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Campaigners win power station battle

City

Calls for a ‘no-burn’ policy on fuel generation within the city following tense campaign to protect air quality in Lawrence Hill.

Photos: Lorna Stephenson

“We need to get a ‘no-burn’ policy on Bristol council’s statute book.”

The Lawrence Hill power station was rejected by the council’s planning committee on Wednesday, to the relief of campaigners who were appalled at the plan to run a 48-generator plant in an area of dangerously poor air quality.

Bruce Yates, a member of RADE (Residents Against Dirty Energy) said he was “amazingly relieved”, while Cllr Hibaq Jama, for Lawrence Hill, declared, “I am completely and utterly ecstatic about the whole thing.”

The case was a novelty: Firstly, in what it exposed about planning policy and air quality, and secondly, the committed grassroots efforts that fought against both Plutus Energy and the council bureaucracy.

The council’s planning officers recommended approval of the application despite Plutus Energy admitting that the plant’s emissions would contribute to exceedences of legal limits of nitrogen dioxide. The pollutant contributes to respiratory disease and is dangerous to human health – but Plutus Energy, and then by extension the planning officers, deemed it “insignificant”.

The location of the proposed development was in the Air Quality Management Zone and around 200 metres from St Philip’s Marsh Nursery School.

“Traditionally, you just accepted the air quality advice and you didn’t question it,” explains Liz Beth, a member of RADE and an ex-planning officer herself. “But what’s changed now is air quality management zones have been declared because we are in breach of legal requirements. That changes things completely. That’s what we argued today.

“Now planning authorities have a duty to help with improving air quality as well whatever their experts say.”

rade-celebrate-28-09-16 Campaigners celebrate outside City Hall, including Simon Holmes, Bruce Yates and Liz Beth (second, fourth and fifth from left respectively)

Taking on the machine

There is little doubt that the case would have gone differently had the local community not been so persistent and thorough in their campaign, taking on what they perceived as flaws in Plutus Energy’s scientific methodology and conclusions.

The council was forced to defer the decision on the power station in July as RADE had submitted a new independent air quality assessment. Yet more evidence was submitted from their independent consultants before this week’s committee, something residents clubbed together to pay for from their own pockets.

Cllr Jama said: “The solution here was about including grassroots community members and supporting them to drive it through, so it became much more than just a protest against something, we’re also putting forward an alternative as to what we want.”

She said the case was “so much about the impact that local community members can have when it comes to taking on the big bureaucratic procedures that the council has. I’m so pleased that we won today.”

A no-burn city?

Could Bristol City Council put something in its statute books to ban future attempts at emissions-producing energy generation within the city?

That’s what several of the campaigners on this case would like to now see happen.

“Now we really have to steel ourselves for an appeal and to concentrate on getting something on the statute that stops this being a viable option anywhere,” says Bruce Yates. “We need to get a ‘no-burn’ policy on Bristol council’s statute book.”

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