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Chris Grayling Blasts ‘Official Failure’ of County Council

Published on: 28 Feb, 2022
Updated on: 4 Mar, 2022

By Emily Coady-Stemp

local democracy reporter

Chris Grayling has accused a council of “the biggest example of official failure” he has seen in all of his time as an MP.

The Epsom and Ewell MP, and former Secretary of State for Transport, attended a Surrey County Council meeting last week where retrospective planning permission was granted for a change of use of part of the Epsom Chalk Pit, in a delayed decision on the application.

Residents say they have been living in “anguish” since a change in activity at the site since summer 2020.

The application granted permission for new buildings to be put on the section of the Chalk Pit run by NJB recycling, as well as resurfacing the site and adding parking.

Mr Grayling said what had happened in the case was “appalling” and that he was speaking at a planning meeting for the first time in his more than 20 years as an MP.

He said in the meeting last week: “The reason I’m here is because this is the most egregious example of flouting of planning law and the most egregious example of commercial bad behaviour and the biggest example of official failure, both of the county and Environment Agency, that I’ve experienced in all that time.”

He said he saw no evidence of special circumstances which would permit such a planning application in the green belt.

The Environment Agency said it had installed dust monitoring equipment near the site which would be in place for at least six months from when it was installed in November 2021.

It had also instructed operators to make improvements to noise management plans, operating procedures and the insulation and operation of noisy equipment which had resulted in the operators installing insulating equipment with additional soundproofing.

Council officers said in a report that granting planning permission would allow for conditions to be put on hours of operation and limits to the amount of waste processed per year.

David Williams, a planning consultant instructed by local residents, spoke at the meeting.

He said that the officers’ report said the Environment Agency had raised no objection, but that this “glossed over concerns highlighted in two Environment Agency reports from 2021.”

He said: “The latest Environment Agency response makes several incorrect references to a proposed reduction waste in quantity.

“This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the proposal that has not been addressed.”

The site is currently operating under a Certificate of Lawful Existing Use or Development which was granted on appeal in April 1998.

Mr Grayling said that national planning policy says a council should only accept a retrospective application if there had been a genuine mistake made in the process of developing a site, which he said was not the case in this instance.

NJB Recycling’s owner Jamie Bowie spoke at the meeting. He pointed out that there had been waste operations running in the Chalk Pit site for more than 40 years in some form, and said he had been engaging with residents to hear their concerns.

A spokesperson for the Environment Agency said: “Planning decisions are rightly made by local authorities.

“We understand Surrey County Council’s decision to grant retrospective planning permission to NJB Recycling is to be reviewed by the Secretary of State.

“As a statutory consultee in the process, we do not wish to prejudice that decision and cannot comment further.”

Surrey County Council declined to comment.

Unlike most other planning applications, which are decided at borough or district level, those related to waste and recycling are decided by the county council. The decision will now be sent to the Secretary of State, who will decide whether or not to call the application in.

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