Community Composting and Planning Permission
This note has been prepared by Devon County Council to provide guidance on the planning process for groups who may be considering developing a community composting scheme within Devon.
Responsibility for planning for waste management activities, including composting, lies with Devon County Council rather than with the district/city/borough councils who handle planning for most other types of development.
 The scope of this note excludes Plymouth, Torbay, Dartmoor National Park and Exmoor National Park, as responsibility for waste planning in those areas lies with the relevant Council or National Park Authority
What is community composting?
Composting is the process whereby organic matter, such as garden waste, is broken down by micro-organisms in the presence of oxygen, resulting in a residual product – compost – that can be used to fertilise and improve soil.
While composting can be undertaken on a large scale by commercial waste operators, the term ‘community composting’ is usually taken to refer to small scale schemes for the composting of waste – usually garden and similar green waste – that is generated by a local community.
Community composting schemes vary in the way that they operate, but often share the following characteristics:
- they are managed by a group of local people within a defined community, sometimes under the umbrella of a town/parish council but also as a ‘stand-alone’ group or as part of an environmental group
- the green waste can be collected from local households by members of the composting group, or the composting site may be able to accept deliveries from residents
- management of the composting process is undertaken by the community composting group, either by hand or using small-scale machinery
- the resulting compost product is returned to the local community, either for free or with a small charge, for domestic garden use
Most councils in Devon provide food waste collections, and it is assumed for the purposes of this note that food waste will not be managed through a community composting scheme. The composting of food waste in the open carries greater risk of nuisance from odours and vermin, with greater regulatory requirements placed on site managers by other agencies.
Does community composting require planning permission?
The operation of a community composting scheme will normally amount to ‘development’ for planning purposes, and will therefore be likely to require planning permission from Devon County Council, regardless of the size of the site or quantity of waste handled.
The only exception to this requirement will be where the composting use would be ancillary to the existing use of a site. For example, composting by a group of allotment holders or a community garden of green waste generated on that site, with the resulting compost used on the allotments or garden, would be regarded as being ancillary to the main allotment use. Similarly, composting by a school of its own waste, including food waste, could be regarded as being ancillary to the school.
What is the process for submitting a planning application?
Advice on applying for planning permission is available on Devon County Council’s website on the ‘Apply for planning permission’ page. An application is most easily made through the Planning Portal, which allows online submission of the necessary forms, supporting documents and application fee.
The County Council’s validation requirements (to which a link is provided on the webpage above) explain the information that needs to be submitted with a planning application – some of this is mandatory for all planning applications, including the appropriate application form and a location plan. The need for other documents may depend on the nature and scale of a planning application and the specific characteristics of the application site (for example, whether it would affect a site designated for its nature conservation value).
For a small-scale community composting operation, the following documents should be regarded as the minimum level of information necessary:
- the relevant planning application form
- a location plan at a scale of 1:1250 or 1:2500 based on an Ordnance Survey plan, with a red line defining the application site and showing the site in relation to nearby roads and properties
- a site layout plan, showing the proposed layout of the site including the access and vehicle circulation areas, and the extent of areas for the composting of the green waste materials and for storage of the resulting compost, together with any physical changes to be made to the site such as construction of composting bays or new boundaries
- the wildlife and geology trigger table.
- a planning statement to explain how the site will operate and how any potential impacts will be addressed – for example, quantities and types of waste materials to be brought to the site; the nature of the composting process to be followed and any use of machinery; hours of operation; whether waste materials are collected from households or delivered to the site by individuals; and measures to limit impacts on nearby dwellings from dust, mud on the road, odours etc.
Devon County Council provides a chargeable pre-application enquiry service to advise on the content of a planning application, with details available on the ‘Get pre-application advice’ page. In the case of small-scale community composting proposals by a non profit making group, the Council is willing to waive the normal fee and provide free advice on the suitability of a potential site.
What is the cost of a planning application?
Fees for planning applications are set and reviewed nationally, with the Planning Portal providing an online fee calculator. Currently, the application fee would be £234 for each 0.1 hectare that the site covers, with a minimum fee of £234 for sites smaller than 0.1 hectare. As 0.1 hectare is 1,000 square metres, or around 33m x 30m, it is expected that most community sites would attract the minimum fee.
How is the planning application decided?
Once the planning application has been validated as having the correct information and fee, the County Council will notify a range of consultees, including the district council, parish/town council and relevant specialists such as the highway authority, environmental health officer and ecologist.
We will also notify the occupiers of nearby dwellings, although it is good practice for anyone proposing a new composting facility to contact the site’s neighbours to discuss the proposal with them in advance of the application being submitted. This will help to ensure that any concerns they may have are addressed in the application.
The planning officer who is responsible for the planning application will visit the site to assess the proposals, and will raise any concerns or issues arising from the consultation process with the applicant.
A decision on the application will usually be made by the planning officer under delegated powers within the 13 weeks period allowed for decisions. An application will not normally be reported to the Council’s Development Management Committee unless an objection is received from a consultee but it is intended to approve the application.
Once a decision is made, the notice of planning permission will be issued to the applicant. This will include conditions that may impose limitations on how the composting facility operates – for example, hours of operation or a limit on the annual tonnage of waste materials brought to the site – or may require the submission of further information, such as details of new boundaries.
What issues will the County Council take into account?
Devon County Council’s decision will be based on the policies within the Devon Waste Plan together with the specific circumstances of the site being proposed.
The Devon Waste Plan’s main priorities are for waste to be managed sustainably by promoting recycling and composting while limiting the quantity of waste sent to landfill or energy recovery facilities, and for waste facilities to minimise the distances that waste is transported by managing waste close to the point that it is generated.
A small-scale community composting facility ‘ticks these boxes’ by ensuring that green waste materials are turned into a useful product in a location within the community producing the waste, and will therefore be valued favourably in principle.
The Devon Waste Plan also contains a range of policies that seek to address the potential impacts of a waste facility, for example on quality of life, biodiversity, traffic and flood risk. The County Council will need to satisfy themselves that the proposal meets these policies where relevant to an individual site.
Is any other approval required?
Any proposal for development involving the receipt and treatment of waste materials may require approval from the Environment Agency in the form of an Environmental Permit, or registration of an exemption from the need for a permit. This requirement is separate to the planning process, and you should therefore seek advice from the Environment Agency on what information they may require. They have guidance on exemptions for composting on their website.