South Yorkshire Woodfuel

Planning and Regulatory issues

First Steps

The principal issues to be considered are:

  • Emission/boiler certification
  • Visual impact, particularly the chimney height
  • Noise from engines, boilers, handling equipment and traffic
  • Access to the Installation
  • Local ecology

You must ensre that the boiler you chose is fully certified and conforms with emmissions legistaltion

The majority of boiler installers listed one the

Relevant Planning Documents

While it is advisable to consult your local planning department at the pre-application stage, it would also be worth looking at the following documents to check that your project conforms with the policies.

In terms of national guidance, a Planning Policy Statement on Renewable Energy (PPS22) is available to guide planners and developers. This can be found here. The document covers various forms of renewable energy and related issues, but paragraph 24 considers biomass and energy crops specifically. Depending on the location of the installation, it may also be appropriate to consider the Greenbelt policy, as noted in paragraph 13 of PPS22.

PPS22 also has a companion guide, which gives further information and advice. This can be found here. Biomass is explored in depth on pages 80-93.

Regional guidance will be available in the relevant Regional Spatial Strategy for your area. This should give further advice on issues relating to renewable energy installations.

It will also be important to look at planning guidance from your local planning authority. This will set out criteria for locating renewable energy installations, although it is worth noting that currently a lot of these policies are in draft form as local authorities prepare new plans called Local Development Frameworks (LDFs). As for all developments, buildings or areas that are designated in planning terms, e.g. Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, can raise specific issues.

A number of wood based heating installations wil not involve gaining planning consent, particularly where they are small and can be incorporated into existing buildings.

Fuel Storage and Delivery

Traffic

Fuel deliveries are unlikely to vastly increase traffic to the site. Frequency of deliveries will be variable, depending on system size, storage capacity and load demand. However, as a guide a 100kW boiler working at full load in winter will require either an agricultural trailer load per week or 1 hook bin delivery per month. Good access for heavy vehicles will be essential to minimise disruption to local road networks and surrounding communities.
A scissor lift

Storage

  • Subterranean bunker - not visible from the ground but proposals may still require building and planning consent as an 'engineering operation'
  • Above ground storage - visual impact may be an issue, therefore requires screening, and must be secure against unauthorised entry

Flues/Chimneys

Modern wood-fuelled heating systems emit very little or no smoke. However, like all combustion systems, the chimney of any wood burning installation must be:

  • Of sufficient height and diameter to remove combustion products from the flue outlet of the boiler;
  • Of sufficient height to discharge the products of combustion so as not to cause nuisance to people either within or outside the property;
  • Visually acceptable to the planning authorities

If existing chimneys can be used for retrofit systems, there are unlikely to be any planning issues arising in this situation. Existing chimneys can be fitted with a lined flue to ensure their suitability for wood fuelled appliances; vent material must ensure sufficient air movement for efficient operation of the boiler/stove.

Within a smokeless zone (see 'pollution/emissions' below) a tall chimney policy will be in place to encourage dispersion of emissions into the atmosphere. Where installation of chimneys of any significant height is restricted, modern clean-up technology is available to reduce gaseous emissions and eliminate the requirement for dispersion.

Wood-fuel flues can be small

In the picture adjacent the small chimney in the distance services the woodfuelled appliance and the large chimneys in the foreground belong to the fossil-fuelled system that it replaced.
A chimney

Emissions

Regulatory authorities involved in controlling heating installations:

  • < 0.4MW - not subject to control unless in a smoke-free zone
  • 0.4MW and 3MW - Local Authority responsible for authorisations
  • >4MW - Environment Agency responsible for authorisation

The Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968 were introduced to deal with the smogs of the 1950s and 1960s which were caused by the widespread burning of coal for domestic heating and by industry. The implementation of smoke control areas, the increased popularity of natural gas and the changes in the industrial and economic structure of the UK lead to a substantial reduction in concentrations of smoke and associated levels of sulphur dioxide (SO2) between the 1950s and the present day.

It is an offence to emit smoke from a chimney of a building, from a furnace or from any fixed boiler if located in a designated smoke control area. It is also an offence to acquire an "cunauthorised fuel" for use within a smoke control area unless it is used in an "exempt" appliance ("exempted" from the controls which generally apply in the smoke control area). This means that coal, oil or damp wood cannot be used as a fuel unless burnt in a system, which is smoke-free.

Exempt appliances

Exempt appliances are appliances (ovens, wood burners and stoves) which have been exempted by Statutory Instruments (Orders) under the Clean Air Act 1993 or Clean Air (Northern Ireland) Order 1981. These have passed tests to confirm that they are capable of burning an unauthorised or inherently smoky solid fuel without emitting smoke. Use Link for a list of these exempt appliances

Modern wood-fired boilers are smoke free when fuelled with dry wood. It is therefore essential that wood-burning appliances are fuelled by relatively dry material (20-35% MC). Harmonising of European partners own emission and certification standards is under way which will prorvide a level palying feild across Europe.

Under the Clean Air Act 1993 - Part VI - section 45 - does allow Local Authorities to grant exemptions (within Smoke Controled Areas etc.) for "the purpose of enabling investigations or research relevant to the problem of the pollution of the air" - if Catastrophoin Climate Change is not an "relevant to the problem of the pollution of the air" - what is?

Authorisations for larger scale installations can take a number of months to process; technical details and a breakdown of predicted environmental impacts will be required.

Building Regulations

Part J of the Building Regulations 'Combustion appliances and fuel storage systems' provides full details of the regulations covering wood-fuelled heating systems.

General provisions which apply to combustion installations include safe accommodation, sufficient air supply, good ventilation, provision of appropriate flues and chimneys, re-use of existing flues, safe access to appliances for maintenance and repair.

Key considerations

  • Will the installation cause a visual impact?
  • Will traffic to the site increase, how frequent will deliveries be required?
  • Is access to the site adequate?
  • How and where will fuel be stored?
  • Is chimney height likely to be an issue?
  • Will the installation be located within a designated area, e.g. smoke-free zone.