Tuesday, 22 May 2018

AI: “We’re at the heart of habitat creation”

Another week, another attempt at greenwash from Aggregate Industries:

AI says it's "at the heart of habitat creation". Of course, people objecting to the company's planning application to destroy East Devon farmland – and ancient hedgerow habitat for protected dormice and bats – will think habit destruction is more accurate.

But let's look at the tree planting claim: AI is obviously in the business of planting trees – it has to do something to make up for all the environmental damage done by its operations and all the mature trees felled in the process.

The company claims "The number of trees we plant is always rising". But it's always worth checking AI's claims. Because, if the company's sustainability reports are to be believed, AI planted 16,800 trees in 2013 (p21) and 3,400 in 2014 (p24).

So... not 4,500 in 2014, and not "always rising".

It’s the level of accuracy we’ve come to expect from AI.

Meanwhile, at Straitgate, this is what's left of some of those 3,400 trees AI planted in 2014:

Planning system ‘not working in interest of communities or nation’

... concludes a review set up by the Town and Country Planning Association:
There has also been a significant loss of public trust in planning. A stark comparison can be drawn between the post-war consensus over the value of planning and the highly polarised contemporary arguments which play out over issues such as housing and energy. This process is part of a profound change in civil society, manifested in declining political participation and a loss of trust in ‘experts’. Clearly planning is not solely responsible for this wider political trend, but planning decisions are one of the greatest catalysts of local political activity because of their direct impact on people’s lives.
If there is one striking conclusion to be drawn from the work of the Raynsford Review to date, it is that the current planning system in England does not work effectively in the long-term public interest of communities or the nation. Putting this right requires a forensic examination of the current planning system and the many myths which surround it. It also requires a clear acknowledgement that the system needs to work in the interests of all. It should not be a system designed for the convenience of those who administer it, although it should be efficient and effective. Neither can it be a system which operates simply in the interests of the private sector, or one dominated by any particular vested interest. It must strike a balanced settlement in which the development needs of our communities are met in the most sustainable ways, and in which all parts of the community have a real voice in the decision-making process. This will always be hard to achieve; but, while a perfect system may be beyond our reach, a much improved one is not.

SLR: ‘Reserves at Haldon Quarry not needed because of Straitgate’

This is a tale that links Straitgate Farm with "42 hot tubs" and a derelict quarry:

At the end of 2017, permitted sand and gravel reserves in Devon stood at 6.2 million tonnes – according to DCC. This represents a landbank of over 12 years, based on a 10-year sales average that now stands at 0.516 million tonnes. If sales were to continue at this rate there would be a shortfall of 2.0 million tonnes by the end of 2033 (the period covered by the Devon Minerals Plan) – before the provision of any of the new sites designated in that Plan. More details here.

Devon's permitted sand and gravel reserves have fallen in 2017 by more than sales. In part this is due to planning permission lapsing at Haldon Quarry near Exeter Racecourse.

This is a soft sand quarry that has been unworked (and unrestored – as these photos show) since around 2007, and is now the subject of planning application 17/03000/MAJ for "a luxury holiday site - including 42 hot tubs". This is an application that has raised a number of objections, including from the Devon Stone Federation who considers that "the proposal would sterilise an important underlying mineral" and remarks:
The future supply profile for sand and gravel is constrained and the recently adopted Devon Minerals Plan has had to allocate additional sites for extraction to maintain the landbank until the end of the plan period. It is clear that there is a potential issue developing in the relationship between the location of the reserves making up the landbank and the spatial pattern of working to be pursued if the latter is to reflect, within geological constraints, the anticipated pattern of demand in the future.
Haldon Quarry has a history of mineral planning permissions, of which the most recent (granted in April 2013) lapsed in April 2017 but with restoration and aftercare remaining to be complied with... the applicant should be required to provide a Mineral Resource Assessment if it is considered that the mineral resource is not of current or potential economic value.
The adopted Minerals Plan establishes that permitted reserves of sand and gravel stood at 7.01 million tonnes in 2015 and average production was at 0.56 million tonnes (see para 5.3.4). The Plan goes on to identify two preferred areas which contain up to 9.2 million tonnes of sand and gravel [Straitgate, with up to 1.2 million tonnes but arguably much less, and Penslade near Uffculme] which together will be sufficient to maintain the landbank over the plan period which runs until 2033… The reserves at Haldon are therefore clearly not necessary to maintain sand and gravel supplies in the County over the life of the Minerals Plan… it is clear that re-introducing mineral extraction back into an area which has become one of the major visitor destinations in the County would be challenging.
It was of course SLR that helped AI with its original planning application for Straitgate Farm in 2015, the application that subsequently had to be withdrawn.

But what’s noteworthy in all this is that the over-provision of 9.2 million tonnes in the new Minerals Plan – to cover a 2 million tonnes shortfall – is being trotted out as a reason why an existing sand quarry near Exeter is now not needed and "42 hot tubs" are.

The Minerals Plan is clearly not providing the "sustainable management of Devon’s minerals" it promised: not if the greenfield site at Straitgate is now being used as a reason why another "important underlying mineral" should be sterilised. As the Minerals Plan states:
Policy M11 expresses a preference for the extension of an existing aggregates quarry to secure new resources rather than development of a new quarry, in recognition of the generally lower level of impacts on the local environment and communities and the benefits of utilising existing infrastructure. 5.3.7

AI’s Blackhill closing down sale distorts Devon’s S&G sales figures for 2017

We posted about Blackhill’s closing down sale last year; about how:
HGVs have been streaming out of Blackhill Quarry in an obvious push to clear the stocking area before the end of this year - when both this area and the plant area are due to be restored.
Whether discounted or not, a substantial amount of material was sold out of Blackhill towards the end of last year, and ended up not only being being transported to ready mix concrete stocking yards across Devon, but also being included in the 2017 sales figures.

How much material was involved? In 2015, in a failed attempt to extend processing operations at Blackhill in an area surrounded by European nature designations, Aggregate Industries claimed:
Blackhill Quarry currently occupies approximately 60,000m2 of surface area for material stockpiling, equating to some 140,000 tonnes of material storage capacity. 6.42
What was the impact of this clearance on Devon’s sales figures?

According to DCC, in 2017 Devon’s sand and gravel sales were 598,000 tonnes – a rise on 2016 figures that closely matches Blackhill's storage capacity.

Last year was otherwise a period of subdued construction activity when, according to MPA and government statistics, almost all regions in the UK – including the south west – saw falls in sand and gravel sales.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Environmental Impact Assessments: Are they worth the paper they’re written on?

How accurate are EIAs? Particularly concerning the impacts of surface mining on groundwater? If the UK is anything like the US, the answer is not very; in fact, mostly not at all.

Major developments, as damaging to the environment as Aggregate Industries’ plan for Straitgate Farm, need EIA. It is a statutory process governed by UK and European Law. An Environmental Statement sets out the results of the EIA process.
The aim of Environmental Impact Assessment is to protect the environment by ensuring that a local planning authority when deciding whether to grant planning permission for a project, which is likely to have significant effects on the environment, does so in the full knowledge of the likely significant effects, and takes this into account in the decision making process.
The aim of Environmental Impact Assessment is also to ensure that the public are given early and effective opportunities to participate in the decision making procedures.
Experts are drafted in to produce these environmental assessments, but invariably it seems councils are told that any impact will be insignificant or minor or can be mitigated away and that everything will be fine. Friends of the Earth bemoan the fact that:
In practice, the ES is often a sales document for the applicant and there have been increasing calls for an independent commission of EIAs to take them out of the hands of those with a vested interest in seeing schemes approved.
The quality of ES can be surprisingly poor, with developers often keen to do the least possible to get the application through, so it is vital local people go on asking critical questions of the applicant and local authority planners.
EIAs are now often contracted to the lowest bidder, with a focus often more on achieving mandated deadlines, rather than on product quality. In some cases, more expertise and resources may be put into winning a contract than completing it, with the important scientific work being done cheaply by newly graduated bachelor’s degree holders or inexperienced interns.
In the case of Straitgate Farm, where plans for surface mining bring risks to groundwater, flooding and a whole host of other things - we’ve already found that AI’s EIA has been riddled with a catalogue of fiction. Consultants Amec Foster Wheeler (now Wood), bankrolled by the world’s largest cement multinational, have produced an assortment of hydrological assessments likewise predicting that everything will be fine:
By working the quarry above the highest known water table and therefore dry, there is not expected to be any direct impact on any groundwater dependent features. 6.2.1
However, despite apparently being "defined with confidence", some of Amec’s predictions have already failed. Reason no doubt why Amec has so far refused to put a number on that level of confidence – even to the EA. Some of Amec’s reports have also been whitewashed.

In the US the equivalent of EIA is the Environmental Impact Statement. In 2006 a study was published – with the support of Earthworks, a nonprofit organisation in Washington DC "dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the adverse impacts of mineral and energy development while promoting sustainable solutions":

The overall purpose of this study is to examine the reliability of pre-mining water quality predictions at hard rock mining operations in the United States. To our knowledge, no effort has previously been made to systematically compare predicted and actual water quality for mines in the U.S. or elsewhere.
The report found that:
... nearly all the mines that developed acid drainage either underestimated or ignored the potential for acid drainage in their EISs. 7.1.1
... most case study mines predicted no impacts to surface water quality after mitigation are in place, but at the majority of these mines, impacts have already occurred. 7.1.2
... most mines predicted no impacts to groundwater quality after mitigation were in place, but in the majority of case study mines, impacts have occurred. 7.1.3
Furthermore, when surface mining was in close proximity to groundwater - as it would be at Straitgate:
Of the 15 mines with close proximity to groundwater and high acid drainage or contaminant leaching potential, all but one (93%) have had mining-related impacts to groundwater, seeps, springs, or adit water. p184
Straitgate Farm would obviously not be a mine with "high acid drainage or contaminant leaching potential", but the point to take away from all this is that the EISs, and those highly qualified consultants in the pockets of their mining friends, had made predictions – and 93% of them were wrong!

Read that in conjunction with Amec’s "there is not expected to be any direct impact" – and no wonder local people have no faith in AI’s house of cards.

Of course, UK consultants might claim to work to a higher standard than their US counterparts or might claim to have fewer conflicts of interest. But what we do know is that Amec is not infallible; we have already seen that. What we do know is that another well respected hydrogeologist disagrees with Amec’s conclusions.

It is for these reasons that caution should prevail at Straitgate - when there are so many people reliant on the site for their drinking water. It is for these reasons that AI’s so-called trigger levels for 'emergency winter working' – which would have failed this year with a dry winter followed by a very wet spring – are a nonsense. It is for these reasons that, if quarrying were to be permitted at Straitgate, there should at the very least be - as originally intended and as standardly deployed elsewhere - a 1m unquarried buffer maintained above the maximum water table; it is the very least that local people relying on wells and springs for their drinking water deserve - given the propensity for consultants to be wrong.

Monday, 14 May 2018

The joy that AI brings to other communities

You don’t have to go far to see the impact of Aggregate Industries’ quarries on local communities.

Our people and the communities in which we operate are important to us. We are committed to being a responsible partner, effectively contributing to improving the quality of life of the members of our workforce, their families and the communities around our operations.
But judging by a long list of objections to a planning application from AI last year, some residents living around Westleigh Quarry near Burlescombe would beg to differ.

They do not paint a picture of AI’s operations "improving the quality of life". Far from it.

Objections to application DCC/4007/2017 to vary the working scheme at Westleigh Quarry tell a story of dust inside and outside homes, of noise, of blasting vibration, of HGV problems on unsuitable roads, of damage to roads going un-repaired, of rules continuously being broken, of a complaints system that doesn't work, even of a "Section 106 condition from the 1997 Application [that] remains unfulfilled".

[This last point obviously won't instil any confidence for those 100 or so people around Straitgate hoping that a S106 agreement would take care of any problems that AI and its excavators might cause to their drinking water supplies.]

AI says that the "communities in which we operate are important to us"; one respondent to the Westleigh application claimed AI treats local residents "with utter contempt".

It was a similar story in Uffculme in 2013 for AI’s retrospective bagging plant planning application:
Arrogance of Company; no local consultation; contempt for local community...
It’s not just in Devon either. Here are two posts we made in 2014 and in 2013 about AI’s community relations in Staffordshire:
The reality is that Aggregate is sticking up two fingers to the wishes of the people of Uttoxeter.
... it is about companies being part of, not apart from, society.
Of course, Westleigh is on a different scale to any operation that would be permitted at Straitgate Farm: It is a hard rock quarry; extraction involves blasting; processing plant is on site; output is 800-900k tonnes pa – roughly one Straitgate a year. It already has planning consent until 2046; but that’s not enough for AI – the 2017 application is looking to extract an additional 600k tonnes over a 9-month period.

But issues with AI’s Westleigh Quarry go further back.

Whilst AI’s application of 2017 made a point of saying that "mineral extraction has occurred at Westleigh Quarry since at least the early 1800s", it made no mention of the Westleigh Quarry Community Survey that was performed – following a long history of complaints – in 2014.

This was an independent survey, jointly funded by the Parish Council, DCC and AI, that produced a long list of measures that, in the community’s view, would improve matters.

DCC is now holding a consultation – Responding to community concerns – Westleigh Quarry – seeking views on two of the measures put forward. Anyone with an interest has until 7 June to respond.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Devon Minerals Plan misleading on “relevant planning history” for Straitgate Farm

Having had years to get its water story coherent, Aggregate Industries’ current planning application for Straitgate Farm is a hydrological mess: The Environment Agency and DCC are still awaiting fundamental information. The documents submitted are all over the shop. Some have been whitewashed. Some contradict others. The accuracy of the MWWT has already been shown to be a joke. The seasonal working scheme cannot work for large parts of the site. It’s a shambles.

Unlike AI, Hanson was straightforward and upfront when applying to DCC for permission to quarry the same material at Town Farm near Burlescombe:
Unlike AI, Hanson did not have over 100 people relying on its site for drinking water; unlike AI, Hanson did recognise the importance of a 1m unquarried buffer*.

Were there any clues that water would present such a problem for AI at Straitgate? There had been an earlier planning application for the site in 1967, but according to the newly adopted Devon Minerals Plan – which designates the site a Preferred Area for future sand and gravel extraction – refusal was nothing more than a matter of prematurity:
Planning permission for sand and gravel extraction was sought in 1967… The proposal was considered premature and refused following a public inquiry.
But DCC failed to mention something. The application wasn’t just premature; it wasn’t just a question of waiting a few more years.

No: In 1967, ECC made planning applications to quarry not only Straitgate Farm, but also land at Blackhill and Colaton Raleigh. These applications related to a total of 1347 acres, of which 844 acres were to be excavated. The need was based – as it transpired – on some ridiculous forecasts. The Devon River Authority (now the EA) objected to all three applications. There was a Public Inquiry in July and August of 1968. The Inspector’s findings, which were endorsed by the Minister of Housing and Local Government, were issued in July 1969. On the issue of water, the Inspector concluded:
408. Bearing in mind the above facts I am of the opinion that:- (b) In the case of Blackhill and Colaton Raleigh sites… (e) As the likely effect on water supplies, as advised by the Assessor and set out below, would be material, and the practicability of the recharge proposals put forward at the inquiry is in doubt, it is undesirable that either of the applications as submitted should be approved… (g) In the case of the Straitgate site… (j) The same considerations regarding water supply are applicable as set out in (e) above. (p) For this reason any approval [for Straitgate] would be premature, and my recommendation not to allow that application also is on that basis, apart from water supply considerations.
It would be easy for DCC to claim that this refusal was a long time ago, that it had forgotten all about "water supply considerations". It would have been easy to claim this, if the manner of the 1960s refusal hadn’t been carefully referenced in the new DMP; it would have been easy to claim this, if it wasn’t for the fact that the EA told DCC about these "water supply considerations" before the DMP was adopted:
Our understanding is that risks to groundwater (and water supplies) were an integral part of the reasons for refusal by the Inspector in 1967 and not just on the grounds that the proposal was considered ‘premature’.
Why wasn’t the DMP subsequently amended? Who knows? Plainly it wasn’t in DCC’s interest: If a planning application for Straitgate Farm was only "premature" in 1967 then surely now – some 50 years later – it’s not. And when you’ve been championing a flagship Preferred Area allocation for five years you hardly want to talk about pesky risks to groundwater; not when you’ve put a line through the 1m unquarried buffer to protect surrounding water supplies.

Whatever the reason, the DMP is obviously misleading on the subject of "relevant planning history" for Straitgate Farm.

What’s more, if DCC was aware of "water supply considerations", why was it so gung-ho on the allocation of Straitgate Farm in the DMP, so willing to overlook the site’s other inherent problems, so ready to ignore the objections from hundreds of people, so eager to rule out a multitude of other sites that the EA thought "may [be] preferable in environmental terms"?

Readers can draw their own conclusions.

* The unsaturated zone above the water table affords protection of the aquifer from surface pollution, allowing adsorption, attenuation and degradation of contaminants prior to reaching the water table. Removal of lower permeability clay layers from within the Pebble Beds could also remove some protection from the groundwater. During the operation of the site pollution may arise from the extraction and restoration activities. The pollution may be in the form of fuel, lubricants and other fluids associated with the operator’s machinery. C3.1

In contrast to Devon, plant move at Dorset quarry will ‘bring climate change benefits’

In contrast to Aggregate Industries’ nonsensical scheme in Devon, the one that proposes to haul each load of as-dug sand and gravel a climate-unfriendly 75km round trip for processing, Dorset Council has granted permission for Raymond Brown Group to move its processing plant at Binnegar Quarry – thereby saving 4km for each round trip.

Dorset’s Head of Planning was obviously pleased to report:
Due to the reduction in distance that the off-highway dump trucks would need to travel there would be a reduction in the emissions of Carbon Dioxide.
and that furthermore:
there would be highway safety benefits because off highway dumpers would no longer need to cross the public highway
When Devon’s Head of Planning eventually reports on Straitgate, no such claims will be possible; in fact, quite the reverse.

Greenwash - don't you just get sick and tired of it?

Greenwash is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as:
Disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.
and on Wikipedia as:
a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization's products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly
Here's a recent example from Aggregate Industries:

Obviously #sustainability is not at the heart of everything AI does, otherwise it wouldn't be planning a ridiculous multi-million mile CO2 intensive haulage scheme for Devon - detailed most recently here.

Click on the greenwash label for other examples.

OK, so greenwashing has been around some time, and AI is obviously not the only offender. But the application for Straitgate is an indication that still, in 2018, sustainability considerations are not driving AI's modus operandi.

Which is disappointing, because in 2011 the UK Green Building Council - whose mission is to "radically improve the sustainability of the built environment" - set up a Task Group to combat greenwash. And who should be on the Task Group but AI.

Did AI really want to combat greenwash? Or was it more about being seen to be doing something about it? In other words, more greenwash?

Devon landscapes at threat from NPPF changes, warns CPRE

CPRE Devon is urging people to take immediate action to object to the wording of a lengthy consultation document – the National Planning Policy Framework - which sets out the Government’s policies on proposed developments and how they are applied.
The campaigning organisation says the proposed new wording of the NPPF is vague and ambiguous and leaves National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty across the South West without the high level of protection they currently have from developers.
Paragraph 115 of the existing NPPF says: “Great weight should be given to conserving landscape and scenic beauty in National Parks, the Broads and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which have the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty.”
But these key words are omitted in the proposed version. The new Paragraph 170 says only: “Great weight should be given to conserving landscape and scenic beauty in National Parks, the Broads and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.”
The consultation is open until this Thursday, May 10. Comments and objections can be made online or by email to: planningpolicyconsultation@communities.gsi.gov.uk

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

DGT concerned AI’s plans could turn Grade I Cadhay’s fishponds “into a quagmire”

The Devon Gardens Trust wrote to DCC this week in response to the Straitgate Farm planning application. The DGT is part of The Gardens Trust, "the Statutory Consultee on development affecting all sites on the Historic England Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest". The Gardens Trust warned:
The water supply to the fishponds comes from a spring located just below the extraction site at Straitgate Farm, a mile to the west of Cadhay. The fishponds have relied on the spring as a source of water for over 500 years. If the proposed extraction disrupts the spring and the water supply, the fishponds which are an essential and important future of the gardens at Cadhay, will be turned into a quagmire, to the considerable detriment of the historic designed landscape.
We've posted about the mediaeval fishponds before. They are integral to the setting of Grade I Cadhay.

We've also posted about how even the 1967 planning application for Straitgate left an area unquarried in an effort to protect the spring for these ponds.

Not only have AI's current plans made no such allowance, but recent water levels at PZ2017/03 - the nearest piezometer to the spring - have put the base of AI's proposed quarry AT LEAST 1M BELOW the maximum water table at this very location. No wonder people are concerned.

Locating a quarry upstream of these precious listed assets - allowing a profit-hungry-multinational to remove a million tonnes of sand and gravel from the hill above the spring supplying water to the ponds of this "glorious Elizabethan manor set in an unspoilt landscape" - is just asking for trouble.

Photo: Matt Austin

Monday, 30 April 2018

AI’s Blackhill processing plant re-emerges at Hillhead, 23 miles away from Straitgate

Since posting in January Blackhill plant to be taken to Hillhead, reconstruction of Aggregate Industries' fixed processing plant - the one that used to blight Woodbury Common in the East Devon AONB and started to come down in December - is now underway at Hillhead near Uffculme.

It is this processing plant that is now intended for each 28.5 tonne load of as-dug sand and gravel from Straitgate Farm. It is this plant that now sits a staggering 23 miles away from Straitgate - a distance which obviously flies in the face of common sense and decency, flies in the face of all the greenwash from AI that "#Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do", and flies in the face of Objective 1 of the shiny new Devon Minerals Plan - which we're told is all about trying to:
secure a spatial pattern of mineral development that delivers the essential resources to markets within and outside Devon while minimising transportation by road and generation of greenhouse gases

AI is currently using mobile processing plant at Hillhead to process the 4 million tonnes of apparently "sand rich" reserves at nearby Houndaller. Even at 300k tonnes a year this reserve will last AI some 13 years or so. But judging by the piles of unprocessed pebbles still sitting stockpiled at Houndaller, the reserve is either not as sandy as we've been lead to believe (and therefore where’s the need for Straitgate?) or the mobile plant is obviously un-suited. On the latter, it wasn't so very long ago that AI said, in its application to quarry the Straitgate resource, that:
New mobile processing plant is to be installed in [Hillhead Quarry] and it is this plant which would be used to process the Straitgate minerals. 3.14
Since then, questions were raised by DCC and by us about the sustainability of processing Straitgate material with mobile plant, and AI has subsequently secured the capital investment necessary to move in the more appropriate fixed plant from Blackhill. In its Reg 22 response to the Straitgate application last year, AI expected that:
the plant will be installed and operational by mid-late 2018... when, subject to planning, mineral would begin to be imported from Straitgate Farm into Hillhead Quarry.
What else is available to AI when Houndaller runs out? AI’s Reg22 response again tells us:
Beyond this, the land 'West of Penslade Cross' which is a 'Preferred Area' in the adopted Devon Minerals Plan (2011-2033) provides a further allocation of mineral reserves of up to 8 million tonnes. If permitted, these additional mineral reserves would extend the life of Hillhead Quarry by a further 20 years, or so.
So you can see why AI would want to site the Blackhill plant at Hillhead. What will be harder for people to see is why the 1 million tonnes (or is it even less now?) of sand and gravel at Straitgate Farm - an uneconomic 23 miles away and less than 10% of what's next-door to Hillhead - is worth the candle?

Meanwhile, for those following events at Blackhill, the photo below shows what the plant area currently looks like. It was due to have been restored to nature by now, but is instead facing an unwelcome planning application from Clinton Devon Estates - as posted in Why does quarrying have such a bad name? Take a look at Blackhill and Objections mount for CDE’s planning application for Blackhill Quarry. Bear in mind, DCC has agreed an extended restoration timetable with AI:
End May 2018 - plant will be completely removed from site. June 2018 commence removal of all concrete bases and ancillary buildings. End 2018 site restoration.

Friday, 27 April 2018

March rainfall will have put AI’s quarry plans even further under water

Groundwater levels from Straitgate Farm’s network of piezometers, which were read this week by Aggregate Industries’ water consultants, are back up to 2014 levels. This spells more problems for AI.

AI is now in its 6th year of groundwater monitoring at Straitgate. Long enough for AI’s water consultants, who started off as AMEC, and then Amec Foster Wheeler, to now be part of the Wood Group.

This extended monitoring programme is not of AI’s choosing. Both the company and its consultants have found the hydrogeology in and around Straitgate Farm much more complicated than initially expected. Monitoring started with just 6 piezometers, and now there are 18. This is all before the winning of any sand and gravel, and all before the monitoring that would have to continue for the lifetime of any quarry.

Anyway, even in this 6th year, AI still has problems.

It’s hardly surprising therefore that water levels around Straitgate have bounced back up to 2014 levels.

It was in 2014 that the maximum groundwater levels were recorded at 6 locations around Straitgate Farm. Consultants extrapolated these levels across nearly 60 acres to produce a guesstimate of a maximum winter water table (MWWT) and - because AI’s plan is to quarry dry, not to quarry below the MWWT - the proposed base to any quarry at Straitgate Farm; a proposed base that does not incorporate the typical 1m unquarried buffer above the MWWT to protect surrounding water supplies.

We say a guesstimate - because no-one knows whether we’ve yet seen the highest rainfall since monitoring started, in our increasingly changeable climate, and no-one knows the accuracy of AFW’s 60 acre prediction; the 1m buffer would ordinarily have allowed for such matters. AI has done away with this safety margin because, of course, it’s in the company’s interest to have the MWWT as low as possible, since it defines how much resource is recoverable and how much money it can make.

AFW has claimed that the current MWWT "builds in a conservatism" and has been "defined with confidence" - but to date AFW has refused to indicate how much conservatism or what that level of confidence is, in number terms, in +/- m terms. In February, the EA asked yet again:
We recommend that a description of tolerance levels is therefore requested again from the applicant to support the planning application and to provide clarity in advance of the Planning Committee.
It’s an important subject - when so many private drinking water supplies are at risk, when water to wetland habitats in ancient woodland is at risk, when water to a number of livestock farms is at risk, and when water to mediaeval fishponds at Grade I Cadhay is at risk.

AFW - now Wood - will analyse the borehole readings in due course.

The results may hold more interest than usual. In February, and even though AFW’s MWWT had supposedly been "defined with confidence", we posted that New borehole readings put base of planned quarry at Straitgate 1M BELOW WATER, specifically that PZ2017/02 was already at a level close to the modelled MWWT, and:
the MWWT at PZ2017/03 has been modelled ONE METRE BELOW current levels.

Since then "Devon had its fourth wettest March since 1910" and one of the boreholes read this week has risen 2.8m.

Elevated readings from these two piezometers have the capacity to significantly lift the guesstimated MWWT across a large portion of the proposed quarry, thereby again reducing the potential resource.

With modified boundaries and elevated floors, it’s about time AI told people how many tonnes it now expects for all this fuss; in other words, the ever decreasing benefit to weigh against the ever lengthening list of problems.

Hertford Bengeo quarry application rejected again by Hertfordshire County Council

An application for a 1.25 million tonne sand and gravel quarry on the outskirts of Hertford has been turned down again. The Planning Inspectorate will now make the final decision. Read more here:
Dr David Adam, an ecologist from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, spoke against the application, telling councillors that particles from the quarry travel far further than its limits and posed a significant health risk.
He said: "Crystalline silica particles are known carcinogens, for that reason they are very safely controlled as an environmental hazard by the Health and Safety Executive.
"They will put safety measures in place to make sure workers aren't exposed too much. These particles are known to be found within a few hundred metres. That would include the play ground and the playing field for Bengeo Primary School.
"You are asking people who have none of the benefits to take all of the risk."

‘New Exeter wonder invention to revolutionise building’

... reports DevonLive. Researchers from the University of Exeter have developed a technique that incorporates graphene into concrete.
The construction industry’s carbon footprint is a major concern with the world’s rapid move to a largely urban population. Already cement production accounts for around 7% of global carbon emissions.
Researchers from the University of Exeter developed a technique that uses nanoengineering technology to incorporate graphene into concrete.
"By including graphene we can reduce the amount of materials required to make concrete by around 50% leading to a significant reduction of carbon emissions."
Further details can be found in The Guardian: Graphene 'a game-changer' in making building with concrete greener. The University of Exeter research is contained in a paper entitled "Ultrahigh Performance nanoengineered Graphene-Concrete Composites for Multifunctional Applications".

Monday, 23 April 2018

The terrible human cost of LafargeHolcim’s operations

Five years ago we posted about Holcim and human rights. Since then Holcim has merged with Lafarge. LafargeHolcim is the world's largest cement producer. It is the parent company of Aggregate Industries, and the ultimate beneficiary of any quarrying at Straitgate Farm. Its operations impact lives - both outside the company and within it.

It is widely accepted that the cement industry is one of the world's most polluting - producing 5-8% of global greenhouse gas emissions; it is widely accepted that:
climate change is one of the greatest threats to human rights of our generation, posing a serious risk to the fundamental rights to life, health, food and an adequate standard of living of individuals and communities across the world.
If it were a country, LafargeHolcim would rank 42nd in terms of CO2 emissions; ahead of the Czech Republic and Belgium; nearly 3 times the emissions of Switzerland - the country where it is based. According to Mark Kenber, former CEO of Climate Group:
But the pollution from cement manufacture, and LafargeHolcim’s record on CO2 emissions, is well known. Less well known is the number of people who lose their life whilst working for the company.

LafargeHolcim makes a lot of claims about Health and Safety; how "Health & Safety is embedded in LafargeHolcim’s operations"; how "At LafargeHolcim, we believe that "if we’re good in safety, then we’re good in business""; how "Health & Safety is our overarching value":

But what is LafargeHolcim’s record on Health and Safety?

LafargeHolcim’s involvement in Syria has been the subject of a number of posts. Executives stand accused of financing terrorism and sacrificing the safety of workers. A number have been charged, including the company’s previous CEO. Another executive was charged recently with 'endangering lives'.

But it’s not just in Syria where lives have been endangered and lost. A staggering 201 people have lost their lives whilst working for LafargeHolcim over the past 3 years - 50 in 2015, 86 in 2016 and 65 in 2017- including direct employees, contractors and subcontractors.

Unions claim LafargeHolcim has "the worst health and safety performance in the industry". They had demanded action and a Global Framework Agreement. However, earlier this year:
We are outraged that LafargeHolcim has broken its word and refuses to meet its commitment to sign a GFA. A GFA would help to build positive industrial relations throughout the company and address some of the company’s most serious problems, including an excessive reliance on precarious work and the high number of workers killed at your operations every year.
If an airline had lost 201 lives in a plane crash it would be all over the news. Why isn’t this?

IndustriALL Global Union

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Determination date for AI’s Straitgate Farm planning application extended yet again

Aggregate Industries must have a Standing Order with DCC for planning application extensions.

Remember, the idea is to 'front-load' planning applications; to engage in discussions and work out what information is required prior to lodging a planning application - not, as in AI’s case, afterwards.

It’s not as though AI hasn't had the time; it bought the farm back in 1965, and has applied for planning permission twice before the latest application in March 2017. Last month we posted Three years on and yet more delays, and this week AI duly agreed yet another extension of the determination date:
... from 30th April 2018 to 1st August 2018
Will this be the last one? Who knows? AI is no doubt hoping to at least hit the DMC date of 25 July, but still has work to do. Last month, DCC said that information was still outstanding on ecology, hydrogeology and highways. On the latter, DCC has requested a new Transport Assessment to deal with, amongst other things, junction designs and cattle crossings:
We have advised the applicant that they should submit a revised TA rather than another amendment to ensure that the TA is clear and up to date.
Will AI bother to count the traffic this time, after the previous work of fiction? Again, who knows? The last traffic count on this stretch of the B3174 was commissioned by Highways England back in 2015, and excludes traffic from the extensive new housing that has subsequently been built in Ottery St Mary.

On hydrogeology, DCC and the EA are still awaiting information requested in February. Boreholes around the site will be read again towards the end of this month. Results may be interesting given that:
and given that a month or two earlier:

‘Cement companies must double emission cuts to deliver Paris Agreement’

Various news agencies picked up on the story; Forbes reported that:
Making cement is one of the most polluting activities on the planet when it comes to greenhouse gases and if companies do not reduce their emissions much more effectively in coming years, they are likely to face much tougher regulation
LafargeHolcim, parent company of Aggregate Industries, is the world's largest cement producer. AI is now a cement producer itself, and claims:

AI may have defined specific targets - but not enough to stop it wanting to put a massive 2.5 million HGV CO2-belching miles on Devon’s roads for its Straitgate Farm proposal alone; not enough to stop its record on emissions looking like this:

It wasn't so very long ago that we posted about the ‘Cement sector obstructing climate policy for windfall profits’.

Carbon Market Watch
More recently, it was reported:
Greenhouse gas emissions regulated by the EU's Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) have risen for the first time in seven years… Much of the emissions growth was driven by industrial manufacturers, particularly in the cement sector, which saw emissions jump 1.8 per cent to 799 million tonnes last year.
For a safe climate we need all governments to aim for cutting pollution to net zero levels by 2050.
Accountability is coming.