Local authorities and parish councils have spent thousands to appear at a public inquiry into how Crouchland Biogas managed to build the plant at Crouchland Farm, a dairy unit in the village.” From 2011 until 2014, they created one of the largest biogas production plants in the whole country without full planning consent,” said Mrs Sara Burrell, who chairs Plaistow and Ifold parish council and has been at the inquiry which is expected to resume in July.

Originally, Crouchland Biogas applied for and received planning consent for two anaerobic digesters (AD) to use farm manure and cow slurry. They also had consent for a combined heat and power (CHP) engine, gas cleaning equipment and other matters in a further application.

But, said Mrs Burrell, the landowner did not tell the local planning authority, Chichester district council, about what his true intentions were. “There was never any discussion about what he would do with these ADs. The local authority thought he was only managing cow slurry and manure and using that to create electricity.”

So, the following year, the site was expanded because Crouchland thought it had consent to do something further. Two more CHP engines were added plus a 53,000 cubic metre lagoon – almost as big as five football pitches – and another AD plant. “This was actually done without consent,” Mrs Burrell said.

In 2012/13, opponents raised concerns when food waste began being imported to the site which continued producing cow manure. “It was becoming a waste management facility,” Mrs Burrell explained. In 2015, West Sussex county council refused consent for a waste management facility.

Crouchland appealed, claiming there were no conditions on the original planning consent for two AD plants, so they could do what they wanted. Last year, there was a planning hearing based on the question of what was the site’s lawful use. A planning inspector decided Crouchland could use their home produced slurry but they could not import anything else. She also said they could use gas to generate electricity and export it.

Crouchland continued to import material and process at the farm, Mrs Burrell said. The current planning inquiry is because Crouchland appealed against the refusal of planning consent for the additional AD plant, the lagoon and two CHP engines. “This whole scheme only operates on the renewable heat incentive payments from the government,” Mrs Burrell said. “Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has been paid to produce this gas, yet Crouchland does not have full planning consent – which is scandalous.”

The parishes and residents have so far had to raise about £60,000 so that a barrister could represent them at the inquiry, Mrs Burrell added. “This development will result in a maximum of 46 12 axle, 40 tonne lorry movements a day. Yet these lorries are on a single track lane, they cannot manoeuvre at the junction and they cannot pass each other.”

Pictured: From left to right are what campaigners say is a lawful anaerobic digester; an unlawful gas upgrading plant; an unlawful digester; and the apex of a lawful dairy shed