Friday, 5 October 2012

An opinion

A number of people may believe that because DCC has become quiet, gone back to have a rethink and delay its new Minerals Plan, that the threat at Straitgate Farm has receded, and the idea has been 'kicked into the long grass'. This is a dangerous view. We must not think for a moment that Aggregate Industries has given up on Straitgate - despite all the obstacles thrown up in the Consultation.

As far as AI is concerned, Straitgate is where they want to come next. Whether DCC has Straitgate as a Preferred Site or not. Whether DCC has its new Minerals Plan ready or not. AI still owns the site, the gravel is still there, Venn Ottery Quarry has a limited life, and DCC has identified - wrongly in our view - a shortfall in sand and gravel reserves before the end of its Plan in 2031. Having sat on Straitgate for nearly 50 years, AI will not give it up without a fight.

For them Straitgate is the cheapest option - dig a hole, haul the as-dug material across Woodbury Common, process it at the existing Blackhill Quarry, sell the hole afterwards for inert landfill. No new expensive plant to build, maintain a foothold in the area and keep Rockbeare supplied. Just carry on as it has at Venn Ottery. Current economics are not favourable for AI - as their workers have found out - and demand is low. They would find it difficult to justify a new plant, so processing at Blackhill may be their only viable option.

So, we must expect to be ready for a fight. The planning climate has swung in favour of the developer, and if we are to be in with a chance of defeating a multinational giant, with its barristers and consultants, we will need to be organised, funded, and ready with the arguments. Having long petitions and local Councillors and MPs onside is good and shows weight of public feeling, but will not ultimately influence an Inspector at a Planning Inquiry. It's all about the reasons why this is the wrong site from a planning point of view. Fortunately for the people of Ottery St Mary and West Hill there are substantial planning grounds on which to refuse an application to quarry Straitgate Farm - such as the impact on groundwater supplies, the impact on flooding, the impact on Ancient Woodland, the impact on airport safeguarding, the impact on the European protected Woodbury Common, the need not robustly demonstrated, the viability not demonstrated, the impact on Grade I and Grade II listed buildings, and so on.

Oh, and if AI applies for permission before a new Minerals Plan is in place it must overcome the hurdle of "For as long as adequate sand and gravel reserves (i.e. a minimum of seven years’ supply) continue to be present at the existing quarries, there are no grounds to allow their further extension or new quarries" specified by DCC's current Minerals Plan. Devon has over 16 years' supply.

Some may question what a campaign could achieve, but if run effectively, and Buckfastleigh and Chew Valley are good examples, it can make a difference. There's a multitude of substantive planning reasons why Straitgate Farm should not be quarried. It will be up to us to ensure the authorities recognise these.