Bexley locals furious at plans to build on South East London nature reserve

A reed bunting seen at Crossness Nature Reserve, Bexley, London, UK
-Credit: (Image: Nicky Wilson)

South East London locals have started a campaign against plans to build a pair of carbon capture plants on a nearby nature reserve. The residents have started a fundraiser to challenge the plans, which they claim would affect Crossness Nature Reserve.

The project, led by the Cory Group, would see two carbon capture plants being built on the Bexley site to offset the carbon dioxide from two nearby waste processing facilities that the group run in the area. Planning documents for the project claimed that the new plants could capture 1.3 million tonnes of carbon waste a year, with the waste processing facilities processing 1.5 million tonnes of non-recyclable waste themselves.

Laurence Pinturault, 62, started the fundraiser alongside the Save Crossness Nature Reserve campaign group and said the money raised would be spent on legal aid from Southwark Law Centre and to attract expert witnesses while making a representation. She said the site is known amongst locals for hosting a large variety of wildlife including the rare shrill carder bee and water voles, as well as breeding skylarks and barn owls.

She said: "This is one of the last remnants of grazing marsh in South East London. The grazing paddocks, which Cory is proposing to make a compulsory purchase order on is a piece of land that has never been built on."

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Crossness Nature Reserve, Bexley, London, UK
The area is known amongst locals for hosting a wide variety of wildlife -Credit:Donna Zimmer

She added: "We are very angry because there are alternative sites. We are talking about a massive, industrial development on a nature reserve, and Cory could develop on the Belvedere Industrial Estate, which is just next door."

A petition against the scheme has also attracted 2,790 signatures from residents. Ms Pinturault said people would like Cory to consider building the plants in the neighbouring industrial estate where businesses could be moved to areas with vacant sites such as Crayford. She added that people were worried about the local Traveller community, which uses the site to graze their horses, and feared they would be pushed out by the new development.

Planning documents on the project from the Cory Group claimed the scheme would result in the area of Crossness Nature Reserve being increased by six hectares of green space. A spokesperson for the group said that all issues raised by the Save the Crossness Nature Reserve project would be responded to fully while the project was being examined by the Planning Inspectorate.

The spokesperson said: “Because of the significance of this project, and the role it will play in decarbonising the UK’s waste, we have applied for a Development Consent Order (DCO), which was recently accepted for examination by the Planning Inspectorate. This examination will give all our stakeholders the opportunity to submit evidence and raise questions about our plans – Cory’s responses will then be assessed by the Inspectorate before a decision is made by the Secretary of State.”

Jed Holloway, planning solicitor from Southwark Law Centre, said he believes the Cory Group have not given enough consideration to avoiding and reducing environmental harm in the project. He said this could be done by building the scheme on industrial land on the other side of the site.

Barn owl, Crossness Nature Reserve, Bexley, London, UK
Barn owls can also be found in the nature reserve -Credit:Donna Zimmer

He said: "The site is not only designated as a nature reserve, it's also Metropolitan Open Land, which has the same level of protection as Green Belt, and a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation. So in planning terms, it has some of the highest protections possible to recognise its biodiversity value and importance as open green space. We’re concerned that Cory are trying to overlook this context and get around the duty to avoid harm to this land as far as possible."

A Cory Group spokesperson said that the group welcomed input on its proposals and has been engaging with residents and businesses, including the Friends of Crossness Nature Reserve, for over a year on the scheme. They added that energy from waste (EfW) played an important role in the UK’s waste hierarchy by generating power for the UK grid using non-recyclable waste.

The spokesperson said: "Carbon capture and storage is recognised as the best option for decarbonising the EfW process, and Cory is proposing to install carbon capture technology at our current and in-construction EfW facilities in Belvedere as part of our commitment to reducing our impact on the environment around us.

"This project has the potential to capture around 1.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, which will not only decarbonise the waste produced by the communities we serve but will also contribute to the UK’s net zero emissions target by delivering negative carbon emissions."

They added: "We look forward to continuing our engagement with all local groups during the examination period and beyond."

The decarbonisation project proposed by the Cory Group is currently in its pre-examination stage, with interested parties being able to register to comment on the project until June 16. The scheme will then be examined by the Planning Inspectorate before a recommendation and final decision is made.

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