The Deputy Chief Planning Officer, Be First Development Management Team, introduced a report on an application from B&D Energy seeking a planning permission on a site on land off the A124 in Barking. The application sought the construction of a new above ground decentralised Energy Centre and Visitor Centre and associated buried heat network piping within the site, landscaping, parking, new site access, boundary treatments and illuminated external display. The Energy Centre building and site compound would house mechanical and electrical services equipment to produce heat and power.
In addition to internal and external consultations, a total of 560 notification letters were sent to neighbouring properties together with the requisite statutory press notice. Eight responses of objection were received, the full material planning considerations of which were addressed within the planning assessment set out in the report.
A representation was made at the meeting by a local resident who objected to the application for the following reasons:
Parking – Whilst recognising that the application had made provision for staff and operational parking at the Energy Centre, it was evident from the number of PCN’s issued in the area that there would be insufficient parking for the Visitors Centre.
Noise – Although a noise condition has been added, given the Energy Centre will be operational 24 hours a day, it was questioned whether this would be adequate.
Air Quality – Concerns that the development would impact negatively on current air quality.
De-carbonisation – Whilst the plan was to create a new low carbon energy network in Barking, it was disappointing that the overall aim of achieving a carbon neutral Council was not envisaged until 2030. Also given that the Energy Centre was estimated to supply low-cost carbon energy to over 10,000 new homes across Barking Town Centre, it was also disappointing that existing residents in the vicinity of the Energy Centre would not benefit from the development.
Responding to the objector’s comments Andy Pepler, planning consultant on behalf of the applicant (B&D Energy) made the following comments:
Parking – The over provision of parking was mainly to accommodate staff working at the Energy Centre on the assumption that most attending the Visitor Centre would come via public transport
Noise – Although the Energy Centre would be operational 24 7 it was anticipated that noise levels generated at night would be significantly lower as less energy is used. In addition, sound proofing measures would be incorporated in the construction of the building.
De-carbonisation - Acknowledging the points raised by the objector there was a wider commitment from the Council and B&D Energy to reach a zero-carbon goal. Additionally, it was important to note that the construction of the Centre would incorporate modern technics to support that aim.
As for the point about current residents not realising the benefits, Paul Newton, B&D Energy stated there the company had plans in the longer term to extend the heating networks, but he recognised this would be some years away, in part to enable economies of scale to be achieved, so as to reduce implementation costs for residents.
The DCPO concluded his report that the proposed application sought planning permission for a decentralised low carbon Energy Centre and associated Visitor Centre, to deliver low carbon and affordable energy to approximately 10,000 new homes in Barking Town Centre, a number of which had already been identified for a secure connection to a District Heat Network through a Section 106 Agreement.
There was clearly an evident need for alternative/local energy in the Borough and within Barking Town Centre in particular, that was not currently being met, and consequently the principle of development was considered acceptable, in line with the presumption in favour of sustainable development, and local and regional policies.
It was recognised that the low carbon energy produced would contribute towards helping the Council meet its carbon neutral goals, albeit not as effectively as a renewable energy source. To assist the Council in meeting this goal, planning obligations had been secured through the application for studies to be undertaken for the future partial or complete decarbonisation of the site/ energy network.
Officers had noted the concerns regarding the addition of the Visitor Centre as part of the application, however the overriding need of the Centre and its public benefits were considered to outweigh these concerns, and as such the development of a Visitor Centre at this location would not result in officers recommending refusal of the application, subject to its exact siting being determined by way of condition at a later date.
Officers had however raised concerns in relation to harm to the local character of the area resulting from the loss of the greenspace which provided visual relief to the A124 and surrounding built up areas, to be replaced with an industrial style development of a substantial height, size and massing. However, it was recognised that whilst industrial in form/use, the proposed development by its nature was required to be accessible to the residential development it would serve, which in this case required it to be located in reach of Barking Town Centre’s new residential developments.
The site selection process undertaken by the applicant had shown that there were no suitable and available sites to accommodate the needs of the development. On balance, the public benefits and need for a local energy centre to connect a heat network to 10,000 homes in Barking outweighed the harm identified in terms of the appearance of the development and impact on local character. Securing the high-quality architecture and materiality of the scheme was considered critical in ensuring acceptability of the scheme, alongside the importance of a robust soft and replacement landscaping.
Consideration had also been given throughout the report to the objections received from a number of neighbouring properties, and those raised at the meeting. Officers acknowledged that the proposed site was constrained and in close proximity to residential properties which would not benefit from the energy output. However, in terms of impact on the amenity of neighbouring residents, this was considered acceptable, particularly given the overriding need to meet climate change commitments.
Overall considering the wide-reaching public benefits of the development, officers had found on balance that subject to the planning obligations and conditions set out in the report the application accorded with the NPPF, London Plan and draft and adopted local policies, and was supported.
Therefore, the Committee RESOLVED:
1. To agree the reasons for approval as set out in the report,
2. To delegate authority to the Head of Planning and Assurance in consultation with the Head of Legal Services to grant planning permission subject to the completion of a legal agreement under s106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended) based on the Heads of Terms identified at Appendix 6 and the conditions listed in Appendix 5 of the report; and
3. That, if by 23 October 2022 the legal agreement has not been completed, the Head of Planning and Assurance was delegated authority to refuse planning permission or extend this timeframe to grant approval.