Power plant is rejected, but nursery says ‘fight is not over’

May 31 2019
Power plant is rejected, but nursery says ‘fight is not over’

A local nursery has breathed a sigh of relief ... for now ... after plans to build a power plant near the school were rejected.

St Philip’s Marsh Nursery, which takes in children from the local area, would have been just 86 metres away from a gas-fired station if city councillors had not rejected Conrad Energy’s plans at a committee meeting on May 15.

But families and nursery headteacher Simon Holmes say that, although they are relieved that the plans were blocked, the fight is not yet over as the energy firm could still appeal the decision.

Plans were rejected nine-to-one by Bristol City Council’s planning committee – made up of city councillors – on the grounds that the “perceived adverse impacts on health” would cause “unacceptable harm to the well-being of local people”.

This was despite the plans being recommended for approval by council officers, who concluded from technical reports that the pollution caused by the plant would have a “negligible” impact on the nursery.

The councillors’ decision was made following heartfelt pleas from parents and staff at the nursery who believed that the fumes from the plant would have a disastrous impact on children’s health.

The view from St Philip’s Marsh Nursery’s outdoor play area of the site earmarked for the power plant
The view from St Philip’s Marsh Nursery’s outdoor play area of the site earmarked for the power plant

Carolyn Magson, who lives in Totterdown and runs Arnos Vale Residents’ Association, was one of the mums at the meeting. Her four-year-old daughter attends St Philip’s Marsh Nursery.

Speaking to the South Bristol Voice, she said that she did not believe the fight was over yet and described the battle to stop the energy plant like “David fighting Goliath”.

It is not the first time that the nursery has campaigned against such plans – in 2016-17, Plutus Energy submitted proposals to build a biodiesel generator near the school, but the firm’s plans were later rejected after an appeal.

Carolyn said: “These companies have a bullying mentality and they think that they can come back time and time again. They chose this area because people think that it’s industrial and less affluent, and they thought we wouldn’t make a fuss.

“This nursery provides such unique care to all children, especially those with special educational needs – I’d keep fighting for this nursery regardless if my daughter goes here or not.”

Another mum, Tracey Gudonis, from Brislington, attended the meeting with her three-year-old son. He had been hospitalised just days before his third birthday after suffering with severe breathing problems.

Speaking to the South Bristol Voice, she said: “It was so terrifying seeing my son struggling to breath, and to think [Conrad Energy] would want to build something like this – there was just no consideration for the local community. They say pollution levels would only increase a small amount, but any increase is not what we need.”

Sarah Hamilton, from Brislington, read out a letter to the planning committee from her seven-year-old daughter, who used to attend the nursery.

In the letter, her daughter wrote: “The planet is already trying to tackle climate change. By putting a gas generator plant that is making nasty fumes go up into the air and making our planet warmer. We are meant to be putting renewable energy sources into place, not non-renewable.”

Sarah said: “As a city, we should be doing things to improve the air quality, not making it worse.”

Headteacher Simon Holmes spoke to the South Bristol Voice about his concerns that an energy plant would “drive families away” and it would set a precedent for other similar developments in the area. He said: “There was very real anger from our families that plans to build a power plant were even considered. Air quality in Bristol is already bad – plans like this are just not acceptable anymore.

“What we need in this area is affordable housing – that’s what is really missing.”

Mr Holmes says that he is hoping that Conrad Energy does not appeal the decision, but he is having to “work on the assumption that they will”. 

At the meeting, representatives for Conrad Energy defended their plans, saying that back-up power stations support the transition to renewable energy by ensuring a reliable local energy supply.

Agent Mark Cullen said the company’s plans did not conflict with any local or national policies, adding: “Your officers have identified no adverse effects relating to noise, air quality or any other such matters.”

However, a council official admitted under questioning by councillors that “there are still health effects” from air pollution below the legal limit used to assess harm.

Conrad Energy’s regional development manager for the West and South West, John Columbi, did not rule out an appeal by the company but said it would have to take stock before deciding what to do next. He said: “We’re disappointed with the result but we’ll have to study the reasons for the refusal. Appeal is an option.”

The generators on the site of the St Philip Street Scrapyard would have operated for a maximum of 2,132 hours per year under a strict operating timetable, producing electricity for local use.

More than 1,000 people signed a petition opposing the development and 262 objections were filed against the planning application.

• This story includes reporting by Amanda Cameron, BBC-funded Local Democracy Reporter

Photo: St Philip’s Marsh Nursery headteacher Simon Holmes with parent campaigners (L-R) Tracey, Carolyn and Sarah