Monday, 5 August 2013

And finally, what can be said about AI's plans and drawings

Well, Aggregate Industries has made a few changes since its last plans - and remember, these are just concept drawings at this stage to satisfy DCC's Minerals Plan - moving the access from the west to the north for example, bringing the extraction boundaries further from homes, leaving some material on the base in an attempt to mitigate water impacts.

But AI is still claiming it has 3.1 million tonnes of recoverable and saleable sand and gravel at Straitgate - down from 3.6 Mt. This is of course totally dependent on AI being permitted to extract sand and gravel below the water table, and with so many people reliant on water from the site, it is unclear whether the Environment Agency would sanction that. AI was only permitted to quarry down to one metre above, above not below, the water table at Thorn Tree Plantation, Blackhill.

AI has given "categorical" assurances that there will not be processing plant at Straitgate - it doesn't have the water resources to do so anyway. This will therefore mean the transportation of as-dug material on public highways - for the lifetime of any quarry, which AI estimates to be 10 years or more. At Venn Ottery, this equated to an average of 110 HGV movements a day or 10-12 per hour - according to AI's own Haulage Statement, October 2010, payload 29 tonnes, gross vehicle weight 44 tonnes. How sustainable, ethical or environmental is that? And AI has still not given up hope of processing the material at Blackhill either. Of course, DCC and Natural England will obviously have something to say on that matter.

And there's another issue. AI's plans now rely on the use of third party land - namely for site access, the storage of overburden amongst the line of veteran oaks, and for advanced planting "for visual mitigation measures". AI does own the mineral rights in these fields. However, it is unclear whether AI has the rights to anything more. Advice is being sought. What can be said for certain is that no rights have been agreed from the different owners of the fields. DCC will need to assure itself of the merits of relying on a site where AI does not have surface ownership of the access route.

There are a number of other points: Grandiose plans can be made for tree planting and aftercare, yet AI's existing woodland around the site has had no management in many years; an attempt at underplanting 10 or more years ago completely failed through lack of light and ivy encroachment. AI plans bunds of earth next to A30, changing the aspect for users, for which advice will need to be sought from the Highways Agency. AI plainly accepts that the quality of the farmland will be lost, with the "long term afteruse being light agricultural grazing" - in other words, adequate for sheep and little else. And where's the silt going - back to Straitgate for restoration? Or to Rockbeare or Blackhill?

And what do the restoration plans offer to the community. Much has been said on this blog about companies giving back - leaving something worthwhile as recompense for the loss of amenity, the dust, the noise, from 10 years of quarrying and 100 HGV movements a day - something to win over local opposition. So, if it was to ever get as far as restoration, what does this community get left with? A footpath around the void. An interpretation board. We're overwhelmed.