Protection Officer, John Hayes, to speak in relation to the particulate issue.
The Principal Public Protection Officer noted that such dust emissions were regulated under Part B of the Environmental Permit. He noted that the proposed new systems would help control this partially and explained he has regularly visited the site to observe the levels of noise and dust.
He explained that there had been upgrades a few years ago in relation to dust emissions, and the proposed works would give further improvements in that regard. Councillor C Kay noted his opinion in relation to the effectiveness of reducing particulates, especially those down to PP10 scale, however, that plans appeared to be in place and met regulations in that regard.
Councillor A Bell noted that the application looked to address the number of issues raised by the Local Member and residents. He asked as regards the number of vehicle movements, those along the A690 and through villages, citing a fatality on a very busy section of the A690, not involving the vehicles from the business in question, rather an example to highlight the nature of the road. He noted the report referred to 480 movements and asked if that referred to over seven days or five, and whether this was 240 in and out for a total of 480. The Principal DM Engineer, David Battensby explained that the junction referred to on the A690 would likely be signalised in the near future, and that to accommodate buses and HGVs, the central reserve was previously widened by road markings and the reduced speed limit introduced. Since these works there had been no incidents involving HGVs at this location. He noted there had been no accidents relating to HGVs on the route to the site in the previous 10 years. In relation to the number of movements, he noted that 480 represented loads in or out, however, did not include empty vehicles. He added that there would not be a material increase in the number of vehicles and therefore there was very little for Highways to object to in respect of the application. Being mindful of local concerns, he requested the inclusion of a condition relating to the number of trips. Councillor A Bell noted the condition relating to the number of movements and hoped it would be adhered to via strict condition.
Councillor C Marshall explained he had listened to the comments from the Local Member, Councillor B Kellett and noted that Councillor B Kellett, as an Economist, was supportive of jobs in his area. He understood the concerns he raised on behalf of residents, however, listening to the speakers and Officers he understood that the company was a well established business and he felt that there were no planning policy grounds to refuse the application. He noted the Applicant’s willingness to work with local residents and the conditions as set out within the report, which he hoped would give the Authority a way to enforce and deal with issues. He noted that when all was said it was an application to support a rural business and therefore he would move that the application be approved, subject to the conditions within the report and the additional condition referred to by the Senior Planning Officer. He was seconded by Councillor A Bell.
Councillor J Elmer noted that Councillor A Bell had made many good points as regards the number of HGVs and the issues with the highway network.
He added that the roads were not designed for vehicles of that scale and that it was quite frightening. He noted that those issues could not be addressed satisfactorily via this application and therefore it was vital that the conditions within the report were adhered to and vigorously enforced as necessary. He asked for further information on how such enforcement take place. The Senior Planning Officer (JJ) noted that, as discussed on the site visit, the conditions were standard conditions that would be applied to other similar applications for waste or minerals, with weigh-in information being logged and monitored to ensure there were no issues.
Councillor I Cochrane left the meeting at 10.32am
Councillor J Elmer asked as regards the case where the number of vehicle movements was exceeded. The Principal Planning Officer, Paul Hopper (PH) noted there were a number of options in relation to enforcement and that the service could react to any complaints or breach of conditions should they occur and that in his opinion the condition was robust enough to allow effective enforcement.
Further to the motion for approval by Councillor C Marshall, seconded by Councillor A Bell, upon a vote being taken it was:
That the application be APPROVED, subject to the conditions as set out within the report and additional condition relating to the retention of security lighting.
Councillor I Cochrane entered the meeting at 10.35am