Sunday, 20 October 2013

Buckfastleigh and dormice

Hats off to the campaigners at Buckastleigh! Their perseverance and determination has paid off after a planning inspector ruled that Whitecleaves Quarry was not the right site to dump construction and demolition waste, and process incinerator bottom ash.

The appeal decision is worth reading, if for no other reason than to note what was material to the Inspector's decision. What was material was that the proposal did not deliver sustainable waste management. What was also material was the harm to biodiversity. In the Inspector's words:
The proposed facility would have some benefits, but overall I consider that the likely harm to biodiversity and the conflict with waste policy weighs against allowing the appeal.
What 'biodiversity' was pivotal in refusing the multi-million pound operation? One word - Dormice:
The spur proposed to be removed contains 0.12 ha of semi-mature broad-leaved woodland, which includes hazel dormouse habitat… The loss of semi-mature woodland and hazel dormouse habitat is a consideration which weighs against the proposal. This would be so irrespective of whether the spur includes any ancient woodland.
What would the Inspector make of Aggregate Industries' plans to destroy not 0.3 acres, but almost two miles - about 10x the area - of dormouse habitat in ancient hedgerows at Straitgate? Hedgerows identified in the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre Ecological Assessment of 2001 as being of "high wildlife value" and all on the 1840 tithe map; hedgerows identified in the same report as being a "suitable habitat for dormice"; hedgerows where the existence of dormice has now been confirmed. Would he just laugh?

AI would hope it could 'displace' the dormice - one of Britain's most endangered mammals, nearing extinction after suffering a 40% decline in numbers over the last 20 years - but this would only be in agreement with Natural England, an agency that has already had much to say about Straitgate. In any case the site is bounded by roads, and "dormice can't cross roads".

When you now add dormice - a European Protected Species - to the mix of constraints for this site, constraints that include the risk to drinking water supplies - demonstrated by the Environment Agency's newly delineated SPZs, the risk to wetlands in Ancient Woodland - a protected and irreplaceable habitat, and the risk of birdstrike to aircraft safety, AI's plan for Ottery St Mary seems more implausible as time goes on. If you add processing as-dug material off-site, up to 7 unsustainable miles away, then the whole scheme looks farcical. And for what? Not some nationally rare and precious mineral, but sand and gravel.

With any one of the above a "showstopper", as DCC would say, what local people can't understand is why the Council still seems to be entertaining the idea of Straitgate as its preferred site.