Tuesday, 23 April 2013

AI to rationalise concrete product plants and "concentrate manufacturing at Calne"

Is this the sort of colourful scene that Aggregate Industries has in mind for the Otter Valley in East Devon? Surely not. But it is already on the doorstep of the people in Calne, Wiltshire. It may be screened from view on the ground, but AI's earth scar and Viridor's landfill operation is revealed by Google Earth in all its glory.

It's where AI recently submitted - and then withdrew - planning permission to extend the life of its concrete products plant, left on the image above. Why was it withdrawn? AI thought it could get away without supplying a Transport Assessment with the application - an application proposing over 20,000 HGV movements p.a. passing within yards of two brand new housing developments. Wiltshire Council thought differently - Calne already has issues with air quality from excess traffic. AI says the application will be re-submitted. Not surprisingly, residents are angry.

AI first operated the plant in 1989, with permission to 2014, using sand from its adjacent Sands Farm Quarry and aggregate from elsewhere, and built Sandpit Road for access - the same road which now serves the new housing. However, the plant was mothballed in 2009 (due to poor demand) and the homes were subsequently built. Local people claim the area is now residential not industrial, but AI says it wants to start operations again, with an output of 150,000 tonnes p.a., and last year made an application to extend the plant's lifetime to 2022, claiming:
Since [2009], the demand for building materials has reduced further and the company has experienced a significant downturn in sales. As a consequence, the business is over capacity and the company has sought to rationalise its operations. Of the company’s concrete products factories, Calne is one of the most modern facilities within the company’s ownership. It is therefore proposed to concentrate manufacturing at Calne.
Local people at Calne have been lead to believe that AI will "transfer staff from its other operations in the South West", and with changes to the block works at Hillhead and talk of redundancies at Rockbeare (a request for confirmation from AI went unanswered), they may be right.

It is unclear how much impact any of this will have on Straitgate Farm, or how much less mineral DCC would need to provide for in its emerging Minerals Plan - 50% of the aggregate required for the plant would be limestone from Somerset. What it does show, however, is the pressure that AI is under to 'sweat its assets', by the Holcim high command in Zurich, and the conflict AI's business model continually brings upon people and their everyday lives.