Covanta Energy Limited (Covanta) plans to build and operate a 65MWe Resource Recovery Facility (RRF) at Rookery Pit in Bedfordshire which is owned by O&H Properties Ltd. The site comprises two former clay extraction pits: the northern pit has already been restored by flooding and backfilling, and the Minerals Planning Authority (MPA) has approved updated planning conditions authorising the forthcoming restoration of the southern pit.
The proposed RRF is to be constructed in the north-west quadrant of the southern pit. The size of the facility is such that the project is considered to be nationally significant and permission for development was sought via a Development Consent Order (DCO) from the Infrastructure Planning Commission¹ (IPC).
BSG Ecology had already produced an ecological impact assessment and mitigation strategy to inform the application to the MPA for revised restoration conditions for Rookery Pit. Our established knowledge and understanding of the ecology of the site and strong relationships with stakeholders were such that we were retained by Covanta for the RRF project.
To support the IPC application we were commissioned to undertake an ecological impact assessment for the construction, operation and decommissioning of the RRF. We also prepared a number of other supporting assessments as part of the DCO application process required by the Planning Act 2008. This presented a number of significant challenges:
- The application for a DCO was among the first to be registered and processed by the IPC. Preparation of the necessary supporting documentation required interpretation of new Regulations and took place at the same time as the IPC was defining its own requirements and procedures.
- The conditions in the pit are almost entirely unrepresentative of those that will be found following restoration, which is when construction will start. Careful and reasoned discussions with Natural England secured agreement that the EcIA baseline should be predicated on a rationalised statement about the predicted status of all valued habitat and species receptors, at all project milestones, and having regard to the survey work and assessment of residual impacts of the restoration.
- There are 10 Sites of Special Scientific Interest and 99 County Wildlife Sites, including Rookery Pits, within 10km of the site. The key component of the RRF is an Energy from Waste (EfW) plant. When operational this has the potential to impact on habitat and species as a result of NOx, SO3, and NH3 emissions as well as nitrogen and acid deposition. The EcIA included a detailed assessment of the impacts of air quality and deposition effects on the habitats of the designated sites within 10km of Rookery Pits.
The project was the first to be determined by the IPC who approved the Development Consent Order in October 2011, subject to Special Parliamentary Procedures. No significant issues were raised by the IPC in relation to the ecological impact assessment.
¹ The IPC was abolished on 1 April 2012 and its role transferred to the Planning Inspectorate.