AN UNPRECEDENTED number of concerned residents turned out to ensure a planning committee did not approve a new biomass plant.
The decision on whether the plant, at Cheney Manor Industrial Estate, should be built was deferred by the council in front of a crowd of about 150 people.
Swindon Council’s planning committee said more time was needed to find answers to a number of issues raised at the meeting, on Tuesday, which were not explained in the applicant’s report.
Councillors also promised the packed public gallery, which had residents spilling out into adjoining rooms, they would be consulted during more public meetings.
Fears that waste wood giving off dangerous gases would be burnt in 30 metre-tall chimneys, which could lead to adverse health effects, were voiced.
Concerns were also raised about extra traffic and air pollution from the expected 55 HGVs going to the plant every day.
Nobody from Pure Green, which plans to run the biomass, attended the meeting. The new company, which was attracted to the town by Forward Swindon, specialises in low-carbon energy and making animal bedding.
It has said its proposals would mean 50 new jobs to Swindon and that the majority of wood burned at the site would otherwise go to landfill sites.
Paul Saunders, who was nominated as a spokesman for the residents, said: “I’m starting to believe this is more conspiracy than cockup. A number of people feel that this whole event has been made worse by the fact they feel duped.”
He said Forward Swindon had attracted a business which was unsuited to the town.
The organisation said on its website, he added, of its expertise in cutting through red tape, which was exactly what it appeared to have done with the Pure Green application.
Bill King, who lives a few miles from the estate, said his community would be used as guinea pigs, as health risks for this type of development were not widely known.
Councillor Andrew Bennett (Con, Ridgeway) recommended the application be turned down because of the lack of information in the report, but he was out-voted by fellow committee members.
“On planning we missed the significance of this and really deserve a smack on the whatever,” said Coun Bennett.
Meeting chairman Coun Colin Lovell (Labour, Lydiard and Freshbrook) said the application looked dull and there was little to suggest to the committee there would be a huge public outcry.
A spokesman for Forward Swindon said: “One of Forward Swindon’s key priorities is to encourage businesses to relocate and invest in Swindon.
“If we can make that decision easier for them we try to, by handling every enquiry individually.
“Depending on the prospective company’s needs, Forward Swindon could help them find premises; introduce them to other services or suppliers in the area; or explain the planning process – it’s all part of a free, bespoke package to help them move here.
“Investment enquiries have increased threefold since this service and the www.swindon.uk.com campaign was set up 18 months ago.
“But we are not the planning authority. We do not get involved in any individual cases once an application has been submitted.
“This is down to the officers and/or the planning committee at Swindon Borough Council.
“We remain independent, doing nothing to fetter statutory planning decisions.”