Friday, 28 February 2014

Devon sand and gravel production for 2013

Figures supplied by DCC:
Sand and gravel sales in 2013 were 485,037 tonnes (down slightly on 2012’s 492,816 tonnes), while reserves as at 31 December 2013 were 8,135,000 tonnes (2012: 8,285,600 tonnes)
Devon therefore has a landbank of sand and gravel reserves of just over 15 years on a 10 year weighted moving average basis.

Devon's Minerals Plan delayed again

In answer to our local county councillor, DCC's Minerals Officer has written:
I am unable to confirm when the next stage of public consultation for the Minerals Plan will be. We are still awaiting further information from Aggregate Industries that we need before taking a view on whether the impacts that have been identified are capable of being addressed in a manner that would enable the site at Straitgate to be considered for inclusion in the Plan. 
Before any formal consultation on the Minerals Plan, we are likely to have informal discussion with local stakeholders to explain the intended approach to sand and gravel supply and seek their input. I will keep you informed of when this will take place – dependent on when we get the outstanding information, I would expect this to be within the next two months, with the formal public consultation on the Minerals Plan now likely around early Summer.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Us and them… continued

The decision by EDDC to refuse planning permission for a single dwelling on a site bordering the land at Straitgate Farm last year, referred to in the post titled "Us and them", was recently appealed.

There’s a shortage of housing, so much so that the government is even thinking of loosening planning rules for building in our National Parks. And yet, even though there had previously been a house on the site, the Planning Inspector agreed with EDDC and refused the appeal.

Let’s remind ourselves that it is here that Aggregate Industries expect to get planning permission for a multi-million tonne sand and gravel quarry - one of the more damaging developments open countryside can face.

What message does this send? The application for a traditional single dwelling wasn’t turned down because it would sterilise any mineral reserves. The appeal was refused because a) it was not considered sustainable development, and b) due to the impact on the countryside location. In fact, the dwelling would introduce:
a bulk of built form that would harm views of the surrounding open countryside [that would have] an adverse effect on the character and appearance of the countryside location
How would AI’s application for a quarry in the same location be judged by this planning inspector? On sustainable development - with each load of as-dug material being processed seven miles away on Woodbury Common SSSI, SPA & SAC? On impact on countryside - in full glare of East Devon AONB?

Monday, 24 February 2014

On top of a hill overlooking Ottery St Mary... tree planting around a potential quarry

If Aggregate Industries had no intention of waiting for Devon’s new Minerals Plan before deciding where to put its latest quarry, no intention of waiting for planning permission before deciding the boundaries, then why on earth did it not plant these saplings 20 years ago, when they might have made some difference to the people living a short distance away, some difference to the hedgerow wildlife it plans to displace or destroy? Or is this 'readying of the site' just a form of intimidation, a big quarry foot in the door - "we’re on our way, and no-one's going to stop us"?

Many local people might rightly wonder what the point of Devon's Minerals Plan is - to them it all looks like a done deal; that it's the minerals company that decides where to dig, not the Council, not the Environment Agency, not Natural England and definitely not local people.

For the avoidance of doubt, it's the green agricultural land - about 86 acres - on the left of the fencing in the photograph and beyond, on the slopes overlooking Ottery, that AI wants to take for quarrying; a more visually intrusive position, opposite East Hill AONB, would be hard to find.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Hedgerows and flooding

With the recent extreme weather and flooding, the function of hedgerows in catchment management has been much discussed in the media. Hedgerows help provide a natural flood defence, to slow storm water run-off from farmland - as shown in these photos taken on and adjacent to Straitgate Farm. A blog "Hedgerows and flooding: rejuvenating our broken and ailing hedgerows network is part of the solution” covers this in more detail. Here are three paragraphs:
The first title for this blog was going to be “Apart from flood mitigation, soil protection, mitigating runoff and pollution of watercourses, hosting natural predators of crop pests, stock management, food, wood fuel and climate regulation, what have hedgerows ever done for us..??” A Hedgelink report summarises the ecosystem services provided by hedgerows, including identifying an important role in water management. 
Evidence points to hedgerows being useful in storing water and increasing its transit time across fields. A 50m hedgerow at the bottom of a 1ha field can store between 150 and 375 cubic metres of water during rainy periods for slow release down slope during dry periods. This effect is greatest in soils rich in clay or organic matter. Because of their deep roots, hedgerows remove water faster from the soil than crops during periods of excessive rainfall, through increased evapotranspiration. 
Since 1945 there has been a drastic loss of hedgerows through removal and neglect throughout the UK, especially in eastern counties of England. Between 1984 and 1990, it was estimated that the length of hedges declined by about 23% in Great Britain. As well as the decline in biodiversity, this loss could present a significant reduction in the services, such as flood management, provided by hedgerows.
How does this affect Straitgate? Aggregate Industries' quarry plans would entail removing almost two miles of ancient hedgerow on slopes above flood-prone Ottery St Mary, at a time when extreme weather and winter rainfalls are predicted to rise. Many people would see that as reckless.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014


Aggregate Industries does not have permission to quarry Straitgate Farm; in fact, the farm is not even in Devon's Minerals Plan. This hasn't stopped AI from starting to mark out where it wants to quarry, with fencing and the planting of tree screens, according to its 'concept plans' - plans not agreed by anyone other than its consultants; not DCC, not the Environment Agency, not Natural England, not Exeter Airport, not local councillors. Some would call this presumptuous.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Spot the difference?

With flooding, extreme weather and climate change in the headlines again, take a look at the two quarry plans for Straitgate Farm. On the left, the one English China Clays put together in 1967 that was turned down. On the right, the one from Aggregate Industries. Spot the difference?

The most noticeable difference is a 32 acre lake on one and an ephemeral or transient pond on the other. The 1967 lake would have been formed in the void left by quarrying on the eastern side of the farm - an area no longer targeted by AI, for geological and commercial reasons. This 32 acre lake, 'Straitgate Lake', had a function. Such an important function that by the following year - in time for the Public Inquiry - it was increased to 49 acres in negotiation with Devon River Authority. Its function was to control flooding for downstream communities, by the "use of the proposed lakes for 'balancing' flood flows with appropriate settings of the proposed overflow weirs".

That was 1968, before any talk of climate change. So what does AI propose today - in the face of extreme weather and increased rainfall? A small ephemeral pond...

Is AI saying that Devon River Authority had it wrong in 1968? Or has AI conveniently 'forgotten' about flooding? 'Forgotten' what soil compaction and the removal of sand & gravel groundwater storage could do on a hill above communities with a history of flooding? Any flooding mitigation scheme planned today must be much more robust than any for 1968, much more than just a 'funnelling' of stormwater run-off down to an ephemeral pond, and overflowing down the watercourse to Cadhay.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

"Inspector demands changes to county quarry plan"

Runs the headline. It's talking about Essex and an inspector's refusal to approve its Minerals Plan:
Essex County Council (ECC) presented its replacement local minerals plan, which lists quarry sites up to 2029, at a public examination in November. 
But independent inspector Brian Sims, who oversaw the public meetings, has informed ECC that changes must be made to the plan.
James Abbott, district councillor for Rivenhall and county councillor for Witham North, has been a vocal opponent of the plan.
He said: “We must wait to see what the problems are, but if it is something the local community said to the county council at an early stage, then serious questions will have to be asked.”

Saturday, 1 February 2014

"Quarry appeal rejected to protect wood's squirrels"

Aggregate Industries should not underestimate the presence of protected dormice in the ancient hedgerows of Straitgate Farm in its quest for sand and gravel.

AI would need to grub up nearly 2 miles of species-rich hedgerows, "all present on the 1840 tithe map", to quarry Straitgate.

In 2010, however, another minerals company thought it could do much the same thing to another protected species - by felling 15ha of woodland in Fife, habitat to red squirrels. However, the company's application for a sand and gravel quarry was thrown out on appeal. The applicants had tried to argue that the impact on the red squirrels would be temporary and that staged felling would enable the population to adjust their feeding and foraging habits. The Scottish Government planning appeals reporter, on the other hand, felt there was too much uncertainty to place significant reliance on this - it was unlikely that the remaining woodland would provide adequate space for the animals to maintain viable levels, and the appellants' contention that they would forage over a much wider area was based largely on conjecture:
While there would be some employment benefits and the proposal would help to meet the demand for sand and gravel, these would be measured locally. However, given the potential harm to a protected species, I am not satisfied that these factors significantly outweigh the natural heritage value of the site.
Of course, such species warrant protection - they are on the brink of extinction. When protection is enforced, numbers can improve - as this recent report on bats highlights. 

For the dormouse, however, matters look bleaker as its habitats come under continual pressure from development. In 2008, the UK reported on the conservation status of the dormouse. It stated that "the continued loss of hedgerows, particularly species rich ones, is a real problem" and declared that the Overall Assessment of the species was "Unfavourable – Bad and deteriorating. The species is in serious danger of becoming extinct (at least locally)".

Developers, however, don't care - their business is to turn a profit. But they ignore protected species at their peril - as another story demonstrates: Bat survey halts £15 million leisure complex.