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.
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.

AI continues to receive the public’s help following its Silverstone troubles

Readers hooked on motorsport news will be no doubt be delighted to know that Aggregate Industries – the company whose "racing circuit experts" resurfaced the UK’s premier racing track at Silverstone, which then refused to drain properly, leading to cancelled races, riders aquaplaning off their bikes at 180mph, journalists being gagged and a PR nightmare – continues to receive helpful comments and suggestions on social media, even for projects beyond the racing world:

What prompted this outrush of concern? Mat Oxley tweeting to his 30k followers probably helped. Perhaps AI will think twice next time, before threatening journalists with legal action.

AI’s scheme to widen Hillhead road approved – removing quid pro quo for Straitgate

In 2017, when AI submitted two "inextricably linked" planning applications, one for quarrying Straitgate Farm and the other for the importation of the winnings into Hillhead Quarry, the latter included a scheme to widen 400m of Clay Lane. This was to permit two-way movement of HGVs, giving "operational benefits" to AI, as well as making life easier for the local community.

The widening scheme was touted as a quid pro quo, a benefit "sufficient to outweigh the negative impact of transporting the Straitgate minerals to Hillhead Quarry for processing", a benefit, AI argued, sufficient to "overcome the apparent conflict with Policy M22" of the Devon Minerals Plan.

As we know, AI’s application for Straitgate has been mired in problems. In July, we posted AI submits new planning application for Hillhead – read into that what you will, how the company had made a separate stand-alone application to widen Clay Lane "not linked to the currently pending application for importation of sand and gravel from Straitgate Farm into Hillhead Quarry for processing" 1.2.

This application has now been approved with conditions. The officer’s report gives the background:
The quarry is a long-established extraction site located in Mid Devon, 1.9 km to the east of M5 Junction 27 and 1.2km the village of Uffculme. It lies adjacent to an area known as ‘West of Penslade Cross’ which is allocated as a Preferred Area in the Devon Minerals Plan: 2011-2033 which consists of a further 8 million tonnes of sand and gravel. The existing quarry complex extends to beyond 91 hectares.
An application was originally submitted by the mineral operator in March 2017 relating to the widening of the road in conjunction with the importation of up to 1.5 million tonnes of raised sand and gravel from a proposed site in East Devon. The proposed site has yet to be determined. Given this, this application has been separated out to be determined as a standalone part of the project. The original application relating to the importation is currently held in abeyance. This proposal to widen the existing access road to Hillhead Quarry would provide the width to enable two-way traffic to the site entrance. At present quarry traffic is routed through a one-way system.
The road widening would impact approx. 0.82ha of land. It would remove the need for traffic from this development to route through Broad Path junction which passes a cluster of houses at the junction to the A38, the current routing of quarry traffic on this junction has been a concern for local residents for some time and as such approving this application would be a improved scenario for these residents. It is noted that should ‘West of Penslade Cross’ be brought forward then the widening of this road would be an expectation of that extension of working.
What the approval of this stand-alone application now means, therefore, is that AI’s current "inextricably linked" applications for Straitgate and Hillhead can no longer bring the benefit of 400m of road widening "sufficient to outweigh" the negative impacts from 2.5 million miles of HGV haulage, and can no longer bring, as AI claims, "great benefit to residential amenity and carry significant weight in the decision making process".

In which case, what benefit and significant weight in the decision making process would the Straitgate application now bring, sufficient to outweigh thousands of tonnes of CO2 and air pollution, and damage to local roads equivalent to 17 billion car movements, given that 12 million tonnes – 30 to 40 years' worth – of sand and gravel already sits next to AI's shiny new processing plant at Hillhead?

AI’s resurrected plant at Hillhead has enough material nearby to take it beyond 2050

We posted back in April that AI’s Blackhill processing plant re-emerges at Hillhead, 23 miles away from Straitgate. The plant has progressed since then:

It is this plant that Aggregate Industries wants to use to process material from Straitgate. AI had wanted to be importing material from Straitgate by now, as it made clear in its Regulation 22 response last year:
the plant will be installed and operational by mid-late 2018... when, subject to planning, mineral would begin to be imported from Straitgate Farm into Hillhead Quarry.
But then AI makes a lot of claims. In 2016, AI "was merrily talking about wanting to start earthworks at Straitgate Farm in the Spring/Summer of [2017]". And look how successful that was.

More than 100,000 truck journeys would be needed to transport Straitgate's as-dug spoils; 20% of each and every load – effectively 20,000 truck journeys – would be for silt, a waste material.

So, at a time when other companies are investing in rail freight – "taking 1,500 truck journeys off the road each year" –

– AI’s plans for Straitgate would instead add 10,000 truck journeys a year. Brilliant.

What reason does AI give for needing Straitgate's material, when there's already 4 million tonnes of sand and gravel with permission next door to this plant at Houndaller, and 8 million tonnes at nearby Penslade? AI says that that:
The gravel content [at Straitgate] is important as it is capable of producing a 57 PSV aggregate suitable for road surfacing. 5.4.5
because at Houndaller:
... there is little or no crushable gravel to produce a 57 PSV aggregate. 3.9.2
If you believe AI – and why would you after such a catalogue of fiction – and if you ignore the ever-increasing stockpiles of unprocessed quartzite pebbles at Houndaller – the problem with the company's argument is that it ignores the effective mileage that would be embodied in each tonne of high PSV material from Straitgate. We have posted about this before, how each 28.5 tonne load of high PSV material from Straitgate would necessitate a staggeringly unsustainable 417 miles of transportation for production, BEFORE any onward delivery. In other words, high PSV material from Straitgate would have to travel over 3x the return-trip distance of material from Greystone, an AI quarry in Cornwall also with high PSV material.

The long and the short of it is that AI's resurrected plant has enough material in the Hillhead area alone to keep it going for 30 or 40 years or more, without even thinking about material from Straitgate.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

We’re killing our planet

The WWF has declared a state of emergency. Its Living Planet Report 2018 warns:
On average, we’ve seen an astonishing 60% decline in the size of populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians in just over 40 years
Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International:
We can no longer ignore the impact of current unsustainable production models and wasteful lifestyles.
Tanya Steele, chief executive of the WWF:
We are the first generation to know we are destroying our planet and the last that can do anything about it.
The collapse of global wildlife populations is a warning sign that nature is dying.

If we continue to produce, consume and power our lives the way we do right now, forests, oceans and weather systems will be overwhelmed and collapse. Unsustainable agriculture, fisheries, infrastructure projects, mining and energy are leading to unprecedented biodiversity loss and habitat degradation, overexploitation, pollution and climate change. While their impacts are increasingly evident in the natural world, the consequences on people and businesses are real too.
Conserving forests, the ocean and wildlife is in everyone’s interest for sustainability and our own prosperity. That’s why now is the time for businesses, governments, institutions and civil society to work together to halt climate change and the devastation of nature.
Our civilisation finds itself at a crossroads. The equation is a simple one: we will not build a stable, prosperous and equitable future for humanity on a degraded planet.

‘End corporate greed and reduce precarious work, unions tell LafargeHolcim’

IndustriALL Global Union represents 50 million workers in 140 countries. Last week, the union issued this press release:
Around 60 representatives of the World Union Council from 26 countries came to Houffalize, Belgium on 22 to 24 October to discuss problems faced by workers and unions at multinational cement and construction materials company, LafargeHolcim.
The participants had a detailed exchange over challenges existing at national and international levels at LafargeHolcim, and expressed serious concerns at a lack of genuine social dialogue with the company after the changes in leadership in 2017 and 2018.
Trade union relations with LafargeHolcim went downhill at the end of 2017, when the new CEO reneged on a Memorandum of Understanding to sign a global framework agreement with IndustriALL Global Union and Building and Woodworkers International.
Meanwhile, rampant use of precarious work, namely outsourcing of up to 80 per cent in some sites, poses an enormous threat to workers’ rights and working conditions. LafargeHolcim proceeds with its policy of a shrinking business for the sake of increasing dividends paid to shareholders at the expense of workers creating all the company's wealth. Contract workers at LafargeHolcim are less qualified, have no access to training and promotion, and are not properly trained on health and safety. Consequently, three out of four victims of reported fatal accidents at work are contract workers.
The World Union Council issued a statement demanding that LafargeHolcim ends corporate greed and drastically reduces precarious work.
LafargeHolcim is the parent company of Aggregate Industries. The use of contract workers is prevalent at AI too. In 2017, we posted about AI’s modus operandi:
Many will be surprised to learn that it wouldn’t be Aggregate Industries' personnel rolling up their sleeves and quarrying Straitgate Farm. According to the company:
Contractors would haul any material off site.
Contractors would be engaged for soil stripping, earthworks and restoration.
And contractors are expected to be brought in to extract any sand and gravel.

LafargeHolcim cuts earnings outlook

LafargeHolcim has warned of challenging market conditions and has revised down its guidance for 2018 earnings, citing cost inflation pressures. LafargeHolcim's CEO told journalists:
We have very steep cost inflation, one of the steepest I have seen for many years.
LafargeHolcim’s share price is down more than 25% compared with a year ago. This follows a profits warning from from HeidelbergCement and comes at a time when the cement industry is feeling the chill of climate change legislation.

10 years ago

On 30 October 2008, a hail storm hit Ottery St Mary; 160mm of rain fell in 3 hours, 55 properties flooded in Thorne Farm Way as torrents funnelled down Cadhay Bog stream.

The event hit national headlines. The scene was described as like "a mini Boscastle", as £5 million flood defence schemes were overwhelmed. As one resident put it:
Ottery is in the bottom of a big mixing bowl and the water has to come straight through the town to get to the River Otter.

According to the Met Office:
The floods reached 1.5m in places. Numerous calls were made to the emergency services. By 0500 Ottery was cut off and around 100 people had to be evacuated, some even had to be airlifted to safety.
There was substantial damage to roads, housing and to utilities networks.
It is estimated that the total cost of the clean-up and repairs cost about £1 million.
An Environment Agency photo of the River Otter and surrounding area shows the extent of the flooding:

Here are some other photographs; it was an event where roads became rivers, fields became canyons.

Is it any wonder, therefore, that people are nervous about Aggregate Industries' plans to site a quarry at Straitgate – on the top of a hill above a town that has a history of flooding: ... August 1997, September 1997, September 1998, October 2005, November 2005, October 2008, July 2012 ...

Particularly when AI and its consultants neglected to mention in its Flood Risk Assessment any of the flooding caused in 2008 by the four watercourses coming from Straitgate. As we previously posted:
Despite the relief scheme, despite visits from the Environment Secretary and MP, despite being on the EA's Historic Flood Map, the historic flooding section of its Flood Risk Assessment 'forgot' to mention it was a watercourse from Straitgate that flooded 55 properties in 2008. Funny that.

Friday, 26 October 2018

AI’s application will now stagger into its 5th year – 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019…

Aggregate Industries’ planning application for Straitgate Farm – the one that’s been in a lifeless zombie state for the last 12 months or so – will not now be determined before 2019.

The application has been dogged by delays, over and over and over again. It has now been delayed again. For those that have lost count – it’s the 6th time the current application has been delayed; posts on previous delays can be found here, here, here, here and here. Bear in mind, however, that we are now on AI’s second application in recent times for Straitgate, the first being lodged back in 2015. That was dogged by delays too, even after 3 years or more of preparatory work. And all this on top of the years of palaver over the Minerals Plan – and the delays caused by AI trying to show the site was deliverable.

Readers following this long and tortuous journey/farce/pantomime/comedy/travesty [select your preferred description or add your own] will surely think by now that AI must be utterly incompetent. Running planning applications for mineral extraction is a core part of AI’s business, but, based on the company’s performance with Straitgate, you wonder whether they'd have difficulty running a bath.

However, to say that AI must be some sort of Micky Mouse operation would be a grave injustice to cartoon characters. Because, whilst other operators win permissions for multi-million tonne quarries on unallocated sites, AI continues to mess around with this sub-million tonne site – a site where the company’s maximum water table model is wrong by up to 2.8m – a site where other predictions for groundwater levels have errors the height of houses – a site that would involve an unorthodox, untried, untested seasonal working scheme (the architect of which has now left the company) risking the drinking water supplies of more than 100 people – a site that would entail off-site processing some 23 miles away – a site that would require a polluting multi-million-mile haulage plan when, as the IPCC warns, we have just 12 years left to stem catastrophic climate change.

And all this from a company that has already chopped down much of its 'compensation' planting – because it was planted in the wrong place; all this from a company that has now put a stop to public scrutiny of groundwater data from the site – with the obvious implication that it now has something to hide; all this from a company that has a record of not adhering to water monitoring S106 agreements; all this from a company that over the years has had no problem supplying local people, the Environment Agency and DCC with a catalogue of fiction.

We could go on, but you get the idea.

Why has determination now been pushed into 2019? Back in July, AI agreed its fifth extension with DCC, extending the period for determination to 31 December 2018. The last DMC meeting of 2018 is scheduled for 28 November. The company has now missed this, given that the submission of any further information will require public consultation. The first DMC meeting of 2019 is 30 January.

Again, 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?

Meanwhile, as AI personnel come and go, the Council continues to agree extension after extension to this zombie application, apparently giving no thought to the fact that "extensions of time should really be the exception", apparently giving no thought for the community and businesses stuck in limbo under the shadow of AI’s ridiculous and unsustainable plans.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

‘The battle to curb our appetite for concrete’

Earlier in the year, we posted 'New Exeter wonder invention to revolutionise building', about how researchers from the University of Exeter have developed a technique that incorporates graphene into concrete, "reducing the amount of materials required to make concrete by around 50% leading to a significant reduction of carbon emissions".

The extraction of sand and gravel and the production of cement have a huge environmental impact across the world. These are not just our words. According to this BBC article "The battle to curb our appetite for concrete":
We extract billions of tonnes of sand and gravel each year to make concrete for the building industry, and this is having an increasing environmental impact as beaches and river beds are stripped, warn campaigners.
Alongside this environmental damage, the building industry is also a major contributor to greenhouse gases - cement manufacturing alone accounts for 7% of global CO2 emissions.
Scientists are working to reduce the amount of raw materials used in the construction industry:
Bath University researchers say up to 10% of sand in concrete can be replaced by plastic without significantly affecting concrete's structural integrity - crucial in determining whether to use plastic in concrete for buildings.
"There's a serious issue with plastic waste. Anything we can do to address this and find alternatives to putting plastic in landfill is welcome," says Dr Richard Ball, of Bath University's architecture and civil engineering department.

3D printing could also help:
“We could cut up to 40% of the concrete we use, and that would have a huge impact on the sand we are using. There's no penalty for over-design, and so designers and engineers will understandably err on the side of safety," says Dr John Orr of Cambridge University's engineering department - in case those constructing the building are tempted to cut corners. One way of stopping this could be by 3D printing buildings, creating concrete shapes directly from an architect's design.

CPA downgrades UK construction forecasts

GROWTH for the UK’s construction sector next year has been downgraded amid signs Brexit uncertainty and ongoing delays in the delivery of major infrastructure projects continue to weigh on activity.  
The Construction Products Association’s Autumn Forecasts anticipate growth will remain flat in 2018, and rise by only 0.6% in 2019, a downward revision from its previous estimate of 2.3%.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Hugo Swire MP holds meeting with Aggregate Industries

Following a meeting with local people in August – when concerns were raised over Aggregate Industries’ site access plans for Straitgate, specifically that a safer alternative put forward by residents and traffic consultants Vectos had been dismissed by AI out of hand – Sir Hugo Swire MP has today met with representatives from the company:

Friday, 19 October 2018

World’s first ‘fully recycled road’

Eurovia, part of Vinci – the company that now owns South West Highways – has recently completed a motorway renovation project in France using 100% recycled asphalt; in other words, "extracts from quarries were not used at any stage":
The bulk of the supply can be sourced from the milling of materials produced by the site, thereby partly or fully protecting natural resources and reducing both transport logistics and the site’s carbon footprint to a minimum, with a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Cement industry feels the chill of climate change legislation

This week, shares in LafargeHolcim – the owner of Aggregate Industries – sank to their lowest level in more than two years, battered by a profits warning from HeidelbergCement – another cement giant, and owner of Hanson UK.

Just a day earlier, news site Global Cement had reported: "European cement producers not joking about implications of climate change legislation".

The reason for the story? Three European cement plants have been earmarked for closure this week. Cementa, a subsidiary of HeidelbergCement, is considering closing its Degerhamn plant in Sweden due to increased environmental regulations; Cemex is planning to close two plants in Spain.

Fingers are pointing to cement producers facing increased costs from trends in the EU emissions trading system. The CO2 emissions allowance price hit a high of €24/tonne in September, the highest price in a decade.
No doubt the European cement producers have charts marking the viability of their plants against the CO2 price.
How many more plants in Europe are at risk to shut next?
The EU carbon price is expected to rise further:
Analysts at investment bank Berenberg said they now forecast a carbon price of 45 euros a tonne in 2019 and 65 euros a tonne in 2020…

AI has been ‘showcasing restoration work’ at Venn Ottery

In 1965, planning permission was granted to quarry Venn Ottery Common in the East Devon AONB.

Aggregate Industries has worked the quarry over the years, most intensively between 2011 and 2016. Previous posts on the subject can be found here.

In 2018, AI announced that it had finished putting back the pieces. That’s 53 years from start to finish – almost as long as Blue Peter, the children’s TV show, that turned 60 this week.

The company must be pleased with how the site has been restored; it’s now 'showcasing' the work.

Who can guess what the AI representative is telling the assembled audience?

Perhaps: ‘Here’s one we destroyed earlier’?

Photo: Aggregate Industries

Wales gets tough on coal

As the implications of the IPCC’s dramatic report on global warming reverberate around the globe, this week the BBC reported that "Future coal mining applications are set to be rejected as a matter of policy for the first time in Wales". Draft planning policy, due to be finalised by the Welsh Government by the end of the year, says:
Proposals for opencast, deep-mine development or colliery spoil disposal should not be permitted.
Should, in wholly exceptional circumstances, proposals be put forward they would clearly need to demonstrate why they are needed in the context of climate change emissions reductions targets and for reasons of national energy security.
Meanwhile, in England, a government decision to block plans for an opencast coal mine close to a Northumberland beach was being challenged in the High Court this week. Banks Mining wants to overturn the "irrational" decision made by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid in March. Lawyers representing Friends of the Earth and the Save Druridge campaign group were also in court.

Another London-quoted Australian mining outfit runs into trouble

After the problems in Devon with Wolf Minerals and its Drakelands Mine, another Australian mining outfit, operating in Europe and promising untold riches, showed signs of coming unstuck this week, with its ASX shares suspended after Reuters reported "Spain to block Berkeley uranium mine project":
The Spanish government has decided not to deliver the permits necessary to open the European Union’s only open-cast uranium mine near Salamanca, dealing a serious blow to Australian mining company Berkeley Energia’s plans.
The project was granted preliminary approval in early 2013 but has since faced local opposition.
"The government will wait for the ongoing proceedings to go through but it will say no," a government source said on condition of anonymity.
Spain’s energy and environment ministry declined to comment. The Nuclear Safety Council had no immediate comment.
A second source, directly involved in the proceedings, said Berkeley was "living in a parallel universe" when it said the mine would soon become a reality.
Local opposition? In June, it was reported that "Thousands protest against uranium mine in Spain":
Spanish media are reporting that between 3,000 and 5,000 people hailing from different cities in Spain, as well as from Portugal and France, rallied this weekend in Salamanca to express their rejection to a uranium mine being built in the Retortillo municipality.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Cutting hedges next to roads is a standard but necessary chore for any landowner…

... who wants to stay on the right side of Section 154 of the Highways Act 1980.

So why are the hedgerows around the perimeter of Straitgate Farm proving so difficult for Aggregate Industries to cut back – in the interests of road safety?

This, of course, is at a time when AI should be doing all it can to convince people that it really could be a good neighbour to the local community – if the company’s controversial quarry plans, and all the associated harmful impacts, were to be dumped all over them.

The area on the right of the lane pictured below is AI's responsibility. Only last year, an ash tree was lost after AI delayed dealing with known issues.

The perimeter hedges around Straitgate are AI's responsibility. They have not been maintained for many years and are in desperate need of attention. AI has repeatedly been warned, this year and previous years, that for safety reasons the hedges need cutting back. Visibility is currently obscured for those exiting Birdcage Lane onto Exeter Road, and elsewhere.

Despite the warnings, at the time of writing no action, or even indication of action, has been forthcoming.

Perhaps posting here will spur AI into taking responsibility? Because if AI can’t even keep a few hedges cut back, what hope is there for the myriad of other more complex and onerous mitigation conditions it would have to adhere to at Straitgate, if its damaging quarry plans were given the go-ahead?