Desision on incinerator planning enforcement postponed

Chimney belching smoke

Photo: Chris Brown, Cardiff Friends of the Earth

At the Planning committee yesterday all three councillors for Splott – Gretta Marshall, Huw Thomas, and Luke Holland – said that they believed enforcement action should be taken to stop Viridor’s unauthorised building of the Cardiff incinerator.

Gretta Marshall said  that the “council should have taken enforcement action as soon as it realised that it had made an error” in issuing letters discharging some of the planning preconditions to Viridor. “Two wrongs don't make a right” and that the council should now take action.

Huw Thomas said that it was “deeply worrying that letters of discharge had been issued” by council officers to Viridor. He said that it was clear that “Viridor have not met preconditions”. The planning rules “are being flouted and we have the power to stop them”. “Failure to take enforcement action is de facto acquiescence” because it allows Viridor to continue building.

Luke Holland said the firm was developing the site ”at a pace which is almost as breathtaking [in its] arrogance” and that urgent action was needed.

The council’s Head of Planning, Phil Williams, told committee members that although Viridor had continued with the unauthorised works, council officers did not think enforcement action was appropriate because the detailed plans, including the pre-implementation conditions, were due to be discussed at the next planning committee meeting in February, and the issue could be resolved then.

He said that the council had “taken legal advice both internally and externally” but didn't say what they were told or who the external legal advisor was so it was impossible for the councillors to judge how good the advice was.

Despite some disbelief, no member of the committee challenged whether the Welsh planning guidance quoted by the him was the most appropriate test to apply in these circumstances. Given the total incompetence shown by the planning officers on this application so far this was a surprise.

Committee member Cllr Adrian Robson made it clear he was in favour of taking immediate action. The development was “not authorised as no decision had been made”. He said that the fact Viridor had made subsequent applications was irrelevant because they might withdraw them. He said it was “very clear” that the council “should be taking the enforcement option”.

Cllr Graham Hinchey said that the start of development had not been authorised and voiced his support for immediate enforcement action.

Cllr Ali Ahmed said that if big companies like Viridor did not comply with planning conditions, how could the committee expect general members of the public to do so.  He said that “we should take action now”.

However, Cllr Lyn Hudson said it was only a short amount of time before the application to discharge the pre-commencement conditions would come before the committee. “We are rushing things when we don't need to”.

Cllr Garry Hunt said it was clear that Viridor “have not cooperated” with the council on the enforcement of planning controls and that he felt instinctively that the council should act, but he was “not entirely convinced” that the council could sustain enforcement action at this time. He wanted to see the evidence on why the current work was causing unacceptable harm to the public amenity.

The committee voted to defer its decision to the February Committee meeting for a report for more evidence to be prepared.

Viridor continues to insist they are doing nothing wrong. Howard Ellard, Viridor’s business development director, said "Viridor has correspondence from Cardiff council stating that these matters have been discharged satisfactorily and fully" despite the council having written to them in November stating they are in breech of planning conditions.