Monday, 15 January 2018

AI delays yet again

Aggregate Industries just can’t get its act together at Straitgate Farm.

In November, we warned that there were More delays to come and last week AI duly agreed with DCC "to an extension of the determination date from 31st January 2018 to 30th April 2018."

What’s the chance of AI’s planning application being determined by then? AI claims:
at present [10 January] we are confident of meeting your timetable for the April committee
But AI has no idea; it’s just wishful thinking. Ever since AI first applied to quarry Straitgate Farm in June 2015 there has been one delay after another. As things stand, AI’s scheme is still undeliverable - for the reasons previously outlined on this blog. No weight can therefore be assigned to AI’s latest claim.

How long is DCC going to keep entertaining this charade? Because:
- not, as in AI’s case, the norm.

Why does quarrying have such a bad name? Take a look at Blackhill

Quarrying is temporary, we’re told; land taken for quarrying will be restored back to nature or farmland, we’re told.

But how many times does that happen?

Look at what’s going on at nearby Blackhill Quarry. Surrounding communities have put up with quarrying for the best part of 80 years or more, with HGVs trundling back and forth through their villages, looking forward to the day when this industrial blot within the East Devon AONB might be restored.

Communities have fought tooth and nail to stop any further quarry development - including processing any material that might be won from Straitgate Farm.

But as soon as quarrying at Blackhill has finished, what do we find? Landowners Clinton Devon Estates submitting a planning application to EDDC just before Christmas for 35,000 sq ft of industrial units; AI’s traffic would be replaced by "around 134 two-way vehicular trips... across the day."

In the mind of the applicant, the prior industrial use has paved the way for more of the same:
The site currently benefits from an existing access road onto the B3180. As a result of the existing quarrying operations and also the adjacent industrial use, the access is able to accommodate HGV traffic. 2.4
Clinton Devon Estates makes reference to relevant planning policies in its documents, but conveniently overlooks point 116 of the NPPF which states:
Planning permission should be refused for major developments in these designated areas except in exceptional circumstances
Anybody who objects to the continued industrialisation of the AONB should make their feelings known to EDDC as soon as possible. The application can be accessed through this link, ref. 17/3022/MOUT.

EDIT 18.1.2018

DCC as Mineral Planning Authority has now responded to the above application. You might have hoped that DCC would have objected, given that the site is within the AONB and adjacent to the SAC, given that AI’s plant area at Blackhill was "the subject of a legal agreement under s.106 of the Town and Country Planning Act which required the operator and landowners to implement a wider restoration and after care scheme...". But no. Legal agreement or otherwise, DCC says:
To clarify, Devon County Council as Mineral Planning Authority would not wish to raise any objection to the proposal so long as adequate compensatory habitat to replace the lost area of heathland is provided elsewhere and that this is secured by condition or legal agreement. In such a scenario it would not then be reasonable for the County Council to seek to enforce the provisions of the legal agreement insofar as they relate to this small parcel of land.

AI has been all over the news recently

In the past we’ve detailed the catalogue of fiction that AI has generated in relation to the planning application for Straitgate Farm.

We use the abbreviation AI hoping that readers know what we mean.

Perhaps we should be more careful. With so many stories about the creativity of AI one might easily think, at first glance at least, that these recent headlines were referring to Aggregate Industries rather than artificial intelligence.

“Safety must come first as dangerous lorry driving hits the headlines”

... proclaimed an Aggregate Industries' press release last month.

But if that is the case, that 'safety must come first', it rather begs the question - since AI has been unable to secure a Stage 2 Road Safety Audit for its proposed cattle crossing, which would be a direct result from its proposals: What's going to happen at Straitgate Farm?

But we digress. AI's press release quite rightly points out that "businesses must pay extra diligence to ensuring the safety credentials of their haulier providers."
Throughout the duration of 2017 there has been an influx of headlines around poor lorry driving which has led to structural damage of property and infrastructure, accidents and, most tragically of all, fatalities.
As part of an ongoing crackdown on bad driving etiquette by Highways England, last month (November 2017) saw one UK County conduct secret filming which worryingly captured a number of HGV drivers using their mobile phones, watching YouTube videos and even reading books behind the wheel.
Ben Young, Head of Road Logistics at Aggregate Industries, comments: “The increase in reported dangerous lorry driving in the news this year is shocking and it’s something that all businesses, whether operating their own fleet or using a transport provider, have a duty to address.
“At Aggregate Industries, for example, we operate a robust theory and practical testing process when recruiting a new haulier which includes requiring them to achieve a minimum of FORS Bronze accreditation - which is followed up with regular monitoring and maintenance as part of our safety programme.
So, how well is AI's safety programme going? Seemingly, not well enough:

‘Switching from HGVs to freight trains could cut air pollution by 10%’

... according to new research from the Campaign for Better Transport, which investigated lorry travel across four of Britain’s busiest freight routes.
Philippa Edmunds, manager of Freight on Rail – a partnership between the CBT, unions and the freight industry – said the government should use this research as a catalyst for future policies.
“This research shows that by upgrading the existing rail lines which run parallel to these motorway routes would allow large numbers of lorry loads to be transferred to rail, easing congestion, improving air quality and reducing road collisions,” she commented.
“In particular the effect on reducing particulates is very important because, whilst the latest euro VI engine technology reduces exhaust particulates, non-exhaust particulates pollution from HGV tyres and brakes remain a serious problem for which there is no current solution, especially for trucks which have large tyres.
“The government should use the findings of this research to feed into its future road and rail investment strategies and in particular to support continued investment in the strategic rail freight network.”
Meanwhile, the government is now considering a "pay-per-mile" scheme for lorries to cover the cost of damage to UK roads.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018


We all want to leave the world a better place for our children and grandchildren.
We all know what needs to be done.
We all know that carbon emissions must be reduced.
We all know that with the planet in the grip of climate change our actions are more urgent than ever.
We all know this because of headlines such as:
and images such as this:

My entire @Sea_Legacy team was pushing through their tears and emotions while documenting this dying polar bear. It’s a soul-crushing scene that still haunts me, but I know we need to share both the beautiful and the heartbreaking if we are going to break down the walls of apathy. This is what starvation looks like. The muscles atrophy. No energy. It’s a slow, painful death. When scientists say polar bears will be extinct in the next 100 years, I think of the global population of 25,000 bears dying in this manner. There is no band aid solution. There was no saving this individual bear. People think that we can put platforms in the ocean or we can feed the odd starving bear. The simple truth is this—if the Earth continues to warm, we will lose bears and entire polar ecosystems. This large male bear was not old, and he certainly died within hours or days of this moment. But there are solutions. We must reduce our carbon footprint, eat the right food, stop cutting down our forests, and begin putting the Earth—our home—first. Please join us at @sea_legacy as we search for and implement solutions for the oceans and the animals that rely on them—including us humans. Thank you your support in keeping my @sea_legacy team in the field. With @CristinaMittermeier #turningthetide with @Sea_Legacy #bethechange #nature #naturelovers This video is exclusively managed by Caters News. To license or use in a commercial player please contact or call +44 121 616 1100 / +1 646 380 1615”
A post shared by Paul Nicklen (@paulnicklen) on

We all know that certain people can have more impact on climate change than the rest of us.

Aggregate Industries says: "We are committed to tackling climate change".

DCC says: "We all contribute to climate change through our use of electricity, heat and vehicle fuels, and there are actions that we can all take – as individuals, as householders, at school and at work – to cut the emissions that contribute to climate change."

What legacy would AI management be leaving if they needlessly put 2.5 million HGV miles on our roads - with the associated CO2 and air pollution - from their Straitgate Farm proposal?

What legacy would DCC planners be leaving if they recommended this proposal?

Could these people look their children and grandchildren in the eye and say I did all I could?
Could these people hold their heads up high and say I was part of the solution?
Because with climate change, as that famous saying goes:
If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.

“We are committed to tackling climate change”

Remember that tweet from Aggregate Industries?

We all want to Reduce emissions! But how well is AI itself doing? We've posted on AI's record before; here, here and here. AI has recently released its carbon emission figures for 2016 in its Sustainability Report and on its new website; both report and website still trot out the same old claims:
At Aggregate Industries we’ll continue our mission to cut our net CO2 emissions of all products.
What this mission is, whether it’s actually going anywhere, or whether it’s any more than hopeful words on a page, is anybody’s guess. But if the graph below is AI’s idea of cutting emissions, we’d be better off without it:

A jump in process emissions may be explained away by AI taking on two cement plants, but look at transport emissions to see the result of the company's effort on climate change. On this front AI claims:

But wanting to reduce CO2 emissions is different from actually doing something about it. Is AI serious about climate change? In the past, AI has said:
2006: climate change… we have a clear message: it’s happening and we have to take action now.
2012: Controlling and reducing carbon emissions is central to a responsible environmental policy. At Aggregate Industries we have understood the impacts of our carbon emissions for some time…
In 2017, AI still claims:
But if that were true, why is AI currently proposing a 2.5 million mile haulage scheme between Straitgate Farm and Uffculme? If that were true, why does AI’s longer term record on CO2 emissions look like this?

François Petry, AI's CEO, says:
Looking ahead, we will continue to look for innovative ways for Aggregate Industries to contribute to solving some of the UK’s sustainability challenges, as we believe we are equipped to effect a real change
Fine words. But 10 years ago another AI CEO said much the same thing - and look what real change has been effected in the meantime. For AI, action on climate change is clearly a task for others.

AI's Sustainability Report says: "We would welcome your comments, suggestions and thoughts on this report by emailing". We would encourage any reader so inclined to do so, mentioning of course the multi-million mile CO2 belching scheme planned for this corner of Devon.

AI appoints new head of Aggregates division, again

In what appears like a game of musical chairs, it’s all change again at the top of Aggregate Industries.

Readers may remember that in July last year AI appointed Mike Pearce as managing director of its Aggregates division, only to see him move on to Breedon two months later. In October we posted "Goodness. Another AI director jumps ship".

Yesterday AI announced the appointment of Pablo Libreros as Mike Pearce’s replacement.

Mr Libreros joined AI last June from LafargeHolcim, as the company’s Director of Growth and Innovation, saying:
I'm looking forward to driving the business forward into a new chapter of growth and innovation in the UK.
Six months on, that new chapter is already over and Mr Libreros has now been charged with looking after the Aggregates division, the company’s PR machine claiming his experience:
...will be invaluable in ensuring that sustainability is at the core of the aggregates business and its processes.
If AI’s unsustainable 2.5 million mile plan for Straitgate Farm is any guide to the rest of the aggregates business, that’s a big ask.

Buckfastleigh dissolves its planning committee because ‘authorities don't listen’

Those who feel that their responses to planning applications in Devon - including the ones by Aggregate Industries for Straitgate Farm - are continually ignored, are not alone. Buckfastleigh Town Council feels the same way, and has now dissolved its planning committee 'because the authorities don't listen':
 “It has been made quite clear in recent years that the carefully considered and well-informed responses to planning applications to DNPA, TDC and DCC have been ignored by their planning authorities in reaching decisions. In fact BTC [Buckfastleigh Town Council] has recently lodged a formal complaint lodged with DCC about its inability to enforce planning legislation and its misconduct in issuing planning notices in the case of Whitecleave Quarry.”
“We feel that by maintaining a ‘Planning’ committee, which is clearly impotent, we are misleading the public and misdirecting any concerns they have. We believe it would likely have more impact if all the individual councillors and members of the public made their own representations to planning authorities (although evidence is limited that this has any effect either!) and we don’t want to be duped into inadvertently acting as fodder for those authorities going through the motions of carrying out statutory consultative procedures, unless our opinion is actually given some weight.

Planning corruption is ‘endemic’ in the UK ...

A former senior policy adviser to the prime minister, Rohan Silva, has claimed that planning corruption is “endemic” in councils across Britain. His comments follow last week’s revelations in The Sunday Times that a businessman with close ties to Labour had been secretly taped demanding a £2m bribe from property developers allegedly on behalf of the party’s politicians. Writing in News Review this weekend, Silva argues that the planning authorities have been given too much power to make decisions that could dramatically affect the value of properties and developments. He writes: “Given that the value of a property can increase by tens — or even hundreds — of millions of pounds depending on what the planners decide, the incentive for corruption among low-paid officials and councillors is overwhelming.” Silva adds: “The depressing truth is that corruption is endemic in Britain’s bureaucratic planning system. In every corner of the country, you can find stories of bribery, with local councillors and officials rigging the planning process for their own gain.
"Rohan Silva's article in the Sunday Times is typical of that form of lazy journalism that takes a relatively isolated incident, adds a heavy dose of innuendo and concludes, with no real justification or evidence, that 'corruption is endemic in Britain's planning system'. Quite simply it is not. Where it does occur it is, in my experience, dealt with vigorously, as Mr Silva would have discovered if he had bothered to find out the facts around the Alpha Square incident that triggered his article.... No system is perfect, because people are not perfect, but Britain's planning system takes its responsibilities and duties very seriously and pursues the highest levels of probity and integrity. Where there is evidence of corruption, my advice to those making such accusations has always been, "please go straight to the Police so that they can properly investigate it".

Blackhill plant to be taken to Hillhead

For those following developments at Blackhill Quarry - last posted about here - DCC has since advised:
The plant area is a specific restoration compartment and the applicant has submitted a revised scheme for restoration of the unfilled silt lagoon and a revised timetable for the removal of the plant to enable it to be moved to Hillhead Quarry without an intermediate storage solution.
The revised restoration scheme and the timetable for the removal of the plant has been agreed with the operator.
The timetable for removing the plant is as follows: Early December 2017 - Main Contractor to commence dismantling the sand processing towers, overhead yard gantry and all six conveyor structures connecting the main buildings; End December 2017 - the above components of the plant in addition to other structures comprising the main buildings, to be on the floor ready for transportation to Hillhead in January 2018; End March 2018 - all steel structures and main buildings to be on the floor or being reinstalled at Hillhead. 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.
DCC has agreed that moving the Blackhill processing plant to Hillhead is permitted development, subject to a number of conditions, one of which is that the:
The principal purpose of the processing plant is in connection with the winning and working of minerals at Hillhead Quarry

Monday, 1 January 2018

The solution is obvious

Far be it for this blog to suggest a way out, but it’s the season to be generous and one solution is clearly so obvious, and treads so lightly on the landscape, that it would be remiss of us to keep it to ourselves.

AI and the cows could work together. Similar partnerships thrive elsewhere:

There would be no noise or diesel fumes; no need to remove any hedgerows or trees; no need to disturb any protected species. It would bring high levels of employment to cow handlers and small bucket operators. Any winnings could be sold as a premium artisanal product, mined by hand in East Devon.

AI would surely be the talk of all its competitors.

Let it never be said that this blog isn’t proactively looking for the best solutions.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Merry Christmas

Nobody can believe - least of all us - how many years this has been going on. The name Straitgate Action Group was first coined by a local journalist back in 2001. Our social media efforts have been going on for some time too. This blog will soon be entering its 7th year. In that time, we’ve made 770 posts, seen readership numbers continue to grow, and collected some 4600 followers on Twitter.

And yet at Straitgate Farm things are still not settled.

Aggregate Industries' planning applications for Straitgate Farm have been mired in problems - not least the dairy cows; the ones that would need to cross the busy B3174 four times a day for replacement pasture as a direct result of the company's proposals. The issue of the cows has still not been resolved - the reason why we posted More delays to come; the reason why determination will now not be before 21 March 2018.

Could the cows get by without needing to cross the road? No. Take a look at this plan: nearly half the farm's pasture would be taken away by the ancillary areas, soil storage areas and the initial phase alone; Phase 1 soils would not even be restored until the final Phase 3 starts.

We hope we know a little more now than in 2012 when we first started posting. We hope that AI and DCC know a little more too.

In 2012, DCC authored a 133-page Southern Area Site Appraisal Report. It was an artificial desk-based affair to make AI’s Straitgate Farm look like the most appropriate site. It was a report that said "Birdcage Lane is very narrow and therefore inappropriate for access…". AI now proposes to use this lane for up to 200 HGVs a day.

But in all those 133 pages, there was no talk of cows. Who would have thought that these friendly animals that helpfully provide us with so much - brandy butter and double cream spring to mind - would now be causing so many problems? Not AI or DCC, that’s for sure.

And who would have thought that there's so much more to these friendly animals than meets the eye, that they could in fact have secret lives?

This book was first published some years ago, but is back in the bookshops again. Apparently, it "will change forever the way you see a field of ayrshires or friesians."

And on that basis, it would surely make a suitable gift for anyone overly interested in despoiling Straitgate Farm for non-agricultural purposes; as Alan Bennett says "it alters the way one looks at the world".

Failing that, and if these delays continue to drag on, this book might be needed instead:

But grown-ups shouldn't have all the fun, so, on the same subject, here's something for younger readers:
Why did the cows cross the road? To get to the udder side.
Why did the cows cross the road? To go to the moo-vies.
And because cow puns are moo-sic to the ears (although for many that's a moot point) here's a few more:
Why do cows have hooves instead of feet? Because they lactose.
How do you count cows? With a cowculator.
How can you tell if a cow is exceptional? It's outstanding in its field.
What do you get when you sit under a cow? A pat on the head.
What happens when you talk to a cow? It goes in one ear and out the udder.
What do you get if you cross an angry cow with an irate sheep? An animal that's in a baaaad mooood.
What did the mummy cow say to the baby cow? It’s pasture bedtime.
What's a cow's favourite day of the year? Moo Years Day.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all readers!

And whilst we’re on the subject... You have two cows

It’s the season to reflect on where we’ve come from, where we’re going to and the world we live in. What better way to help us understand the workings of the world - economically and politically - than by using two cows. It's a technique that’s been around some time to explain all manner of things. Here's just a few, courtesy of the world wide web:
Feudalism You have two cows. Your lord takes some of the milk.
Pure socialism You have two cows. The government takes them and puts them in a barn with everyone else's cows. You have to take care of all the cows. The government gives you as much milk as you need.
Bureaucratic socialism You have two cows. The government takes them and puts them in a barn with everyone else's cows. They are cared for by ex-chicken farmers. You have to take care of the chickens the government took from the chicken farmers. The government gives you as much milk and as many eggs as the regulations say you should need.
Pure communism You have two cows. Your neighbours help you take care of them, and you all share the milk.
Applied communism You have two cows. You have to take care of them, but the government takes all the milk.
Fascism You have two cows. The State takes both and sells you some milk.
Dictatorship You have two cows. The government takes both and shoots you.
Totalitarianism You have two cows. The government takes them and denies they ever existed. Milk is banned.
Anarchy You have two cows. Either you sell the milk at a fair price or your neighbours try to kill you and take the cows.
Environmentalism You have two cows. The government bans you from milking or killing them.
American democracy The government promises to give you two cows if you vote for it. After the election, the president is impeached for speculating in cow futures. The press dubs the affair "Cowgate".
Political correctness You are associated with (the concept of "ownership" is a symbol of the phallocentric, warmongering, intolerant past) two differently-aged (but no less valuable to society) bovines of non-specified gender.
Counterculture Wow, dude, there's like... these two cows, man. You have *got* to have some of this milk. I mean totally.
Therapyism You have two cows. One is a metaphor for your inner child. The other is the manifestation of anger toward a parental figure. You take one of the cows on walks through grassy fields by the gentle ocean waves. The other you beat with an anger bat.
Bureaucratism You have two cows. At first the government regulates what you can feed them and when you can milk them. Then it pays you not to milk them. After that it takes both, shoots one, milks the other and pours the milk down the drain. Then it requires you to fill out forms accounting for the missing cows.
Traditional capitalism You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull. Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows. You sell them and retire on the income.
Venture capitalism You have two cows. You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows. The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island Company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company. The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more.
American capitalism You have two cows. You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows. Later, you hire a consultant to analyse why the cow has died.
French capitalism You have two cows. You go on strike, organise a riot, and block the roads, because you want three cows.
Italian capitalism You have two cows, but you don’t know where they are. You decide to have lunch.
Russian capitalism You have two cows. You count them and learn that you have 5 cows. You count them again and learn that you have 42 cows. You count them again and learn that you have two cows. You stop counting cows and open another bottle of Vodka.
German capitalism You have two cows. You re-engineer them so they live for 100 years, eat once a month and milk themselves.
Japanese capitalism You have two cows. You redesign them so they are 1/10 the size of an ordinary cow, and produce the milk of 20 cows. You then create a clever cow cartoon image called cowkimon and market them worldwide.
Polish capitalism You have two horses. You forge a few documents - you now have two cows!
Swiss capitalism You have 5,000 cows. None of them belong to you. You charge the owners for storing them.
Chinese capitalism You have two cows. You have 300 people milking them. You claim that you have full employment and high bovine productivity. You arrest the newsman who reported the real situation.
Indian capitalism You have two cows. You worship them.
Iraqi capitalism Everyone thinks you have lots of cows. You tell them that you have none. Nobody believes you, so they bomb the crap out of you and invade your country. You still have no cows but at least you are now a Democracy.
Australian capitalism You have two cows. Business seems pretty good. You close the office and go for a few beers to celebrate.
New Zealand capitalism You have two cows. The one on the left looks very attractive.
Greek capitalism You have two cows borrowed from French and German banks. You eat both of them. The banks call to collect their milk, but you cannot deliver so you call the IMF. The IMF loans you two cows. You eat both of them.
There are many many more.

Here's how two cows can explain what's been going on at Straitgate Farm so far:

Aggregate Industries You have two cows *. In 1965 you buy a farm that reportedly has 33 cows. Two years pass. You lose 4 cows. You make a planning application for 29 cows. The application is refused. Thirty-four years pass. The Council keeps a Plan for cows. Your cows are already in its old Plan but the Council wants to make a new Plan. You tell the Council you can only find 14 cows. Three years later the Council removes your cows from its Plan. You protest. Six years pass. The Council wants to make another Plan. The Council puts out a call for cows in Devon. You tell the Council you can now only find 12 cows. The Council prefers your cows to other cows but suggests that in reality you have no more than 6 cows. You engage consultants to tell you and the Council how 6 cows could be removed from the farm. 5 years pass. You realise that 4 cows could never leave the farm. You make a planning application for two cows even though you already have planning permission for 7 cows nearby. Another year passes. You withdraw the planning application. You don’t own the gateway. The Council feels sorry for you and puts two cows in its new Plan. You feel confident this time. You make another planning application to remove two cows through another gateway. The two cows prove troublesome and don’t want to be removed. You are told that removing two cows would destroy habitat for protected species, put water supplies at risk, endanger road users and put thousands of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. You don’t care. You are told that if two cows are removed from the farm other cows would need to cross the road for replacement pasture. You wish you had never seen those two cows. You question the whole two cows business model, having spent so much on those two damn cows. You instruct lawyers to threaten the successful operations of a farmer with 150 cows!

* 1.2 million tonnes of sand and gravel

Blackhill plant starts to come down

We posted recently about the restoration of Blackhill Quarry on Woodbury Common, here and here. Restoration of the operating area was meant to be finished by the end of this year. With two weeks to go there are now signs that work has finally started on disassembling the plant.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Rockbeare update

Back in July we posted that:
Aggregate Industries has been operating its asphalt plant at Rockbeare without planning permission since 2014, and arguably for very much longer.
AI submitted a planning application DCC/3867/2016 in May 2016 to retain this plant, despite the fact that production of the aggregate feedstock is no longer carried out at Rockbeare, or anywhere nearby for that matter, and would instead need to be hauled in from at least 23 miles away.

Should we be surprised? This is the company whose plan for Straitgate entails a 2.5 million mile haulage scheme, but whose new website crows:
Of course, in the interests of sustainability and as the NPPF tells us, development should be "in locations and ways which reduce greenhouse gas emissions".

DCC now says it "should be in a position to determine the application before Christmas, but if not then early in the new year."

The asphalt plant site was meant to be "restored... in the interests of visual amenity". If the application is approved this would obviously not happen.

What would the cost to AI be of not restoring the site back to nature as originally intended? A meagre £10,410. At least, that’s what AI’s consultants have proposed. The money would be payable to DCC to be spent on biodiversity projects elsewhere:
The current criteria which we use are that if the funding relates to priority habitats / species then it should ideally be spent on creating / enhancing the same priority habitat / species as close as possible to the loss. If no projects come forward within a reasonable timeframe then the funding should be spent on creating / enhancing other priority habitats and species in Devon.
It’s an example of 'biodiversity offsetting', or as some have called it "a licence to trash nature". Any gain for an unspecified location in Devon would be Rockbeare’s loss.

Monday, 11 December 2017

LafargeHolcim’s former boss charged

It’s not just at a local level - where planning applications contain a catalogue of fiction - the question of integrity at LafargeHolcim, the company that owns Aggregate Industries, appears to go right to the top.

We posted again about LafargeHolcim and its involvement in Syria only last month, but matters have already moved on.

Earlier in the year, when it was announced that "LafargeHolcim CEO set to step down over Syria controversy", the FT reported Eric Olsen as saying:
French prosecutors would appear to have a different idea, and rather than bringing back serenity, Bloomberg reported last week "Former LafargeHolcim CEO Charged With Syria Terrorism Funding". According to the FT:
You might expect criminals in the sand trade, according to this article in the Independent:
as sand becomes big business, the sand trade has attracted criminals
You don’t expect them at the top of the world’s largest building materials manufacturer.


How many times have you been stuck in traffic between Junction 27 and Junction 29 of the M5? Probably more times than you care to remember. Only last Friday, the M5 was closed again for several hours.

Aggregate Industries’ plans for Straitgate Farm involve hauling as-dug sand and gravel between these two junctions: 105,000 truck movements over 10-12 years, up to 200 HGV journeys per day, to-ing and fro-ing to Uffculme and back, operating on an orchestrated campaign basis.

How well would AI’s plans work when there are queues, delays or closures on the M5?

How many times does this happen? Twitter gives us a clue.

Has AI really thought this through?

Ottery’s fictional matters has been poking fun at the town's traffic problems

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Greystone Quarry

Aggregate Industries couldn’t believe its luck, no doubt, when its planning application for a 10 million tonne quarry extension within the Tamar Valley AONB was approved by Cornwall Council in September. The application PA16/10746 had been validated the previous November. The approval extends the life of Greystone Quarry near Launceston to 2066 and requires the stopping up of a public highway.

A number of objections to the application had been received, including from the Tamar Valley AONB Management Team and from DCC. Natural England said:
The submitted documents may serve to underplay the impacts on the AONB. We therefore advise that you give full weight to the detailed comments that have been submitted by the Tamar Valley AONB Partnership.
The AONB straddles Cornwall and Devon. DCC reminded CC that:
Cornwall Council will be aware that there is a presumption against major development in AONBs unless “exceptional circumstances and...public interest” can be proven that would outweigh the adverse effects on the landscape and scenic qualities of the AONB.
Cornwall Council reckoned there were exceptional circumstances for the extension:
In summary, the development is considered to satisfactorily address the need to ensure that the development is in the public interest which therefore addresses the exceptional circumstances within the NPPF. 73
Read the Officer’s report recommending approval and decide for yourself - para 58 onwards - whether exceptional circumstances were demonstrated. According to the NPPF:
116. Planning permission should be refused for major developments in these designated areas except in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated they are in the public interest.
Being in the public interest does not in itself satisfy "exceptional circumstances"; there’s an "and" in 116 which, fortunately for AI, CC appears to have disregarded.

But AI must have been worried - especially after receiving a backlash over extending the life of Blackhill Quarry in the East Devon AONB. There was obviously a push to get anybody and everybody linked to the quarry to send letters of support; here’s just a handful - see if you can spot any similarities.

Objectors had voiced their concerns at the planning meeting:
“The opposers to the application far outweigh the supporters. It’s loss of a medieval landscape.” Adding that residents’ water quality ‘could be severely compromised’ if plans went ahead, he said the application ‘would be a crime against the environment’.
Those concerns, including the ones from DCC, fell on deaf ears - with 9 votes in favour and 4 against.

... if high polished stone value (PSV) mineral is not extracted from Straitgate Farm then it will need to be imported from elsewhere.
The alternative supply of high PSV aggregate for the Westleigh and Rockbeare asphalt plants would come from the applicant’s operation at Greystone Quarry in Launceston, Cornwall. Greystone Quarry is 70 miles from the Westleigh Quarry asphalt plant and 55.6 miles from the asphalt plant at Rockbeare.
That’s the same Rockbeare asphalt plant that’s been operating without permission since 2014, but as we said in our response to Straitgate's Reg22, this alternative supply:
obviously ignores the 4 million tonnes of permitted BSPB reserves and stockpiled pebbles already at Houndaller [and] in any case, the majority of the Straitgate resource would not end up in the high PSV market. This market is relatively small. Any increased “comparative importation distances” for this product would be dwarfed by the haulage plan to get Straitgate material to Hillhead.
Anyway, whilst AI popped the champagne corks at Greystone, the company must have surely wondered why on earth it hasn't yet won permission to quarry Straitgate Farm - a farm that is not within an AONB - a planning application that was first submitted back in 2015.

It can’t be for a lack of help from DCC. The Minerals Officer has been championing the site since before 2012, discarding a number of other sites for the Minerals Plan that even the Environment Agency highlighted had less constraints. In fact, it’s interesting to read DCC’s objection to Greystone:
… once restored, the proposal would permanently modify the distinctive natural topography of the valley slopes and remove long established fields, hedgerows, trees and a rural lane that make a positive contribution to the scenic quality of views from Devon. During operations, there would also be significant adverse visual and noise impacts of quarrying activity and movement of heavy plant, potentially using using reversing beepers, in between each stage, to create the associated spoil heaps and artificial bunds. Such impacts would clearly not conserve and enhance the quality of the scenery nor the rural tranquillity experienced within the valley.
It is not agreed that the proposed large quarry void, waterbody, bunds and planting would be an improvement on the existing landscape of fields, hedges and rural lanes, the pattern of which is distinctive and positively contributing to the scenery of the area.
You have to wonder why these comments by DCC aren't equally applicable to Straitgate Farm - a farm overlooked by an AONB.