Councillors set to consider West Suffolk Operational Hub location

07 Jun 2016

Twenty new sites put forward during public consultation earlier this year have been investigated by councils looking to bring waste collection and disposal facilities together.

Following consultation feedback, land at Hollow Road Farm, near Bury St Edmunds, still scores the highest on service and financial criteria and is therefore being recommended as the best location. The three councils working together on this project are looking to develop a West Suffolk Operational Hub, which would bring together a waste transfer station, vehicle depot and Household Waste Recycling Centre on a single site, close to Bury. A consultation was undertaken in early 2016 when the councils published technical reports showing why they believed Hollow Road Farm was the best option.

People across West Suffolk had the opportunity to give their feedback on whether:

  1. they agreed that a single site for the waste facilities was the best option (48% disagreed and 35% agreed);
  2. they had issues with the criteria and way the sites were assessed (top issues raised were about potential traffic impacts near Hollow Road Farm and opposition to use of greenfield land);
  3. whether they could suggest alternative sites which met the criteria (for example between junctions 41 and 43 on the A14) and had not been considered so far; and
  4. they had comments on the Sustainability Appraisal which assessed potential sites at Hollow Road Farm, Fornham St Martin and Tut Hill, Fornham All saints.

The consultation resulted in 551 responses and 33 suggested sites – six were dismissed immediately as unsuitable for service delivery and seven duplicated sites were already looked at. A range of criteria was used in the original documents to assess sites including, (for example) size and location. Following the consultation feedback additional criteria, looking at the impact of traffic pressure in each immediate locality, was added to help further assessment. All the sites put forward, including the 20 new ones, were scored again. Most of these were excluded on service delivery grounds. Three sites; Hollow Road Farm and Tut Hill plus a new site, land south of the West Suffolk Crematorium went through to further assessment, which looked at factors such as distance from homes, local road network, impact on the landscape, heritage, and air quality. Hollow Road Farm received the highest score, with land south of the crematorium next and then Tut Hill.

Cllr Peter Stevens, St Edmundsbury Cabinet member for Operations, said: “We are extremely grateful that so many people took part in the consultation. As a result we have made changes to the way we assessed the sites and studied 20 possible locations in detail. Councillors will now be asked to look carefully at that research which has led to the Hollow Road Farm site again coming out as the best option before making a decision on the right way forward.”

Cllr David Bowman, Forest Heath Cabinet member for Operations, said: “The consultation responses were extremely thoughtful and in return we have put a tremendous amount of effort into studying them and carrying out more research. We have a legal obligation to provide many of the services which would be at the hub and we must invest in the necessary plant, equipment and facilities, especially as the cost is going to increase significantly due to more than 20% growth in housing – and bins – so we must plan for that future impact.”

Cllr Matthew Hicks, Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet member for Environment and Public Protection said: “We must find a site for the long term future of efficient waste disposal in West Suffolk. Current arrangements are costly and do not make best use of the resources and facilities we have available so we had the challenge of finding a new site as the status quo doesn’t work anymore. We must plan for the future impact of growth as more homes and businesses develop in the area and a site that brings these services together offers the best option.”

On 14 June the Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury Cabinets will consider whether to recommend building a West Suffolk Operational Hub on land at Hollow Road Farm, Fornham St Martin, to their respective councils, which meet on 28 June (SEBC) and 29 June (FHDC). Suffolk County Council already has the necessary democratic decisions in place as a result of their Energy from Waste project.


  • The West Suffolk Operational Hub (WSOH) is a proposal by the West Suffolk councils (Forest Heath District Council and St Edmundsbury Borough Council) and Suffolk County Council (the ‘partner councils’) to relocate a number of waste management and operational facilities to a single site in order to increase efficiency, save money and future-proof waste management for West Suffolk’s communities.
  • Dealing with Suffolk’s waste costs around £35 million a year. This takes into account savings of more than £8 million following the change from landfill to producing electricity through the Energy from Waste (EfW) facility in Great Blakenham. Those savings for the taxpayer depend on a network of waste transfer stations being built near large populations, including Bury St Edmunds.
  • Following research by the councils, land at Hollow Road Farm was identified as a suitable location and a land option agreed with the owner. This secures the price of the land, should any development go ahead.
  • A pre-planning application consultation (considered good practice in national planning guidance) was carried out in 2015 with people living near Hollow Road Farm. Following considerable local concern, the three partner councils agreed to undertake a second consultation, not linked to a specific site and open to everyone in West Suffolk.
  • A West Suffolk Operational Hub is a single site bringing together:
    • o a waste transfer station – where lorries drop waste inside a large shed for transfer into larger lorries which then travel to Great Blakenham;
    • o depot – vehicle parking (so bin lorries drop off at the transfer station and park next door), workshops, offices and welfare facilities for staff;
    • o Household Waste Recycling Centre (HWRC) – improved facility (for example, no steps plus a re-use shop) replacing the one on Rougham Hill.
  • Bringing all the facilities together would save the West Suffolk councils £655,600 and SCC £499,925 a year (before borrowing costs) – the Cabinet reports give details of the finances. The councils would save money from a West Suffolk Operational Hub but, importantly, many of the services are statutory (we have a legal obligation to provide them) so we have no alternative to investing in the necessary plant, equipment and facilities to future-proof the services in the face of 20% growth in housing – and their bins. (The number of homes needing waste collection in West Suffolk is set to grow from 75,000 to around 92,000 over the next 20 years.)
  • There would also be environmental benefits because lorries would cover fewer miles overall across West Suffolk’s roads. Currently they trek to the waste transfer station at Red Lodge, originally chosen when we used landfill, then drive back east to Great Blakenham.
  • If the councils’ decision is ‘yes’ then the next stage is a planning application, which would need to include detailed information about traffic and environmental impacts, how the site would be managed (including how any smells and vermin would be dealt with), safety, archaeological studies and all the other requirements for a project of this size. This is unlikely to be ready before autumn 2016.
  • Comprehensive additional information, such as a detailed Transport Assessment, would be submitted with a planning application.
  • The decision would be taken by St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s Development Control Committee as the Local Planning Authority for this type of planning application. As with other planning applications there would be a three-week consultation period during which parish councils, residents, statutory authorities and other interested parties could submit their comments.

Timeline so far

July 2012: Suffolk County Council report says a waste transfer station is needed near Bury St Edmunds. 

October 2013: Planning approval given by SCC for a waste transfer station at Rougham Hill.

Summer 2014: While a legal challenge is being made to the Rougham Hill site the West Suffolk councils start talks with SCC about whether a shared operational site could be an option. This followed a change in ownership of the NHS Logistics building in Olding Road, leading to a revised Western Way masterplan and need to move the depot.

February 2015: A number of sites were assessed, leading to Hollow Road Farm being identified as the most suitable location for a shared facility. A land option was agreed with the owner to secure the price should proposed development be approved.

March-April 2015: pre-application consultation with local communities close to Hollow Road Farm.

January-February 2016: Second consultation (not linked to a specific site, open to everyone in West Suffolk) set out why Hollow Road Farm had been identified as preferred site. People asked to scrutinise research, comment on it and suggest alternative sites.

February-June 2016: 551 consultation responses recorded, analysed, researched and responses written. Reports updated to reflect the councils’ responses to consultation comments, including alternative sites.

June 2016: Cabinets and Councils decide whether to proceed with the WSOH project.

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