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:
- We need to reduce our organic landfill, because:
- 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.