The Anaerobic Digester Planning Application was turned down by the full Winchester City Council Planning Committee on Thursday 21 April by seven votes to one.

The Planning Department recommended approval. 

This is bad news for Sparsholt College and the low carbon ambitions of Winchester District. 

All members of the Planning Committee from both Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, with the exception of Cllr Ian Tait, voted against the plan. As a result, Winchester District and Sparsholt College are likely to lose the promise of inward investment from the M3 Local Economic Partnership, lost the opportunity to train students in the management of renewable energy on farms, and thrown away a real opportunity to create a visionary renewable energy scheme that would benefit local farmers.

The Councillors were most influenced by local residents' concerns about traffic and the lack of firm agreements about traffic movements.

It is not yet known if there will be an appeal.

Tim Jackson had previously told WinACC: “We have addressed residents’ concerns in the planning application and can reassure people that the Green Gas Mill will only receive normal farm traffic such as tractors and trailers which are typical of the countryside. 

“We will ensure deliveries don’t happen during peak traffic times, tractors stick to main roads wherever possible, do not go through Sparsholt village, and in fact even at the busiest times of year during harvest, feedstock movements would represent a very small proportion of existing college traffic and be well within the capacity of the highway network. 

“The Green Gas Mill will be a key component in the College’s development of a Centre of Excellence that will produce specialist professionals to work for the green gas industry, training engineers, plant managers and technicians in what is a growth area across the agriculture, energy, waste, water and food processing sectors.” 

Background

Ecotricity (with the full support of the College) submitted  an application for planning permission for the Green Gas Mill and Education Building to Winchester City Council, as part of the wider ambition for developing this new area of Learning and Skills in the renewable energy sector.  

The Green Gas Mill would have made gas from grass – sourced from marginal land together with grass grown as a break crops on arable farms as in the local area – using anaerobic digestion (AD) to produce biogas that is purified into biomethane to be used by the college, with the leftover fed straight into the national grid. While a natural fertiliser that’s a by-product of the AD process would go back onto the farmers’ fields to improve the soil. 

The Sparsholt College Green Gas Mill, fuelled by locally harvested grass, could have produced enough clean gas to power the equivalent of 4,000 homes every year. 

Up to eight specialist professional jobs wiykd have been created to run the Green Gas Mill, while the new supply contracts with farmers – providing the grass and rye feedstock required to supply the anaerobic digestion process – would have reinforced existing jobs. 

Ecotricity would have financed and built the Green Gas Mill and helped fund the development of a renewable energy centre, where the college could have trained the workforce necessary to support the green gas revolution coming to Britain. 

Tim Jackson, Sparsholt College principal, had said “The Green Gas Mill is the next step on the journey towards Sparsholt College developing our status as a ‘Centre for the Demonstration of Environmental Technologies’, which is being supported by Ecotricity and through a grant from the Enterprise M3 Local Enterprise Partnership. 

“Creating our own green gas on site will massively cut our environmental impact and reduce our energy bills. The fact we can share the financial and environmental benefits of this project with the local farming community is a massively positive outcome for the college.” 

Dale Vince, Ecotricity founder, said: “It’s good for our economy, because we’ll no longer need to import those expensive fossil fuels; it’s good for the environment, because it’s carbon neutral and creates new wildlife habitats; and it’s good for farmers, because it allows them to diversify, rely less on farming livestock, and build a more sustainable future. 

“The world signed up to the limiting temperature rise to well below 2 degrees C at the Paris Climate Conference last year – that included a long term goal of being carbon neutral after 2050 and eventually carbon negative, which means taking more carbon out of the atmosphere than we put in. They’re big ambitions – and green gas is essential to that vision. 

“Sparsholt is one of the first Green Gas Mills we’re looking to build in Britain – one of the first in what will be a green gas revolution in this country. And what’s particularly special is that, together with Sparsholt, we’ll be helping to train the green gas engineers Britain will need.” 

See also the Ecotricity website section on Green Gas. The Sparsholt Green Gas Mill was going to be one of a number that they will be constructing over the next few years.