CHANGES to plans for a ‘green gas mill’ at Sparsholt College have been “begrudgingly” approved by councillors.

The decision comes after the energy firm behind the scheme controversially announced it needed to reduce to the size of the site’s education building.

Planning permission for the anaerobic digester at the college was granted in October 2016, but since then, applicant Ecotricity has said that due to the loss of nearly £2million in potential funding, the educational building has been scaled down in size.

The committee heard that the building itself would be reduced by around two-thirds, but both the applicant and Sparsholt College principal Tim Jackson maintain that the educational offering would not suffer.

Speaking prior to the meeting, Mr Jackson said: “Sparsholt College wishes to make clear that the operator of the gas plant, Ecotricity, is required by legal agreement to involve Sparsholt College students.

“The education building approved to be constructed alongside the gas plant was a further addition to the opportunities for learning and skills.

“At its own expense, Ecotricity is prepared to pay for the construction of sizeable, but lower cost, education building.”

However, concerns were still expressed by councillors and members of the public.

Cllr Eileen Berry said: “I don’t think the college is getting the best it can get. The education centre is cheap and cheerful.

“I have grave reservations.”

Council leader Cllr Caroline Horrill, a Sparsholt ward councillor, objected to the changes and was due to address the committee, but had to leave due to a family emergency.

Instead, her statement was read out, in which the lack of consultant advice sought by the council was criticised.

She said: “It is a matter of regret and concern that as an authority we have not sought professional guidance.

“On this we all think we are sufficiently well informed. What has driven four other authorities around the country to reject applications like this?”

During the meeting, concerns over tractors causing travel chaos in the area were also heard, but councillors were told that they could only consider the impact of the specific changes in this application, rather than the site as a whole.

Cllr David McLean told the committee: “My thoughts from 2016 have not changed. I’m going to have to vote [in favour], albeit begrudgingly.”

Cllr Michael Read added: “I think the site will benefit to a degree. The students, I hope, will not lose out.”

The committee approved the changes, which also included altering the type of digesters that would be used, relocating and resizing some of the infrastructure and changing the design of the accompanying education building, by five votes to one.

Following the meeting, Mr Jackson said: “I am very pleased that the Winchester City Council Planning Committee gave full scrutiny to the application by Ecotricity to vary the existing planning consent and approve these amendments. The planning officer had clearly given careful consideration to the detailed submission and recommended approval on the basis of objectivity and logic.

“If Ecotricity obtain the final approval concerning their application to Ofgem (the regulator) this exciting project can proceed.

“I look forward to the additional state-of-the-art bioenergy facility which will be used on a daily basis by our students for learning and practical experience of plant operations.

“I also look forward to the adjacent ‘Renewables and Sustainability Centre Building’ which will further add to the teaching, practical and experimental facilities of the college and for University Centre Sparsholt.”