Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Blackhill Quarry: restoration, awards and great crested newts

Restoration of Blackhill Quarry on Woodbury Common continues apace.

Aggregate Industries is even winning awards from their industry colleagues for past restoration work.

However, some might find the headline "No quarrel over Aggregate’s quarry restoration" hard to swallow, after the company fought tooth and nail to cling onto the site - to process material from Straitgate Farm and to dump hundreds of thousands of tonnes of nitrate-rich silt into an area that needs nitrate-deficient soils.

Anyway, it's all good news now; AI has even been finding great crested newts - a European Protected Species - at Blackhill. Readers will remember that AI has something of a history with GCNs:

At Rockbeare, the company found GCNs at the 11th hour as a reason why it couldn't use the site to process material from Straitgate; and yet, at Straitgate, AI still hasn't done a full survey of all the surrounding ponds - as highlighted by Natural England back in 2015.

In AI's application to extend the use of Blackhill, DCC had to advise the company that:
No information is provided in the ES as to whether there are protected species on the application site...
There is one record of great crested newt within 2 km of the site (at Woodberry [sic] in 2001). 4.33
The only protected species recorded within or immediately adjacent to the site within the last ten years is the butterfly silver-studded blue Plebejus argus. 4.34
So, GCNs couldn't be found when the site's planning application was being discussed, but can be found when there are biodiversity prizes at stake. Funny that.

Blackhill Closing Down Sale

We’ve already posted about Blackhill Quarry restoration and how Aggregate Industries’ signs that adorn the area warn that:
These works will involve large mobile plant being active on site for around 12 months from September / October 2017. Throughout these operations no material will be imported into the site, processed on site or taken off site.
But what AI says is often different to what AI does, and finished material is certainly being "taken off site" - as it should, if it’s not to be wasted - and sold into locations elsewhere in Devon.

In fact, 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.

That timetable was formalised back in 2013, but even with four years’ notice the company will struggle to meet these deadlines; the plant still shows no signs of coming down.

Friday, 17 November 2017

More delays to come

Aggregate Industries’ planning application to quarry Straitgate is unlikely to be determined anytime soon.

Perhaps the end game is now beginning to be played out. Perhaps not. Who knows? In the end, the outcome of this ridiculous and unsustainable application may hinge on clauses buried in aged legal papers - as we alluded to in Why the delay? It’s black & white and So, what’s AI planning to do?

That was how AI’s last application fell apart. It looks like it could be the undoing of this one too. In any event, it's likely that matters will be tangled up for months as solicitors to and fro.

As we've already posted, the cows have put AI in a very big hole. Earlier this month we wrote:
it’s been evident for some time that the cattle crossing proposed by AI was not deliverable. It’s obvious that for AI to proceed any further it must remove cows from the picture. And this is where the company has a problem, because it can’t; in law or otherwise.
To remove the cows from the picture, AI would need to show it can gain vacant possession of the farm. The tenants, however, have the benefit of an Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 Tenancy Agreement. AHA tenancies provide succession rights for future generations and are difficult to terminate. Nevertheless, tenants can be given notice to quit where:
the land is required for a use, other than for agriculture — for which permission has been granted on an application made under the enactments relating to town and country planning
If AI’s application for Straitgate were to be successful, the tenants could be evicted from the land for which permission has been granted for non-agricultural mineral-related development; i.e. land within the red line planning boundary.

No such grounds would exist to evict the tenants from land and buildings beyond this boundary. The tenants cannot therefore be evicted from the entire holding; the cows cannot be removed from the picture; the tenants would have no choice but to use land in their control to the south - across the Exeter Road - to replace the pasture lost to them by any quarrying.

If AI wants to rely on the tenancy agreement for Straitgate Farm, that’s clear too. The relevant clause is:
43. Power to resume possession of part of the holding
You can see AI’s problem; part: (noun) some but not all of something. Clause 43 is long, but essentially:
It shall be lawful for the Landlord to resume possession at any time of any part or parts of the land for any purpose specified in Section 31 of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948... for mining quarrying gravel working... such resumption of possession not to terminate the tenancy hereby created except in regard to the land taken.
Possession of any part of the land for quarrying cannot terminate the tenancy for other parts of the land, farmhouse and agricultural buildings. It’s pretty straightforward.

Solicitors acting for AI will no doubt rattle their sabres, invent a hotchpotch of different arguments, threaten the tenants with all manner of things; standard fare when your case is weak.

If the law was on the side of AI it would not need to resort to such bluff and bluster. But what else can it do? The company has backed itself into a corner.

And AI won’t want to leave fate to a Tribunal. Trying to make a case that a Sixteenth Century Grade II listed Devon Longhouse is needed for quarrying would just look stupid.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

“Dark clouds hang over construction industry...”

Confidence about future construction work has dropped to its lowest level in nearly five years.

Earlier this year we posted Is DCC's LAA living in LAA LAA land? We wrote about how DCC had been playing with "housing trajectory scenarios", stress testing Devon's sand and gravel landbank, speculating that if sand and gravel sales were to miraculously jump 51% the landbank would drop below the required seven years in 2020 - thereby helping a Swiss multinational justify a planning application to quarry a small greenfield site in East Devon, when in reality there are currently 13 years of permitted reserves.

Despite DCC's fantasy projections, the MPA has reported that demand for sand and gravel has fallen again. We posted earlier in the year that Devon sand and gravel sales were down 14% in 2016.

Monday, 13 November 2017

The question Amec refuses to answer - even to the EA

The Environment Agency's letter of 9 October to DCC was very clear. Amongst other things, the Agency wanted Aggregate Industries to provide information on tolerances; specifically:
A description of the tolerance levels and interpolation method used to produce the ‘Maximum Winter Water Table’ grid.
Why? The MWWT is the surface that AI wants to quarry down to at Straitgate Farm. It would be the floor to any quarry. As AI does not intend to leave 1m unquarried above the MWWT to protect drinking water supplies - the typical requirement elsewhere - it is quite appropriate to ask what level of confidence AI or its consultants Amec have in this surface, and how this tolerance level has been derived. When essentially only 6 data points have been used to model this surface across almost 60 acres, the MWWT obviously cannot be exact. So, is it +/-1m, +/-2m or more? It's important to know because it could have a dramatic bearing on any working method employed.

As we posted last week, AI has now responded to the EA’s recent letter - at least in part. But whilst Amec is happy to talk about interpolation methods - it still won't address tolerances.

It’s almost two years ago that we first asked DCC the question:
Since AI now intends to dig right down to the maximum water table, perhaps you could ask Amec to confirm the specific level of accuracy (in +/- m) to which their maximum groundwater contours are mapped?
DCC asked AI and Amec for an answer. No answer was forthcoming. The EA’s letter effectively asked the same question again. Still no answer was forthcoming.

With the maximum groundwater contours defining the extent of any quarrying this is obviously a critical point - with so many people relying on the area’s groundwater for their drinking water supplies; relying on their wells not drying up or becoming polluted.

Interpolation, in this case at least, is just a fancy word for estimation. Amec's response says "Four alternative grid interpolation methods were selected... Each of these methods represents an exact interpolator". Perhaps Amec hoped that the word "exact" might deal with the issue. It doesn’t.

What an "exact interpolator" means here is that the estimated MWWT surface passes through each of the six recorded maximum water level points. In other words, the MWWT surface is "exact" in just 6 locations. It does not mean that the interpolation is "exact" anywhere else across the site. No surface modelled across 60 acres from 6 data points could be.

And to demonstrate just that, it turns out that two of those four mathematical interpolation methods "selected" didn’t work. And even for the method chosen, Radial Basis Function:
RBFs are conceptually similar to fitting a rubber membrane through the measured sample values while minimizing the total curvature of the surface. The basis function you select determines how the rubber membrane will fit between the values.
RBFs are used to produce smooth surfaces from a large number of data points.

Amec cannot claim the entire surface is exact, that the error is zero, that the tolerance is +/-0m, because:
In this case the data samples - all 6 of them - are not "dense", far far from it.

So Amec has chosen to stay silent again - even to the EA. What have AI and Amec got to hide? And how much confidence is that going to give local people? 

Friday, 10 November 2017

Is this a level playing field?

No of course not. It never has been. Nevertheless, until now DCC has in most cases made information regarding Straitgate Farm available on request.

At the start of this month, however, we were forced to raise a Freedom of Information request with DCC merely to see, in a timely manner, Aggregate Industries’ response to a meeting Straitgate Action Group instigated with the Environment Agency.

Is this DCC’s way of helping AI win local people’s trust - by hiding documents from scrutiny for as long as possible?
decision-making in the planning world must be seen to be fair, impartial and open when considered from the perspective of an external observer.
There are some basic principles in the planning process; DCC helpfully reminds us what they are:
The planning system relies on ensuring that officers and members act in a way which is not only fair, but also is clearly seen to be so. The planning process must therefore involve open and transparent decision making. The process should leave no grounds for suggesting with any justification that a decision has been partial, biased, or not in any way well founded.
Fair. Open. Transparent.

DCC said AI’s response would be made available in due course - when AI has finished submitting a number of other documents. That may be the end of this week; that may be in six months time. With AI, who knows?

On the other hand, documents submitted by objectors and their solicitors are made available to AI without delay; the further response from Foot Anstey and Vectos, submitted subsequent to AI’s response to the EA, being a recent example. Level playing field?

On the issue of AI’s response to the EA: after their initial objection, the EA produced another response in September. It was our view that matters were not clear, and members of the Group secured a meeting with the EA accordingly. The EA subsequently advised DCC:
we agreed with the Straitgate Action Group that further information should be requested from the applicant…
AI supplied this information three weeks ago to DCC, who then sent it directly to the EA. DCC will not yet make it available to the people that called the meeting.

Why? Is the Council just trying to impede scrutiny from local people? Or is DCC is not interested in any more scrutiny? We know the Council just wants the site delivered; that much must now be clear - even "from the perspective of an external observer". 

Under FOI rules, the Council will endeavour to provide a response "no later than 29 November 2017". In the meantime, the documents in question have now been secured through other means - and are available below for local people to scrutinise at their leisure.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Why the delay? It’s black & white

There are a number of outstanding issues that have caused Aggregate Industries’ planning application for Straitgate Farm to be delayed again, but one is plain and simple.

It’s to do with the cows, and AI’s in a real bind. So much so that as things stand the company’s proposal to quarry Straitgate is not deliverable.

We alluded to this in September in So, what’s AI planning to do? having first posted about Bovine movements back in April.

Straitgate Farm is a dairy operation, and has been so for 80 years or more. If land is taken for quarrying, the farm’s 150 dairy cows would need to cross the B3174 Exeter Road four times each day to access replacement pasture.

This was the number one thing AI had to answer in DCC’s Reg22 request, and in response AI said it would provide a cattle crossing:
To supplement the grazing needs of the tenant’s dairy herd it will be the intention of the applicant to provide a new dedicated route for cattle from the existing milking parlour at Straitgate Farm to the land south of Exeter Road. The new route would include a proposed cattle crossing on the Exeter Road.
AI’s Stage 1 Road Safety Audit warned that:
This could be an additional hazard to users of the B3174.
The provision of a Cattle crossing over the B3174 may have severe impact on the operation of the B3174, which in the absence of assessment is not known. 
In September, DCC asked AI to produce a Stage 2 Safety Audit to show that the cattle crossing would be safe; the fact that no such document has been forthcoming plainly shows it’s not.

In fact, from all the above, and Queues of over 100 vehicles from cattle crossing makes AI’s plans unworkable, it’s been evident for some time that the cattle crossing proposed by AI was not deliverable.

It’s obvious that for AI to proceed any further it must remove cows from the picture. And this is where the company has a problem, because it can’t; in law or otherwise.

The tenants can’t be evicted from the entire holding. That’s black & white. AI has previously confirmed:
The applicant is the Landlord of the Agricultural Tenant at Straitgate Farm who has the benefit of an Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 Tenancy Agreement. 1.2
Under the AHA 1986, tenants can be given notice to quit land permitted for non-agricultural development; it goes without saying that the same grounds cannot be used to evict tenants from land that has not been granted such permission. For Straitgate Farm, the tenancy agreement is unequivocal:
... such resumption of possession not to terminate the tenancy hereby created except in regard to the land taken. 43
The tenants, who also control land to the north and south of the farm, are unlikely to have any intention of giving up their successful dairy operation or surrendering their secure AHA 1986 tenancy. Why would they? Straitgate Farm has been tenanted by members of the same family since 1939.
DCC can’t advance the proposal without knowing how the issue of cows crossing the Exeter Road would be dealt with; Vectos made that clear:
the impact of the proposed Cattle crossing over the B3174 should be assessed as part of the application.
Finally, Straitgate Farm is classified as ‘best and most versatile’ agricultural land. AI’s planning application is for "Phased Restoration to Agriculture". Devon's newly adopted Minerals Plan also states that Straitgate should be worked in a phased manor and restored to agricultural use as soon as possible:
The working and restoration phasing should minimise the area of land not in cultivation, as soil is best conserved by being farmed rather than stored where some deterioration may occur. C.4
And, if DCC only listens to statutory consultees, Natural England is also very clear on this issue:
Phased working and restoration of the land back to BMV can only be achieved if a viable farming operation - which in this case is dairy - is maintained at Straitgate. That’s also black & white.

The cows have put AI in a very big hole.

AI has run into even more problems

Should we begin to feel sorry for Aggregate Industries?

Readers may remember that in August, solicitors Foot Anstey and traffic consultants Vectos, representing the third party whose oak tree (Tree H) is at risk from AI’s plans, responded to the planning application to quarry Straitgate Farm; we posted Highway consultants demonstrate AI’s attempt to use Birdcage Lane has ‘failed’; Damage to 3rd party property ‘would expose Council to legal action’.

In September, AI supplied a revised junction plan which included a pedestrian footway.

This week we were copied into a letter from Foot Anstey and Vectos to DCC criticising those revised plans. They raised a number of new issues; even the gravel path for pedestrians is not deliverable:
In relation to the proposed drawing provided by the applicant, it is clear that it creates even more problems.

Foot Anstey and Vectos also commented further on Tree H - which is not owned by AI but is "likely [to] be damaged by the development and need to be felled." The owner of this oak tree has previously objected to such damage. We've posted on the subject of Tree H before: How AI’s site access plans still have a major problem and Should DCC support a scheme that requires criminal damage to implement?

DCC has already been advised by Foot Anstey that the third party:
... will not allow damage to his property. Accordingly, any development which may cause such damage will be resisted through available legal means, which may include an application for an injunction and/or an action for damages. Any such action would be brought against both the applicant and the Council (in its capacity as the local highways authority), and may also include a private prosecution for criminal damage.
Notwithstanding the numerous additional trees that would be lost on the other side of Birdcage Lane, DCC was of the view that AI's revised plan had fixed the Tree H issue, that it "would not require the sort of construction that would be likely to impact on the tree".

In their latest letter, Foot Anstey and Vectos disagreed:
It is not accepted that the provision of a gravel footway would not harm the tree. There would still need to be a deep dig in the highway area which would harm the tree. This is confirmed by the applicant's delineation of Tree H's Root Protection Area on the Tree Constraint Plan SF 6/5-9 in the Arboricultural Survey Report, within which no works should be allowed. "RPAs... provide a minimum area around the tree which should be left undisturbed during the development, in order to remove the risk of decline and ensure the survival of the trees." (paragraph 3.1)

Local people will surely concur with the closing remarks of Foot Anstey's letter:
With each new attempt to address a problem, the applicant merely creates new ones, demonstrating that the scheme is inherently poorly conceived.

It’s not only at Straitgate Farm that AI’s got problems

Cambridgeshire County Council refused an application by Aggregate Industries to extend a sand and gravel quarry because the restoration scheme failed to deliver ecological objectives:
In addition, insufficient information had been provided on the significance of archaeological interest at the site, the council decided. The site comprised 62 hectares of best and most versatile agricultural land and it lay in open countryside. Mineral extraction had taken place in the area since 2001... The site was allocated for mineral extraction and inert waste landfill in the core strategy and would contribute towards a seven-year aggregate landbank and to landfill capacity... policy stated that mineral working must take place in accordance with a masterplan to ensure the enhancement of the Ouse Washes, one of the few remaining fragments of wetland habitats within the Fens... The proposed restoration scheme would provide just 5.3ha of wet grassland within the application site and would make the objectives of the masterplan undeliverable. Therefore, the council concluded that the application should be refused as it was not in accordance with the development plan.
More information can be found here. It all rather goes against this:

LafargeHolcim ‘UK earnings driven lower by project delays and economic slowdown’

Aggregate Industries' parent company released 3Q results last week. Adjusted earnings were below expectations and LafargeHolcim's new CEO has cut future profit targets:
LafargeHolcim’s new chief executive lowered full-year profit forecasts and announced a strategy reboot for the world’s largest cement company. Jan Jenisch, who took over on September 1, used his first results presentation to launch a review of the group... Mr Olsen slashed capital expenditure, pushed through a disposal programme and appeared to win over many investors to the benefits of the merger. His successor said on Friday, however, that he wanted to focus on “simplification, cost discipline and performance management” and would present a revised strategic plan in March.
Reuters reported:
“We were not expecting Jenisch to move so quickly here which suggests to us that the gap between previous management’s guidance and reality was far greater than we expected” 

Thursday, 26 October 2017

AI’s application for Straitgate Farm lurches from one delay to another

After all these years, Aggregate Industries still can’t get its act together; its planning application to quarry Straitgate Farm has been delayed yet again.

Readers may remember that DCC had been rushing to make the DMC meeting on 6 September, only to be stopped in its tracks by concerns from the EA. Alternative arrangements were then put in place for committee members to visit Straitgate prior to the 25 October DMC meeting; these were also cancelled when AI requested that determination be deferred until the DMC meeting of 29 November. 

It now appears that AI is not ready for that date either, and the application will therefore not be determined before 2018; the first DMC meeting in 2018 is on 24 January.

DCC and the EA are still awaiting information on a number of issues. DCC asked AI for a Stage 2 Road Safety Audit regarding the cattle crossing in September; perhaps it’s telling that no such audit has been posted on DCC’s planning website.

Looking further back, it was two years ago this month that we wrote Decision on Straitgate and Blackhill delayed until 2016. These previous applications were also beset by delays, and were finally withdrawn in March 2016, AI’s intention being that "revised applications for essentially the same development… will be submitted towards the end of March 2016".

Of course, the revised applications were not essentially the same, and did not go live for another year.

Further back still, the Devon Minerals Plan was also beset by delays as DCC waited for AI to show that Straitgate Farm was deliverable.

This catalogue of delays shows yet again that Straitgate Farm is not a suitable location for a quarry.

When will somebody put this dog out of its misery?

Friday, 20 October 2017

AI objects to development in its backyard

The adverse environmental impact of a concrete products factory prevented a farm barn in Devon from being converted into a dwelling under Class Q of Schedule 2 of Part 3 of the GPDO 2015.
The factory had no restriction on its hours of operation or the noise levels emitted an inspector noted. Despite the appellant’s noise survey suggesting that acceptable indoor noise levels that would be experienced at day and night. Nonetheless, it was not clear whether the factory had been operating at night when the readings were taken and it was conceivable that at periods of high demand, the factory would operate 24 hours. The inspector decided that allowing the appeal might lead to pressure from future occupants to try and curtail operating hours at the factory which would in turn adversely affect the contribution it made to the local economy. It was therefore undesirable to allow the barn to be converted.
The article related to application 16/01343/PNCOU, received by MDDC on the 5 September 2016, to convert a farm barn NGR 307104 113338 to residential use. The barn is next to the area used to store concrete blocks at AI’s plant at Uffculme.

It would seem that AI didn’t get wind of the application until November 2016, by which time consultation expiry dates had passed. Even so, on 17 November AI wrote:
Aggregate Industries wish to object to the proposed development as we have serious concerns that should planning permission be granted it would introduce an unnecessary constraint on our business by placing a likely complainant within an industrial setting and thus prejudice our permitted site operations.
The proposed dwelling was clearly outside any industrial setting, and you might have hoped that planning conditions and good working practices would have precluded any complainants

I was only made aware of this application today by a third party, and it is of concern that Devon County Council has not been consulted in its role as the mineral planning authority.
The factory manager has expressed concerns that a residential property located so close to the Blockworks may introduce a number of restrictions on the daytime operations of the site
A noise assessment has been submitted in support of the application but is deemed to fail to take into account the activities of two large vehicles which regularly operate within 25 metres of the application site and which have high noise level outputs... On this basis, it is not desirable or suitable for a dwelling to be provided in this location.
The applicant appealed; their Statement of Case maintained that such vehicles operated to the north of the blockworks, "at the furthest point from the Proposed Development", and:
It is therefore questionable as to how regularly, if at all, Wheeled Front End Loaders would be operating near to the Proposed Development, given that there is no ostensible use for them in this location. 3.1.9
Whilst the Concrete Products Factory does have permissions in place to operate on a 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week basis, with no specific noise limits; it does not give the operator carte blanche to generate infinite levels of noise without any form of action from the Local Authority. Given that we have measured very low ambient sound levels during the daytime, it is reasonable to assume that operations are not going to be louder during the night-time period, as the fixed and mobile plant will be exactly the same, operating on a similar basis (at worst). 3.3.4
DCC prepared a lengthy Statement of Case to support the objection of its aggregate friends. However, the appellants argued that DCC: 

fails to recognise that there are already residential properties to the east of the industrial site; namely Hill Park Farmhouse and Hill Park House, which are some 45 m and 35 m, respectively, from the eastern boundary of the industrial site, and only 75 m and 65 m, respectively, from the production building associated with the Concrete Products Factory and Aggregate Bagging Area. The Proposed Development is approximately 100 m from the building associated with the Concrete Products Factory and Aggregate Bagging Area, which is the main source of noise, as established earlier in this Statement, with the area immediately adjacent to Proposed Development being used solely for the storage of manufactured products. 3.3.6
As such, the Concrete Products Factory and Aggregate Bagging Area are already constrained by properties to the east (Hill Park Farmhouse and Hill Park House), which are at least 25 m closer to the noise generating elements of the industrial site, than the property forming the subject of this appeal.3.3.7
It made no difference. Up against two councils and an aggregates company, the appeal was dismissed.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Of course, tractors use Birdcage Lane too

Picture for a moment how up to 200 HGVs a day would fit into this scene on Birdcage Lane - Aggregate Industries’ proposed site access to Straitgate Farm.

The field entrance on the right is the one belonging to a third party - the field entrance that AI wants to incorporate into its new junction plans.

Whilst this scene obviously doesn’t happen every day on Birdcage Lane - and what AI is proposing would - it was enough to cause a few problems on the B3174.

But Birdcage Lane serves a valuable purpose for agricultural access; people are happy with that - it’s how food gets to our table.

How objective can Mineral Planners be - if they are trained by the industry?

Minerals Planning is about making sure a county has an adequate and steady supply of minerals available - via minerals plans, monitoring mineral use and determining minerals planning applications.

Mineral Planners obviously need to work with the industry - as well as other stakeholders: the public, landowners, and others - to make sure the required minerals are delivered in the best and most sustainable way, whilst managing potentially conflicting plans for land use. They should be objective and impartial. They should not be in bed with the minerals industry.

The minerals industry would of course prefer it if they were, and through the Institute of Quarrying, and Quarry Products Association Northern Ireland, offer various training courses "to better inform mineral planners about resource planning", and no doubt while they're at it, help shape their thinking to be more in-tune to the minerals industry too. As one Regional Director sees it:
I’m a firm believer that if regulators and planners are making critical decisions about the industry, they should be part of it.
Which says it all. But lest we forget, councils are in place for everyone, not just cement multinationals.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Blackhill Quarry restoration

There haven’t been many positives in all this business over the years, but seeing Blackhill Quarry on Woodbury Common in the East Devon AONB now being restored back to nature, removing 100s of HGVs each day from unsuitable roads, is certainly one of them.

Blackhill has been quarried since the early 1930s. Aggregate Industries had desperately wanted to continue using the site, but, when it recently applied to import and process material from Straitgate Farm, it could neither demonstrate the ‘exceptional circumstances’ demanded by the NPPF for major development in an AONB, nor that nitrate-rich material from farmland would not harm habitats on the Pebblebed Heaths.

However, it was almost 20 years ago that the wheels of Blackhill's closure were first set in motion - as we posted in If mobile processing plant can do it all, was the Blackhill extension secured on a lie?:
Modification orders were served on AI to restrict quarrying at Blackhill Quarry in 1999, following the SPA and SAC European nature conservation designations on Woodbury Common; £6 million pounds was paid out in compensation as a result. Nevertheless, AI went on to secure permission to quarry an extension to the site in 2002, and later to process material from Venn Ottery until 2016.
Readers may remember that AI’s first planning application for Straitgate not only claimed that if Blackhill was not used for processing it "would severely restrict the output and product range", but also that Blackhill could not be restored without the silt generated from Straitgate:
In the absence of this development the existing lagoon will remain as a deep, steep sided, angular lagoon, which is incongruous within the wider landscape setting of the AONB and Pebblebed Heaths. 4.1
The claim was of course nonsense, as we argued at the time.

AI claimed much the same thing again for its application some months later to import material from Hillhead into Blackhill:
Should materials not be permitted to be imported to the site, this could potentially result in the processing plant at Blackhill Quarry otherwise remaining under-utilised for the remainder of the planning permission and the permitted restoration not being able to be completed.
Again, nonsense; as we argued at the time.

And to prove as much, there are now new signs up at Blackhill:

So, fancy that. Despite AI’s earlier protestations, restoration "as required by the approved restoration scheme… to allow the site to blend into the wider landscape" is possible after all - even when "no material will be imported into the site". It’s another example of how very little of AI’s planning applications can be taken at face value.

Of course, if no material is now to be "taken off site", you may wonder what will happen to the thousands of tonnes of processed material in these stockpiles.

With AI knowing that these areas had to be restored by the end of this year, it’s surprising that these stockpiles are still in place - when the company apparently sells upwards of 300,000 tonnes of sand and gravel in Devon a year. Now it looks like extraction, haulage and processing of this material was wasted, and it will go back into the ground, requiring some other resource to be dug up to replace it.

As for the processing plant, we posted in July that there was still no sign of Blackhill plant coming down, and that is still the case. This area must also be restored by the end of the year.

Another accident on the B3174

The dangers of the B3174 Exeter Road - the road Aggregate Industries is proposing to use for up to 200 HGVs a day for the next 12 years - were again evident this morning when a car collided with an electricity pole near Straitgate Farm. The road is expected to be closed for most of the day.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Goodness. Another AI director jumps ship

Readers may remember that AI lost its CEO in 2015. The company also lost its HR director in 2016.

This week yet another director has quit, this time AI’s head of cement and concrete products.

Is something wrong at AI? If once is an accident, twice careless, and three times a pattern (to bastardise quotes from Oscar Wilde and Ian Fleming) the loss of four senior directors in relatively quick succession would surely indicate that something’s not right.

And it’s not just the top brass. The Regional Director who had been overseeing the Straitgate project ever since we’ve been involved was replaced last year. At the same time, the Estates Manager responsible for Straitgate also moved to pastures new.

And it’s not just AI. At parent company LafargeHolcim, the CEO left earlier this year after the controversy in Syria. And this week it was announced that the FD would be leaving too.

Plainly it’s not all happiness at this multinational cement giant.

Monday, 9 October 2017

EA requests further information

Following the Environment Agency’s response last month, our subsequent meeting, and another report from Amec, the EA has now requested further information from Aggregate Industries in relation to its planning application for Straitgate Farm.

Monday, 2 October 2017

‘Ministers who fail to cut greenhouse gas emissions should face legal action…’

The government knows very well what needs to be done - but it isn't doing it.
If it takes legal action to force ministers to behave properly, then so be it - I'll support it.
But why stop there?

Councils know very well what needs to be done; some enshrine it in their Minerals Plan:
Devon Minerals Plan Objective 1: …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…
But why stop there?

It’s clear that aggregate companies and their directors know very well what needs to be done. Some sign up to glossy climate initiatives to "Make freight transport climate compatible" telling the whole world and his dog that they will be "avoiding journeys where possible".

If Aggregate Industries’ multi-million mile plan for Straitgate Farm is anything to go by, it’s all hot air.

So, what will force councils and aggregate companies to behave properly? Because as Prof. King says:
If scientists are telling us our current course of emissions potentially takes us to catastrophe, then to stick to the current course is irrational.
The best available science tells us the risks of crossing tipping points rise very sharply between 1.5 and 2C. And that means the UK cutting emissions to zero.
But in actual fact, carbon emitters know they are in the sights of climate litigants; LafargeHolcim, AI's parent, has identified litigation as "an emerging phenomenon in some jurisdictions", and one of its three main risks from climate change. 

And why shouldn’t they all be worried about litigation? The writing's been on the wall for over 100 years. 

Number of people killed on Devon & Cornwall's roads rises sharply

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Birdcage Lane hosts Devon Classic Rally 2017

This tiny lane - the lane that Aggregate Industries wants to wreck in its quest to claw an ever decreasing amount of sand and gravel from Straitgate Farm - was chosen to form part of this year’s Devon Classic Rally. Cars included Bentleys, Lagondas, Aston Martins and Jaguars.

It’s another example of how Birdcage Lane provides recreational amenity.

And whether for walking, horse riding, jogging or cycling, it is this valuable amenity that AI’s plans for up to 200 HGVs a day would steal from people - both local to East Devon and beyond.