A proposed waste incinerator will limit the number of businesses willing to take up units on a County Durham industrial estate, a public inquiry has heard.

Developer Fornax Environmental Solutions is appealing against the rejection of its plan for a "high-temperature thermal treatment facility for clinical and hazardous wastes" at Merchant Park, Newton Aycliffe.

Councillors on Durham County Council's planning committee voted to refuse planning permission for the scheme, against the recommendation of their planning officers who recommended approval, last December.

Fornax and the council agree there are "no unacceptable amenity or environmental issues" and the proposals would contribute to local and regional treatment of hazardous and clinical waste, where there was a proven need and significant shortage.

The council maintains the incinerator could put off new businesses from the area and cause existing firms to move away.

Read more: Aycliffe incinerator inquiry - 'it's in the wrong place'

Sam Thistlethwaite, a town planning advisor and consultant called by the council, concluded: "There is evidence that the appeal proposals represent a highly inefficient use of valuable prime employment land that will result in an under-delivery of jobs for a site of that location and quality.

"Furthermore, the perception associated with the appeal proposals has the potential to significantly undermine both job growth and investment within the wider Newton Aycliffe industrial estates.

"The significant levels of concern raised by local residents and businesses cannot be dismissed, particularly when many comments relate highly emotive matters such as air quality and health."

He concluded the proposals did not comply with policies of the County Durham Plan, which sets out planning priorities for the area.

Read more: Objectors tell Aycliffe incinerator inquiry - 'it needs to be stopped'

He was cross-examined by Paul Tucker QC, representing Fornax, at the inquiry.

Mr Tucker said: "The allegation is... users that would otherwise come to the site wouldn't come to the estate.

"The question is whether or not bringing forward this proposal would compromise the wider function of Merchant Park estate."

He said he did not agree the incinerator would make the estate less attractive to some businesses and put them off coming to the two-hectare site.

He referred to evidence that a nearby site would not lose value as other "ordinary" users would still come forward even if high-tech or food production firms were put off.

Read more: Incinerator inquiry - 'no evidence' of firms not investing

He asked: "How is there a breach of the policy?"

Mr Thistlethwaite answered: "You've got one of the highest quality employment sites in the county, and you're already effectively removing a cohort of potential B class [industrial] users.

"You'd be compromising its function by limiting the appeal of the site to other users. I don't think we should be doing that with a site of this quality.

"It's our position that there would be potential users that would be dissuaded from coming to the location."

Read more: LIVE - Public enquiry opens for Newton Aycliffe incinerator appeal - updates

He said other operations had not attracted the same level of interest and objection, and the concern was from knowing this plan was for incinerating hazardous waste.

Chartered surveyor Gawin Holmes said he felt the facility would affect surrounding property values and the attractiveness of the industrial estate to new and existing users.

He added: "I believe that if this incinerator is built it will lead to a decline in the reoccupation of these industrial units when they become vacant due to being less attractive because of location.

"This will also lead to investors off-loading these factory units and the estate overall will be less attractive to new investors."

He said the perception of risk would be in the minds of existing and future potential occupiers.

"Clearly there has been large public reaction to the proposal," he added.

"Quite simply the market is affected by perception as well as what may be established fact. This drives the demand for property and has real world impacts on land use.

"A significant cohort of potential purchasers... would not be wish to locate and trade in the vicinity of a waste incinerator."

The firm asserts the perceptions of harm are "unjustified and unreasonable" and fears over air quality and jobs are "entirely unfounded".


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