Thursday, 13 June 2013

100m - that's a start

People want to know how close any potential quarrying at Straitgate would come to their homes, but this matter would normally be determined at the time of an application, considering factors such as topography, screening, water supplies, prevailing wind, duration and method of working, etc.

What Aggregate Industries has said is that it will be recalculating the resource at Straitgate Farm based on allowing 100 metres from the nearest properties. Whilst this is an improvement on what was initially put forward, it's an opening position. It will be DCC, in consultation with others, that decides what distance is acceptable between any quarry and homes, not AI.

Would 100m be as much as local residents could expect? Well, BGS advice says "In practice, standoff distances are often incorporated into local planning policy, with distances of 250-500m typically adopted, unless there are unusual or exceptional reasons to permit a variation." There are good reasons for this - dust being one:
Large dust particles (greater than 30 µm), which make up the greatest proportion of dust emitted from mineral workings, will largely deposit within 100m of sources. Intermediate-sized particles (10–30 µm) are likely to travel up to 200–500m. Smaller particles (less than 10 µm) which make up a small proportion of the dust emitted from most mineral workings, are only deposited slowly but may travel 1000m or more.
In practice, however, things are not clear cut.

When safeguarding minerals from inappropriate development, Nottinghamshire and Bedfordshire refer to a buffer of 250m. As does Essex County Council, which has just finished consulting on a Pre-Submission Draft of its new Minerals Local Plan, and is ahead of Devon in this respect. Essex extends a Mineral Consultation Area boundary 250 metres beyond Preferred or existing sites to "protect both mineral resources from sterilisation and future residents from unwanted impacts".

South Lanarkshire Council in its old plan was unequivocal, saying "mineral development will not be permitted within 250m of existing occupied dwellings for the extraction of minerals without blasting." Unfortunately its new plan is more typical of others, saying the distance will be "dependent upon the circumstances of the case and the actual environmental effects resulting from extraction".

Where does the NPPF stand on all this? It's no surprise that the Technical Guidance doesn't quote anything as useful as numbers:
As set out in the National Planning Policy Framework minerals planning authorities are expected to ensure that plan proposals do not have an unacceptable adverse effect on the natural or historic environment or human health. Residents living close to mineral workings may be exposed to a number of environmental effects and particular care should be taken in respect of any conditions they attach to a grant of permission for working in proximity to communities.
At the hands of mineral lobbyists, the government is plainly more worried about the economic consequences of the aggregate majors losing 100m of minerals than the health of its citizens living nearby. Even a Private Member's Bill from Andrew Bridgen MP, to introduce a 500m buffer zone between areas of settlement and opencast coal mining in line with Wales and Scotland, didn't advance beyond its 2nd reading.

What government, councils and mineral companies should realise is that if the distance between quarries and people was more clearly defined, could be relied upon, and was a more sensible compromise between minerals and people's health and amenity, there would be less opposition to proposals. This in itself would save the industry money and improve its image; but as far as the short-sighted Aggregate Giants are concerned, more buffer means less mineral means less profit. Work with the community, not against them.