Thursday, 6 December 2018

AI loses another CEO

Mr Petry’s replacement has yet to be announced, but as AI approaches the icebergs of Brexit, the company will need to rearrange the deck chairs again.

Again? During the time that AI has been trying to get its act together in East Devon – to gain permission to butcher a successful farm and risk water supplies for more than 100 people for the sake of a relatively small amount of sand and gravel that could only be processed off-site 23 miles away – the company has gone through three CEOs, and will now be looking for its fourth.

Is this simply an indication of how long the Straitgate Farm fiasco has been staggering on, or an indication of deeper problems?

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

AI’s digital presence on climate change

Many consider it important to have a digital presence, and to appear in Google searches. Some pay good money to appear at the top of a Google search. The government, for example, is paying good money to promote Theresa May's Brexit deal on Google when people search "what is the Brexit deal?", but:
... the ad keeps being knocked off the top spot by a campaign group called "Britain's Future", which says May's deal betrays Brexit.
However, whilst Brexit is undoubtedly a cataclysmic mess, the real crisis of the 21st century is climate change and the existential threat it poses to humanity.

As far back as 2006, Aggregate Industries – a major emitter of greenhouse gases – was announcing in its sustainability report that "climate change... it’s happening and we have to take action now."

Since that time, you might have thought this company – with sales in excess of £1bn – would have left an extensive trail of digital footprints all over the internet, explaining its efforts to tackle climate change; you might have thought AI’s actions would, in one way or another, fill the first page of a Google search.


But what should we find? That this blog occupied half of the top entries on the first page of that search, with If AI’s record is an example of corporate action on climate change, we’re all screwed appropriately uppermost.

Construction headwinds

To be fair, it’s not just Aggregate Industries suffering. An indication of the headwinds now facing the construction industry can be found in comments accompanying a £264m emergency rights issue from Kier Group on Friday. The boss of Kier Group commented:
There has been a recent change in sentiment from the credit markets towards the UK construction sector, with various lenders indicating that they will be reducing their exposure to the sector. This has led to lower confidence among other stakeholders and an increased focus on balance sheet strength.
Kier Group has sales £4.2bn, employs more than 20,000, and saw its shares fall 22% on the news.

Friday, 30 November 2018

Controlling the fracking narrative

Readers will know by now that we’re not the biggest fans of fracking. It’s one of the most unpopular forms of development, surpassed only by quarrying.

Despite the UN's stark warning that we must increase our efforts fivefold to avoid a climate catastrophe, some companies have no qualms about profiting from this controversial fossil fuel source – including Aggregate Industries:


For those wanting to know more about fracking, the wikipedia page on Cuadrilla – the company behind 37 quakes in three weeks at its Preston New Road site in Lancashire, the company now seeking to move the seismic goalposts – was helpfully hacked this week:


I have control of Cuadrilla’s Wikipedia page. As made clear under Wikipedia’s Creative Commons licence, anyone who feels they can improve this Wiki page is welcome to update and improve it. I can provide citations/references for every statement that has been made. This update has been made with transparency in mind, so that investors in Cuadrilla and fracking can make their own minds up whether or not they want to pour away their money on this toxic industry.
It’s important we control the narrative and tell the truth.
Here’s a screenshot of that reworked page, before changes were later removed.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

AI’s profits down 56% in 2017; Breedon’s profits up 52%

If the way Aggregate Industries has run its planning application for Straitgate Farm – spending years and goodness knows how much money going after an ever diminishing amount of sand and gravel some 23 miles away from where it would be processed – is any indication of how the wider company operates, is it any wonder that newly filed accounts from LafargeHolcim’s UK subsidiary show pre-tax profits falling 56% to £46.2m for the year to 31 December 2017, down from £105m in the previous 12 months?


Today, LafargeHolcim’s CEO Jan Jenisch was wooing investors at AI’s Bardon Hill Quarry in Leicestershire on its Capital Markets Day.


Investors may need some convincing. In that same 12 month period that AI reported profits falling 56%, Breedon – a competitor run by Peter Tom, a former chairman and chief executive of AI – announced pre-tax profits increasing 52% to £71.2 million, up from £46.8 million in the previous 12 months. Breedon’s profits were achieved on sales of £652 million, AI’s profits were on sales of £1.2 billion. Both companies operate around 60 quarries each, but evidently, based on these results, Breedon is running the more efficient operation, with a pre-tax margin of almost 11%, compared with AI's of less than 4%.

At the time Breedon released its results, it said: "We look to 2018 and beyond with confidence and optimism." At the time AI released theirs, the company predicted that in 2018 "demand levels for our products and services will be, at best, flat." And not just that:
…the slowing economy and the uncertainty emanating from the decision to leave the European Union is expected to suppress investment in the short term.
In addition, it is anticipated that input costs, particularly oil related and energy will increase at levels well above inflation.
Clearly, AI has some problems on its hands, as it sails into the stormy seas caused by Brexit. It does however have a cunning plan:
… we have instigated a number of initiatives aimed at reducing the overall cost base of the business. These are focussed, principally, in the operational excellence, procurement, logistics and sales and general administration functions.
If logistics still includes their expensive 2.5 million mile haulage plans for East Devon, you do wonder what difference any of those initiatives will make.

AI’s idea of Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) refers to how a company may think about its relationship with the community, the environment and other causes beyond its own profitability and growth…
The sorts of CSR issues that (particularly large) companies seek to address will include things like: Engaging with stakeholders in the community…


Drakelands’ rescue – talks seek to reduce restoration bond

In October, we posted about the troubles of Wolf Minerals, how Drakelands Mine owner ceases trading and appoints administrators and asking Who would take on Drakelands?

Readers may remember that this was the mine that caused local residents to endure the "horrendous invasive unacceptable" impact of blasting and low frequency noise; we posted about this in What happened last time DCC approved a major minerals application?

Over £100 million has been poured into this failing venture. Question marks now hang over the future of the site, and its restoration. The Telegraph reports that a Swiss-based investment fund has shown interest in taking on the mine, but that:
… talks have hit a snag over the cost of restoring the land after its working life has finished… it is thought a trio of banks that are among Wolf’s secured creditors are wrangling over the size of a bond being held in account to pay for restoration of the site after mining has finished… Around £14m has been deposited for safekeeping but it is thought the banks - Unicredit, ING and Caterpillar - want this reduced to £11.5m.
In 2016, DCC had stated:
6.135 There is already in existence a restoration bond with Wolf Minerals which was required as a part of the original legal agreement associated with the 1986 planning permission…. The value of the bond was calculated by the Mineral Valuer in 2014 to be in the region of £15 million… the operator has already posted the full amount into an Escrow Account to ensure that the finance remains available for this purpose.
The Telegraph quotes Gary Streeter, MP for the area, as saying:
It’s very important to that local economy that this mine continues. We want to get the tungsten out, get the value from it, and put the countryside back together… I’m not in favour of reducing the bond but if it has to be reduced slightly to make this project work, then we’ll have to accept that - but that’s be to negotiated.
Not everyone will be happy that putting the Devon countryside back together – facilitated by a restoration bond lodged for safekeeping in an escrow account – is now up for negotiation, in order to appease various global banking interests.

AI asks ‘could green concrete be the answer’?

Amid a growing public consciousness around the importance of sustainability, it is becoming increasingly critical for the construction industry to go beyond compliance and adapt its business approach to incorporate a more environmentally friendly stance.
Not to be overlooked, concrete specification can have a major role to play in this; helping to not only vastly reduce the requirement for quarried material, but also the overall associated carbon footprint.
Balancing the need for economic growth with sustainability remains one of the most pressing challenges facing the modern construction world…
For instance, recent years have seen the growing use of concrete made from secondary aggregate - materials which would otherwise become landfill – which in accordance with BREEAM specifications means it can be counted towards the recycled aggregate content of a build project.
Using secondary aggregates in the concrete mix also replaces the need for quarried natural aggregate and in doing so can reduce CO2 emissions in buildings by up to 10%, as by being up to 50% lighter than natural aggregate, it means fewer truck journeys are needed to transport construction materials – resulting in significant cost savings for the build.
Amid recent reports showing that almost two-thirds of businesses operating in the UK construction sector are now more committed than ever before on taking action on sustainability, the direction of travel for the industry is clear - reducing carbon emissions needs to be at the heart of everything we do.
This is, of course, from the same company planning a 2.5 MILLION MILE climate-busting haulage scheme across Devon.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

‘AI warns public not to wander onto access road following a number of incidents’

Aggregate Industries wants to turn a quiet rural lane in East Devon – a lane used by the public for dog-walking, jogging, horse riding, etc, and by school children waiting for and being dropped-off by buses – into a site access road for up to 200 HGV movements a day. What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty, according to AI. The company already has problems with an access road elsewhere:
Matthew Sharpe, Quarry Operations Manager at Aggregate Industries, comments: "We take the issue of public safety incredibly seriously and would like to warn visitors of the dangers of wandering off the designated footpaths on to high-traffic access roads following a number of incidents in recent years which have raised concerns."
We have advanced safer alternative plans that would avoid members of the public – including children – having to walk on roads used to transport quarry materials. To date, these plans have fallen on deaf ears – undermining those public safety claims from AI.

Here's the photo MP Sir Hugo Swire tweeted after his recent meeting with AI and its highways consultant where these access arrangements were discussed. Hugo Swire had previously written that "road safety and the transport of children is causing me real concern". We can only imagine what the representative from AI is telling our MP:
the school children would be... er... right there... er... umm yes, that is where our 44-tonne artics would umm enter and umm exit the site... but... er... we do take the issue of public safety incredibly seriously... incidents on access roads elsewhere?... er... er... er... well, now you come to mention it, we have had a spot of bother in Cambridge... umm... but we do take the issue of public safety incredibly seriously...

Friday, 23 November 2018

Bid to create world’s first ultra-low emission quarry

None of this post will interest Aggregate Industries.

You only have to take a look at AI’s record on CO2 emissions and its multi-million mile haulage plans for Straitgate Farm to see how much interest AI has in tackling climate change.

Almost every day another climate-related disaster seems to hit the headlines. After the devastating California wildfires: Rain now brings threat of mudslides.

Yesterday, the the World Meteorological Organization reported that carbon dioxide levels reached 405 parts per million (ppm) in 2017:
"The science is clear. Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gases, climate change will have increasingly destructive and irreversible impacts on life on Earth. The window of opportunity for action is almost closed."
"Every fraction of a degree of global warming matters, and so does every part per million of greenhouse gases," said WMO deputy secretary general, Elena Manaenkova. "CO2 remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years and in the oceans for even longer."


"No-one can opt out anymore," said Dr Debra Roberts, who's a co-chair of the IPCC. "We all have to fundamentally change the way we live our lives; we can't remain remote from the problem anymore."
But if AI is not taking this existential threat to humanity seriously, some companies are.

For decades, Vikan Kross quarry just outside Gothenburg has been excavated for granite and aggregates, producing around 1.25 million tonnes of material each year for use in the construction, asphalt, and cement industries. And, just like any other mining site around the world, a raft of diesel-guzzling heavy machinery has traditionally been used to carry out the hefty, load-bearing work.
The site is Skanska's oldest and largest quarry in Sweden, but for the past 10 weeks or so, the construction and engineering giant has been piloting new electric and autonomous machinery at the site - including excavators, crushers and load carriers - in the hope a new wave of clean technologies can cut costs, emissions and air pollution. The plan is to turn Vikran Kross into the world's first emissions-free quarry...
Research had suggested the project would be able to reduce CO2 emissions from the quarry by 95 per cent... "Based on the measurements we have seen so far, we believe we could even go up to a 98 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions"
Even if it's just a research project at this stage, that's remarkable stuff, even more so when you consider that a "70% reduction in energy cost and a 40% reduction in operator cost" was also achieved.


In comparison, and after announcing in 2006 that "climate change... it’s happening and we have to take action now", what has AI achieved over the last few years to help us avoid a climate catastrophe?
2011: We set a target in 2008 to reduce our total carbon emissions on a per tonne basis by 20% with 2008 as a baseline… In 2009 this stayed relatively flat but since then has steadily increased...
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... Worryingly, carbon emissions associated with logistics within our business have been working against trend, rising steadily for the last four years on a per tonne basis... By 2016 we will reduce process carbon emissions by 20% on 2012 levels in absolute terms.
2015: Absolute process carbon emissions continue to rise and are 20% above the 2012 baseline.

AI’s application to quarry Straitgate Farm – determination date delayed for 6th time




... there’s little evidence that anything has progressed during this latest extension period. According to Cllr John Hart, in his letter to MP Sir Hugo Swire of 21 September 2018, DCC is still awaiting information on hydrogeology, flooding, working practices, ecology and a range of transport matters, including "the cattle crossing issue." Readers may remember that we first posted about Bovine movements in April 2017, having previously raised the problem in our response of 30 March 2017. This link gives the story to date. We warned of More delays to come, but AI has already had a staggering 18 months to resolve this matter. How much more time will it need?
Indeed. How much more time will it need? Another month? Another year? Another 5 years? Who knows how many more extensions Aggregate Industries will need to get its act together? In the meantime, the 6th extension to the determination date for the current application has been agreed between AI and DCC – this time to 31st March 2019

Readers will remember that AI's previous application for Straitgate Farm was lodged in 2015. That was dogged by delays too, before being withdrawn. Exactly how many years are DCC going to entertain all this? At what point is someone going to say 'enough is enough'?

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

What Twitterstorm did we unleash on AI to provoke our blocking?






People will no doubt think that we must have bombarded AI with thousands of tweets to provoke such action. And if not, why not?

Looking back though, we’re disappointed to find that we directed only 13 tweets to @AggregateUK in 2018, and just 9 in 2017. We really should have been trying harder!

Plainly though, that was 22 tweets too many for AI and its social media experts; AI no longer wants to hear anything else from this group, thank you very much.

Some might regard such action from this aggregates giant as churlish – blocking a group that was doing no more than raising genuine concerns from a local community at risk of being impacted by intrusive quarry plans. AI claims:
But we’ve been following things for long enough now to know how hollow that statement is. If communities were important to AI, it would want to keep all social media channels open – not only to hear concerns, but to do something about them.

But "All is fair in love and war" as they say. Twitter is the corporate weapon of choice to push rhetoric and spin. No self-respecting cement conglomerate could have a poxy action group sullying its propaganda. Something we said must have hit home.

Here are a few more of those 13 nasty tweets we sent to @AggregateUK in 2018:



Remember GCNs and why AI couldn’t use Rockbeare to process Straitgate material?

For many years, Rockbeare had been earmarked, both by Devon County Council and Aggregate Industries, to process material from Straitgate Farm. As far back as 2003, in a last ditch attempt to keep Straitgate in the previous Devon Minerals Plan, AI had said:
It is this Company’s view that there is an inextricable link between Straitgate Farm and the Rockbeare Minerals Working Area... It is the Company’s intention to transfer plant to Rockbeare as soon as working is completed at Blackhill... Working the reserve at Straitgate Farm initially and possibly wholly through our existing mineral site at Rockbeare we believe is both efficient and has environmental benefits.
Straitgate Farm was put in the current Minerals Plan on the basis of the availability of a nearby site for processing the sand and gravel. At that Plan’s Examination Hearings in 2016, AI hoodwinked the Inspector, telling him it "wouldn’t wish to rule out" Rockbeare. But a month later, Waycon Precast Ltd submitted a planning application for Rockbeare – leasing the site from AI for a new precast concrete manufacturing plant. The application had obviously been in the pipeline for some time.

Therefore, when AI, in the same year, lost the argument over continued processing at Blackhill, the only remaining site available to house the relocated processing plant was at Hillhead near Uffculme. This now means that if Straitgate ever got the go-ahead, every load of as-dug material, which would include 20% waste, would require a round trip of 46 miles for processing; every finished load would have effectively travelled 58 miles before any onward delivery. Utterly ridiculous and utterly unsustainable.

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust

And GCNs? When AI was previously trying to argue why it shouldn't use Rockbeare – why it should continue processing at Blackhill, a factory with hundreds of HGV movements in the middle of an AONB and conservation area of European importance – the company suddenly went looking for, and had the good fortune of finding, some great crested newts. We posted about it in You couldn’t make this up!
It was remarkable really, because AI wouldn’t look for newts properly to support its application to quarry Straitgate – and still hasn’t – but didn’t hesitate to look for them at Rockbeare, which at the time wasn’t the subject of a planning application.

And it was a similar story at Blackhill, where GCNs couldn't be found when the site's planning application was being discussed, but could suddenly be found when that wasn’t on the table anymore, but biodiversity prizes were.

Of course, the presence of newts at Rockbeare did not have to block the site being used for mineral processing. Natural England told AI that the issue could be "addressed through European Protected Species licencing", in the same way the dormice – another protected species – would be at Straitgate, in the same way that Midland Quarry Products has just been granted a licence to translocate great crested newts at its quarry in Shropshire.

But once GCNs had been found at Rockbeare, and when you see that AI was recently forced to spend £425,000 to relocate reptiles from its Isle of Grain terminal site in Kent, you know what Rockbeare was all about. It was about money; the economic benefits that would fall to AI – leasing the site to a third party and avoiding the costs of moving GCNs. It was about what was right for AI, not what was right for Devon. It was about the profit that would accrue to LafargeHolcim’s bank balance in Switzerland, so that Devon could benefit from the diesel pollution of HGVs labouring back and forth on a 2.5 million mile haulage scheme, and the world’s broken climate could benefit from thousands of tonnes of CO2. Thank you Aggregate Industries. It’s good to know how much you care.

AI’s Westleigh application to be decided next week

Aggregate Industries' Westleigh Quarry near Burlescombe is currently the subject of planning application DCC/4007/2017 to vary the approved working scheme to extract an additional 600,000 tonnes. The application will come before DCC’s DMC committee next week.


Readers will see how DCC has addressed such issues in the officer's report that recommends approval of this application.

Objections to the application related to:
4.3 Of the objections, the principal areas of concern were: impact of HGV movements through Burlescombe, especially at during school drop off times; safety of the school children; the condition of the road due to HGV movements; speed, queuing and convoys of HGVs; emissions from HGVs impacting health; structural damage to listed bridges; volume of traffic increasing; structural damage to buildings due to blasting; amenity impact of vibration from blasting; increase in dust; protection of the amenity of houses adjacent to the application site; the quarry currently operating outside permitted hours; loss of existing landscape planting; value of the biodiversity in the area proposed for extraction; issues with the existing water diversion scheme; adequate existing reserves in other areas of the quarry; suitability of the proposed action plans and monitoring regimes for vibration, dust and noise; time required for replacement planting to mature; out of date information supplied; existing issues unresolved with regard to noise and blasting, spillages on the highway, movements of HGVs during day and night, and pre-emptive vegetation clearance work.
On the issue of dust:
6.43 It is acknowledged that there have been a number of dust complaints over the last seven months, which resulted in an investigation that required further dust assessments and consultation with Public Health England regarding the monitoring results. Meetings were held with the quarry operator and revised dust suppression measures were implemented which improved matters. The latest results from dust monitoring from May 2018 have yet to be released, although anecdotal information has been supplied which suggested that the situation had greatly improved.
6.44 It is considered that the existing control measures are ensuring that any residual impact is adequately mitigated. However, the existing monitoring scheme has been reviewed, amended and incorporated into a more comprehensive environmental scheme. This latter scheme also includes measures to identify, control and mitigate the effects of noise and blasting. The current planning consent did not require monitoring schemes for either of these impacts and therefore the approval of this current application would provide betterment in this regard. Further to this, given that future operations at Rocknell will not extend any closer to the present nearest privately-owned residential properties it is concluded the impacts of dust, groundborne vibration and air overpressure can be suitably controlled to within the limits specified by the attached scheme.
6.45 Aside from the complaints, it must be acknowledged that the approving this application is likely to increase controls in terms of dust and vibration. Given the above although dust is an ongoing concern, it would be unreasonable to refuse the application on based potential dust impacts associated with this application.

Friday, 16 November 2018

AI fights back

Fancy that! After all these years, our friends at Aggregate Industries blocked us on Twitter this week.


Readers may have noticed that we do use Twitter from time to time. We followed AI back in 2013. On odd occasions since then we’ve been minded to reply to one or two of their tweets; it would be rude not to.

What are we to think? Only recently, AI took to hiding Straitgate’s groundwater levels from us, "in-line with company policy". Now, blocking our Twitter account stops us contacting @AggregateUK and seeing their tweets (although it’s easy to get around the latter). But should we take this as progress? Or has AI just had a hissy fit? Or might it have been something we said? But, why now? The last time we replied to any of AI’s tweets was last month – on climate change:



Readers can decide for themselves why a corporation with sales in excess of £1 billion pa might take offence to a few tweets from a local action group in East Devon.

Whatever the reason, it's a pity that AI isn't grown up enough to accept the occasional dissenting voice. But that's ok. Many regard blocking on social media as an act of self-preservation. And AI is obviously sensitive to these sorts of things.

But a word of advice for @AggregateUK social media gurus: you can tweet bullshit but you can’t hide it; neither can you stop it from being embedded on this blog.

And by the way, for those following that epic fail at Silverstone, the fallout for AI is still ongoing. Shame.


Wednesday, 14 November 2018

No wonder AI wants to keep Straitgate’s groundwater data secret

Last month, we posted that Aggregate Industries has put a stop to public scrutiny of groundwater data for the Straitgate application. We posted how the company had confirmed:
The change in the sharing of data has come about following a review of our practice in this area and is now in-line with company policy.
Subject to the determination by DCC of the current planning application then it is likely, in the event of planning permission being granted, that there will be a planning condition / s106 obligation which requires AIUK to agree a Water Monitoring Plan (WMP). The WMP will detail a monitoring schedule to ensure the protection of water assets including private water supplies and a requirement to produce an annual Hydrometric Report. This Report will be submitted to DCC and the EA and will contain all the borehole monitoring data, so at this time it will be available for public scrutiny.
It's understandable, of course, that AI would want to keep such data on groundwater levels hidden until the publication of monitoring reports; monitoring reports that in the case of nearby Blackhill Quarry were not published until years later, or not at all.

It's understandable, of course, that AI would want to hide the data when it's had so much trouble working out what's going on with the groundwater at Straitgate Farm, with one borehole putting the groundwater 2.8m above where AI predicted, and other groundwater contours having errors the height of houses!

But there's surely another reason.

AI's seasonal working scheme has now been described as "revolutionary"; not by us, but by someone on the other side closely connected to all this.

How exciting! Local people will be thrilled. Thrilled at the prospect of being part of an experiment, where their drinking water supplies are reliant on the success of this "revolutionary" scheme; a scheme that relies on groundwater levels falling over the summer months to allow AI to quarry down to the maximum water table level, rather than leaving the 1m unquarried buffer above the maximum water table typically employed to safeguard surrounding water supplies.

Readers may recall that it took AI a long time to fully communicate this "revolutionary" scheme. And not everyone immediately grasped what was at stake. In fact, to help the Environment Agency understand things, AI was asked to produce some "cartoons":



But, to get a better handle on what's proposed, let's look up some synonyms for revolutionary:
new, novel, original, unusual, unfamiliar, unconventional, unorthodox, off-centre, different, fresh, imaginative, creative, innovative, innovatory, innovational, inventive, ingenious, modern, ultra-modern, state-of-the-art, advanced, avant-garde, futuristic, pioneering, groundbreaking, trailblazing, disruptive; rare, unique, singular, unprecedented, uncommon; experimental, untested, untried, unknown...
Et cetera. If the seasonal working scheme is indeed "revolutionary", then three cheers for AI. Perhaps it's even a world first? In which case, why wouldn't you want to keep any data secret for as long as possible. No company would share data from a prototype or experimental working model, not until it's been fully evaluated and shown to work.

And that's really the point isn't it? fully evaluated and shown to work. To date, all we've seen is AI's working model fail – before any excavator bucket has even hit the ground – and the person behind the scheme leave the company.

But if the scheme is "revolutionary" then this will surely interest DCC, who, in 2017, asked AI:
The applicant is requested to provide information on other sites either in their control or operated by another company where the proposed working technique is used successfully.
The reason being:
The MPA will wish to consider whether the proposed working technique is a "novel approach" as set out in the NPPF Paragraph: 048 Reference ID: 27-048-20140306 in respect of the requirements for [financial] guarantees on the amelioration of impacts on local water supplies should there be any technical failure.
At that point, rather than "revolutionary", AI claimed:
The restoration profile and drainage together with the incorporation of infiltration areas is designed to maintain the water environment as close to the current situation as possible and so the working techniques are not considered to be so novel as to require a financial guarantee to cover restoration and aftercare costs as indicated in the NPPF - Planning practise guidance Paragraph: 048 Reference ID: 27-048-20140306
But, in actual fact, it was so novel that AI could not point to a single other site where its seasonal working scheme had been tried before. So yes, a world first!

If this doesn't flag up big red warning signs about the whole proposal, it should at the very least require a commensurate financial guarantee to be in place – readily accessible to cover any remedial action for interruption or contamination of water supplies to businesses, farms and homes, and any consequential losses. This of course shouldn't be a problem for AI, if it's so confident of its "revolutionary" scheme.

It's the price AI must pay for having such an experimental, untested, untried scheme.

Another unorthodox geological experiment

Fracking has been in the news again. At Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site in Lancashire, fracking has triggered 37 minor quakes in three weeks:
Two of those have been powerful enough to exceed a regulatory threshold that requires fracking to stop, and on a third occasion the company voluntarily ceased operations when it neared the limit.
Cuadrilla didn't expect this level of seismicity:
During a tour of the site in June, Matthew Lambert, the government and public affairs director at Cuadrilla, said: "Because we are managing that risk I don’t really accept that we are likely to cause seismicity above that level [an apparent reference to 0.5-magnitude] and we will not be causing seismicity which will damage property."
Quakes over twice that level have since been measured. It therefore beggars belief that:
Francis Egan, the chief executive of Cuadrilla, last week urged the government to relax the regulatory threshold or risk stifling shale gas exploration.
Thankfully:
The energy minister, Claire Perry, rejected such calls, saying only a "very foolish politician" would do so at this point.
But so much for all the investigations and assurances from Cuadrilla and consultants Arup:
Francis Egan referred to the EIAs for Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road as "the most detailed that have ever been undertaken" with consultancies from Arup spending a year and half on them.
Shale gas exploration is an emerging area in the UK and Arup understands the full range of environmental issues.
Which is plainly over-egging it somewhat, based on the 37 quakes in three weeks.

It's another example of the fallibility of consultants, about which we know all too well with Straitgate – a site incidentally which has had consultants struggling with Environmental Impact Assessments far longer than "a year and a half", with still no end in sight.

Anyway, you can understand why the Green Party says Cuadrilla is "obviously in way over their heads".

In the meantime, for those with an interest in this subject, the Government has launched a consultation on community involvement in shale gas proposals:
Shale gas developers could be required to consult local communities, even before submitting a planning application, following the launch of the latest government consultation.
Those with an interest have until Monday 7 January 2019 to respond.

‘Mineral product sales slide in third quarter’

Mineral products producers outside mortar are now facing the prospects of markets remaining flat to marginally negative for an extra year, in 2019. Modest growth is only expected to resume from 2020, depending on the Brexit negotiations progressing as the year ends, with a transitional period agreed as part of the Withdrawal Agreement. The prospects of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit is not one that would be desirable for businesses in our industry, and is causing great concern.
The latest pan industry quarterly survey paints a picture of reasonable activity but deteriorating profit margins in the face of rising costs.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

US mid-terms: What impact on LafargeHolcim and Trump’s ‘nefarious’ Mexico wall?

Aggregate Industries is part of LafargeHolcim, the company that in 2017 showed the world its moral colours by declaring interest in Trump's controversial plan to put a wall along the US-Mexico border:
"We will do without their services," Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo's deputy Bruno Julliard told the city council, citing Lafarge's readiness to "work on the nefarious project" of a wall along the US-Mexico border.
The company also featured in the French presidential candidates debate, as we posted at the time. One candidate said 'LafargeHolcim is an example of what’s wrong with capitalism':
"It built the Atlantic wall under Petain and Hitler," she said, referring to the defenses built by Nazi Germany along the coast of continental Europe during the second world war. "Now, we’ve all learned, it’s been doing business with IS, and now, it wants to build the wall between the U.S. and Mexico. It’s clear that these large groups won’t be stopped by a change in regime or a new constitution... The only thing that counts for them is their cash..."
Fellow construction giant CRH ruled out any involvement, and even the LafargeHolcim Foundation warned that Walls don't work:
The Chairman of the Board of the Foundation... said that if companies were to support such conceptions and the discourse of “The Wall”, they would probably participate in one of the most contentious projects of this type in a generation, and that they would create serious contradictions with the values the LafargeHolcim Foundation stands for.




But the US mid-terms results could change the future of Trump's wall, and any hope LafargeHolcim has to profit from it. Even though last month the first section was unveiled, and construction of a 6-mile section is due to begin in February, according to the BBC and The Independent respectively:
The Democrats could also more effectively block his legislative plans, notably his signature promise to build a wall along the border with Mexico.
In order for spending bills to be enacted, they need to be passed by both the House and the Senate. With a Democratic-controlled House, any Republican efforts to secure funding for a US-Mexican border wall could be blocked from passing.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

AI made allowances for school children at Burlescombe too; how’s that working out?

Aggregate Industries’ proposed site access for its Straitgate Farm quarry proposal and its 44-tonne HGVs is exactly where children stand waiting for school buses.

An alternative proposal eliminating pedestrian and HGV conflict, put forward by traffic consultants working on behalf of the local community, has apparently been dismissed by both AI and DCC.

MP Sir Hugo Swire has recently warned DCC that "road safety and the transport of children is causing me real concern". DCC’s response was that:
My officers have been discussing details of the proposal with the school travel team and have suggested to the applicant ways in which this might be resolved to ensure that the proposal does not increase the danger to children who are picked up or dropped off at this point.
It might, for example, be agreed that AI would restrict HGV movements to outside the times the lane is used by schoolchildren.

Sounds fantastic, except it wouldn’t work. With a haul route that’s 46 miles long, it would be impossible to restrict HGVs from turning up inside restricted times. Where would they wait, having arrived at the wrong time? On the A30? On the Daisymount junction?

But ignoring that, has AI has made a success of similar promises elsewhere? Of course not.

HGV movement restrictions were agreed between Burlescombe Primary School and AI for its Westleigh Quarry. Burlescombe Parish Council has recently objected to AI’s application to extract an additional 600,000 tonnes at Westleigh Quarry, making these comments regarding the school:
3) We would also like to point out the negative effects the Quarry HGV’s are having on Burlescombe Primary School: a. They have effectively stunted the growth of the school due to parents concerns over the safety of their children wholly generated by lorry movements past the school at all times of the day. b. There had been a verbal agreement with the previous head teacher concerning lorry movement restrictions (an agreement to stop and wait) within school drop-off and pick-up times (not always upheld). We would request that this agreement is formalised.
c) SS: 7.8 to 7.19 — Whilst accepting that the current proposal remains within the current permissions, a majority of residents who have voiced their opinions in Open Forum’s or online to the Council feel strongly that the rules are continuously broken — lorries travelling through Burlescombe in convoy, within restricted times around school drop-off and pick-up times, in excess of the speed limits, and un-sheeted. We request that no permission is granted to this application until an alternative route to the one through Burlescombe Village is reexamined fully.
In other words, even when the quarry is less than a mile away – trucks still turn up during restricted times.

A villager made this video in 2014 to show the impact of HGVs on children and the primary school. The included text speaks for itself:
This is the true plight of a village being trampled on by a multi national conglomerate with the backing of the district council taken over 8 years ago the lorry movement within the village has got significantly worse. This video demonstrates the shocking way in which a small village community have to live in fear of taking their children safely to school. how their local environment is polluted with noise and dust to the extent that washing cannot be hung out without becoming soiled, fish ponds have become polluted and murky no matter how good a filtration system, in the summer windows cannot be left open at night for fresh air because of the noise and vibrations our roads are now cracking up under the constant thunder of these vehicles and of course our children's primary school is right next to this road which is constantly under a dust cloud which our children are breathing in It appears that the DCC planners only duty of care involved here is making sure the quarry makes another pound at the cost of the ever diminishing quality of life to the local residents of Burlescombe and now they want to increase it more by building a hot tarmac silo so that they can run all night when ever it suits them. WE KNOW THE QUARRY LIE E.G working below the water table, contravening the 106 clause. THEY ALWAYS HAVE THEY ALWAYS WILL THEY ALWAYS OFFER VOLUNTARY ASSURANCES TO PLACATE BUT NEVER STICK TO THEIR WORD. SO WHY SHOULD WE BELIEVE THAT THEY WOULD STICK TO A VOLUNTARY RESTRICTION

AI’s bully-boy tactics

Threatening tenants with eviction in order to get its own way is obviously part of Aggregate Industries' toolbox of bully-boy tactics.

You might think we’re talking about Straitgate Farm, and AI threatening a young family and their children with eviction from their home and their livelihood.

But no. This is to do with AI’s Westleigh Quarry, near Burlescombe.

AI’s dust problems at Westleigh have been getting worse this year. It’s embarrassing for AI, because it comes at a time when the company is trying to win permission to extract another 600,000 tonnes. We’ve posted about this before, how:
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".
So, does AI put in additional measures to control the dust and air quality to acceptable standards?

No. Based on this letter, which followed "telephone conversations last week with both Aggregate Industries and Mr Kevin Gough from Advance Environmental", AI puts the blame on DCC planning conditions and threatens a nearby tenant with eviction instead:
I am advised that it may be necessary for notice to be given to terminate my tenancy as the company would not be able to meet the conditions set.
What a lovely company to have working in the community.

Friday, 2 November 2018

Straitgate’s Iron Age and Roman archaeology – how would it be dealt with?


In 2012, Aggregate Industries dug eight test pits at Straitgate Farm, extracting some 400 tonnes of sand and gravel for testing. An 'archaeologist' was in attendance to check for finds when each pit was first opened. He found nothing. He must have been asleep on the job.


Including the Long Range site and Areas 2 and 6 at Straitgate it is apparent that this Iron Age open settlement extends over an area of potentially c. 10 hectares... based on the geophysics and trench results, around 12-15 further roundhouses in total might be anticipated... Three pieces of Romano-British period tile from overlying deposits and two holed slates from the large ditch in Trenches 22 and 56 may indicate a ‘Romanised’ building is present in the vicinity... new evidence for Romano-British settlement was identified, dated from the artefacts recovered to the 2nd to 3rd centuries AD, including a substantial linear ditch of 30m length, c. 5m width and over 2.2m depth.
Further information can be found by clicking on the archaeology label.

Based on the test pits debacle, you can understand why local people might be concerned about whether future archaeological investigations would be done properly, if Straitgate Farm were to be quarried.

Based on the finds in 2014, a proposed archaeological mitigation map has been put forward by AI:



No development shall take place until the applicant has secured the implementation of a programme of archaeological work in accordance with a written scheme of investigation which has been submitted by the applicant and approved by the Planning Authority... broadly complying with the scope of mitigation as set out on the plan titled “Proposed Archaeological Mitigation” and dated December 2014 but would include the area to the east of Straitgate Farm.
A DCC spokesperson has since confirmed that the area to the east of Straitgate Farm would also need "a staged programme of investigation, commencing with the excavation of a series of evaluative trenches", whilst the open area excavation on the west of the site could be implemented in phases, or:
Alternatively the entire site could be stripped, topsoil removed off site and the archaeology dealt with across the whole area.
DCC confirmed that:
The County Historic Environment Team will monitor all these works, and post-excavation tasks, to ensure that they are undertaken in accordance with the agreed programme of work.
DCC also confirmed:
With regard to public engagement, we would wish to see as part of the agreed programme of works that there is provision in the programme of archaeological works for dissemination of the information obtained from the archaeological investigations on the site. This can take the form of a public open day, display boards explaining the progress and the discoveries made, and public talks and exhibitions of the results. 
In any event, based on the six weeks or so it took to investigate 55 trenches in 2014 – a tiny fraction of the total site – AI and its archaeological contractors would face a considerable workload before the site can be plundered for its sand and gravel.