Wednesday, 12 September 2012

SSSI - a denial of AI's Human Rights?

If Aggregate Industries was denied permission to continue operating on Woodbury Common due to SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and other designations, would it again complain, as it did at the High Court in 2002 - R (on the application of Aggregate Industries UK Ltd) v English Nature, that it was a "breach of section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act"? 

In February 2000, shortly after AI was notified that new European nature conservation designations would restrict quarrying at Blackhill on Woodbury Common, the company purchased almost 700 acres of land in Hampshire, only to see it then designated a SSSI by English Nature in July 2001, to safeguard the habitat of rare birds - the Nightjar, Woodlark and Dartford Warbler.

AI sought a Judicial Review of English Nature's decision, claiming the land had been deprived of its development potential, but this was rejected on the grounds that the site is "rightly regarded as an area of European importance".

Woodbury Common, the largest continuous expanse of heathland in England, is also recognised to be of European importance - Special Area of Conservation, Special Protection Area (SAC, SPA) - with populations of Nightjar, WoodlarkDartford Warbler, and other legally protected species.

Yet having first been served notice in 1999, AI is still there, now with permission to process sand and gravel until 2016. How did DCC let that happen? Firstly in 2002 AI persuaded DCC to allow it to quarry a site adjacent to the SAC/SPA at Thorn Tree Plantation. Then in 2008 AI persuaded DCC to allow it to process material at Blackhill from Marshbroadmoor, Rockbeare. Then in 2011 AI persuaded DCC to allow it to process material there from Venn Ottery.

And now AI wants to persuade DCC again, this time to allow it to continue beyond 2016 to process material there from Straitgate. Until when? 2026? Longer? Hauling millions of tonnes past peoples' homes and across the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths - SAC, SPA, SSSI, AONB?

Is Woodbury Common the right place for a sand and gravel "factory" processing material from further afield? Blackhill's processing plant was only ever intended to process material extracted from the site, and that finished in 2009. At some point AI will have to expense a move. In 2003 it was intending to move to Rockbeare. By 2008 plans had changed and the intention was to move to Houndaller at Uffculme. Those plans were then put on hold. Desperate times may call for desperate measures - but a round trip of 15 miles, transporting each load of as-dug sand and gravel from Straitgate for 10 years or more? 100 movements or more a day? The profitable supply radius reduced by half. What can AI be thinking?

So never mind AI's "Human Rights". What about the rights of those - be they birds or people - who make this area their home, not just a profit centre?