Saturday, 5 October 2013

What does it take to make a phone call?

Culm Waste & Minerals Group will be used to making phone calls, as we are, to extract information from various sources. For others - aggregate companies, consultants, councils - this act seems altogether more difficult, as CWMG have discovered.

One of the main considerations in the planning determination of Aggregate Industries' bagging plant at Uffculme, was, in DCC's words, "highway and transportation issues". AI's Transport Assessment, performed by SLR, contained the passage:
3.1.1 The junction is a four-arm grade-separated interchange that forms part of the Strategic Road Network (SRN) and is, as such, controlled by the Highways Agency (HA). Given that some limited effects to the SRN will ensue as a result of the proposed development, it is expected that the HA would be consulted on the planning application for the proposed development. Indeed, foreseeing this, SLR issued a request for a scoping opinion to the HA undercover of an email dated 11th February 2013. Regrettably, however, no response had been provided at the time of preparation.
Faced with no reply, you might have expected SLR to have phoned the HA to illicit the response needed for such an important matter. Both CWMG and ourselves have spoken to the HA before - it's not difficult. And emails can go missing. Emails to an AI estates manager we know seem to get lost all the time.

But the surprising thing here, as CWMG have picked up on, is that even though SLR envisaged the HA would be consulted by DCC, it would seem - according to the HA themselves - that they never were, and the relevant Report by the Head of Planning, Transportation and Environment, recommending approval, indeed contains no mention of the HA as a consultee or otherwise. It would seem that DCC didn't bother to pick up the phone to the HA either. The HA should be consulted if:
Development [is] likely to result in a material increase in the volume or a material change in the character of traffic entering or leaving a trunk road.
On the face of it, moving an aggregates distribution depot to a site close to a motorway junction would constitute a "material change", and it's a serious matter if a statutory consultee should have been consulted but has not been. It would appear that DCC officers decided for themselves that the impact on the SRN was acceptable. It will now be for CWMG to consider whether to take the matter further.

Of course, and as we discovered ourselves recently, certain parties are generally less inclined to make a phone call if they are concerned about what the answer might be.