Last night’s meeting on the proposed Composting Factory at Runfold

I went along to the meeting last night organised by the Farnham Society. I was expecting to be in favour of the composting facility proposed fo Runfold — except that I was going to suggest that instead of an aerobic composter we should ask that they should build an anaerobic digester.

Anaerobic digesters use bacteria that operate in the absence of oxygen and produce methane gas. That can then be used for powering vehicles, for cooking or heating, or even to generate electricity. Composting uses bacteria that operate in the presence of oxygen (air) to digest the organic material. On this scale it also uses energy to blow air through the composting material and to turn it frequently. Anaerobic digesters are net producers of energy, importantly it is carbon-neutral energy, and the waste material they produce can also be turned into compost.

But I left the meeting opposed to the plans for Runfold as they stand.

First some facts (as presented last night):

  • The planning application is for 120,000 tonnes of waste material per year
  • The site would cover over seven and a half hectares — that is twice the size of the buildings and car park at Sainsbury’s Water Lane
  • There would be 50,000 additional lorry movements per year — that is approximately 1,000 per week, almost 200 per day (Mon-Sat). Starting at 7:30 each morning (except Sundays) but mostly occurring during rush hour (between 5 and 6pm) and using the Shepherd and Flock roundabout both to arrive and to depart.
  • The building would be 51 metres long, 10 metres high, with 18m chimneys, and the air inside it would be changed 10 times every hour, that is once every six minutes. The blowers required to achieve this would be noisy, and the volume of gas pumped out into the surrounding environment (houses, schools) would be large.

I agree that:

  1. We need to reduce our organic landfill, because:
  2. it releases into the atmosphere methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas

we are running out of landfill sites, and

it is better to reuse our waste rather than throw it ‘away’

If converted to an anaerobic digester then this plant would be a valuable source of ‘green’ energy, which will become very important as prices of oil and gas go up in the next few years

But I oppose this site for the following reasons:

The number and timing of the lorry movements would create considerable congestion in an already congested, and potentially dangerous, section of roadway (the Shepherd and Flock roundabout)

10% of the traffic is planned to come along the Crooksbury Road — a road which is not even classified as a B road. This is completely unsuitable for such type and level of traffic, as is the B3001 (consider the bend at the Donkey pub, the narrow bridges at Elstead, and the significant negative impact on the rural village of Elstead through which the lorries would come).

The site is planned to deal with 120,000 tonnes of waste per year — Surrey County Council expects to collect only 40,000 tonnes of household waste per year, and already has plans to deal with that (using an anaerobic digester) at another site. Therefore these lorries would be coming considerable distances. This would use expensive and scarce fuel. A better solution would be to build a larger number of smaller facilities, closer to the sources of waste.

Surrey CC has already identified sites suitable for handling these kinds of waste. This Runfold site is not on that list. Other sites are more suitable.

In-Vessel Composting (as proposed) has health, noise, and smell hazards. Nearby buildings are already at the edge of the “safe” limit defined by the UK for much smaller plants. The playing fields of Barfield school are inside the “safe” limit. Other countries have set larger exclusion zones (in Australia their limits are four times larger), and the limit for a plant of this size must surely be larger than for the smaller plants considered when the ‘safe’ limit was set. If a child sets off ten stink bombs in the corridor, the distance I will want to retreat to will be further than for just one stink bomb, and the time taken for the smell to disperse will be longer also, compared to just a single stink bomb.

The site is in an area of great landcape value. While it is true to say that the site currently holds a sand quarry, it is also true to say that the licence to extract that sand also includes the pre-existing promise and commitment by the company to return the site to a natural state at the end of the quarry’s life.

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4 Responses to Last night’s meeting on the proposed Composting Factory at Runfold

  1. Mrs K Enser says:

    plesae see above comments

  2. Mrs K Enser says:

    We as a family are disgusted that the council should even consider thi splan . The site is in an area , very close to Farnham town , and surrounding villages , and residentail areas , and also very close to a number of schools . The impact on those areas , air quality , increased road traffic , potentail smells , and clouds of gas , are totally unacceptable in todays world . This planning application has to be rejected .

  3. Gwen Arnold says:

    We (husband and I) have already petitioned against this. We live on the Shepherd and Flock Roundabout and the residents are already suffering and all are begging the police, councilors and our MP to help with traffic and parking issues. This extra pressure is unacceptable, for health and safety of all living on the roundabout and those using it.

  4. finnjackson says:

    For the record, here’s a copy of the letter that we/I wrote to Surrey County Council planners on 26 April, with a copy also to Farnham/Waverley Councillor Pat Frost (worded slightly differently).

    Dear Mr Jenkins,

    I am concerned about the proposed IVC plant in Runfold and wish to raise the following objections.

    My first objection is the low efficiency of the proposed composting approach compared with other alternatives. Second, is the high traffic impacts. And third is the negative impact on the people and landscape around the proposed plant.

    Whilst I agree that there is a need to reduce the amount of organic waste going to landfill, there are better ways of dealing with it than composting. Composting on this scale consumes a significant amount of energy. Better solutions include anaerobic digestion and Jean Pain composting for woodier material, both of which generate energy from the material as well as creating compost. The energy comes in the form of heat and methane gas, which can be pumped into the national grid (reducing our reliance on foreign gas) or used to power vehicles.

    The planned site is intended to handle 120,000 tonnes of waste per year. Surrey County Council expects to collect only 40,000 tonnes of household waste per year from Surrey and already has plans to deal with that (using an anaerobic digester) at another site. Therefore these lorries would be travelling considerable distances, consuming expensive and scarce fuel. A better solution would be to build a larger number of smaller facilities, each close to the specific sources of the waste that they handle.

    Moving now to traffic, the proposed plant would also create considerable additional congestion in an already congested, and potentially dangerous, section of roadway around the Shepherd and Flock roundabout.

    The proposed alternative route, the Crooksbury Road, along which ten percent of the traffic is intended to come, is an unclassified road completely unsuitable and unsafe for such a type and level of traffic. This route would also take the heavy lorries through Elstead village, again with negative impacts on villagers and on the ancient bridge there. During the recent snow this route was completely closed for several days. Again, having several smaller facilities each close to their own sources of waste would be a better solution, reducing traffic congestion significantly, all the way between Runfold and wherever each lorry started from. An intermediate solution would be to require the company to extend the nearby railway line and have all waste delivered, and compost removed, by rail.

    Finally, in-vessel composting (as proposed) has health, noise, and smell hazards. Nearby buildings are already at the edge of the “safe” limit defined by the UK for much smaller plants. The playing fields of Barfield school are inside the so-called ‘safe’ limit. Are children at the school not to be allowed out into the ‘fresh’ air, or are we to send them out into air which is contaminated, not only by the standards of other countries but by our own lower standards?

    Other countries have defined larger exclusion zones as safe. In Australia the limits are four times larger. The limit for a plant of this size must surely be larger than for the smaller plants being considered when the ‘safe’ limit was chosen: if ten stink bombs are smashed, the distance I will want to retreat to will be much further than for just one stink bomb, and the time taken for the smell to disperse will be longer also.

    It is proposed to build this plant in an area of great landscape value. While it is true to say that the site currently holds a sand quarry, it is also true to say that the licence to extract that sand also includes the pre-existing promise and commitment by the company to return the site to a natural state at the end of the quarry’s life. We must stick to and honour that pre-existing commitment.

    In conclusion:
    From the point of view of the site, we should stick to our commitment to return the site to a natural state once the original licence expires. (A licence which presumably was specifically for the extraction of sand, not not for “any use the company sees fit”.)

    From the point of view of the area, the negative amenity impacts of lorry movements, health (from ‘bioaerosols’), noise, and smell of a plant of this size would be significant and negative. The company is asking to put it right next to school playing fields for goodness sake!

    And from a national or regional point of view, the better solution would be to have more smaller plants to deal with this kind of waste, or if that is not achievable then to move the waste by rail. The more we have to deal with our own waste, rather than sending it ‘away’ somewhere else, the more responsibility we will realise that we have to take for minimising the amount of waste we create in the first place. This will also help with the reduction of other types of waste that our country has to deal with.

    I realise that some of the items I have raised may appear to be outside the scope of the planning rules, but I believe that as our MPs found in the recent expenses scandals, and as other examples from history clearly show, “I was only following the rules” or “I was only following orders” is not an adequate defence for bad behaviour. I urge planning officers to follow their deeper duty and to do the right thing — for the site, for the area, and for the country.

    Yours sincerely,

    Finn Jackson

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