Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Minerals trade body says "conserve & enhance". AI won't even do a proper survey

We are talking about bats. And anyone living near Straitgate Farm will know just how many bats swoop around the area. Some people are lucky enough to have roosts in the structure of their homes, and can witness their acrobatics at dusk and the early morning.

Aggregate Industries’ consultants, SLR, performed preliminary bat surveys at Straitgate last year. A report will be published shortly. SLR's ecologist has confirmed that “a range of bat species were found during the surveys, with pipistrelles being by far the most abundant”, one of the 17 species of bat breeding in the UK. The other species will apparently be revealed when the reports are “finalised” in due course. What is known, however, is that neither the farm buildings nor the veteran oaks have undergone any detailed assessment, and nor will they. The oaks were "provisionally inspected” but it has been confirmed that no further "specialist survey" is deemed necessary.

This is surprising. Back in 2001, the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre ecological report, of Straitgate and surrounds, recognised that:
It is possible that bats are using part of the farm as roost sites, for example the veteran trees. Because Devon is a stronghold for several bat species and the farm provides suitable habitat for them, a specialist bat survey should be carried out
SLR’s ecologist even admits that "bats exiting trees are generally obscured by the canopy” and “roosts in trees are extremely difficult to find” without climbing up into them, which begs the question as to how consultants can be so sure that roosts are not present. When local knowledge, local sightings and favourable habitat all point to a strong bat presence, it seems a nonsense that a specialist survey is not performed as a matter of course. Greater horseshoe bats for example, a particularly rare species, have been found locally. They like Devon's dairy farms, being drawn to cow pats and hedgerows, as this short video shows:

In Britain, all bat species and their roosts are legally protected. Tearing down mature trees and digging out a quarry must count as one of the most invasive forms of development for wildlife.

How important is it for bats to be properly assessed? Look what happened in Lancashire where permission for a new housing development was "overturned by the High Court because planners did not properly investigate the impact on local bats”. "Among concerns was the potential impact of removing a roadside hedgerow on bats which use it for foraging and shelter”.

You would have thought that the impact on bats by the grubbing up of nearly two miles of ancient hedgerows might warrant a second look, but if AI wants to penny-pinch and not perform a full and proper specialist bat survey, that is of course the company’s prerogative and the company’s risk. It may of course be that AI does not want to look too hard, fearful of what might be found. Whatever the reason, the lack of a proper survey will just confirm to some that the minerals industry's 'love of nature’ that we hear so much about - today, coincidentally, it was indeed about bats, is nothing more than corporate “greenwash”.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Straitgate Farm with all its hedgerows in 1888

National Library of Scotland has released newly digitised historic maps for the UK. Here's a screen shot showing Straitgate Farm in 1888 with all its hedgerows, most of which are still around today. Click on the screen shot for the full map.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Another two firms sign up to process secondary aggregates in Cornwall

... after Aggregate Industries lose the Imerys supply contract, reports the Western Morning News.
Imerys said that it wanted to have a greater emphasis on sustainability by reducing the amount of china clay waste sent to tips and increasing the future use of secondary aggregates produced from these by-products. 

Monday, 17 March 2014

"Moving Mountains to build a Greener London"

Runs a press release headline. The mountains referred to are in Cornwall. They consist of china clay mining waste - secondary aggregates, an effective replacement for primary or virgin sand & gravel. Six hundred million tonnes are piled up all over Devon and Cornwall; 40Mt more are created every year.

The subject of Secondary vs. Primary was discussed here over a year ago. We pointed out that china clay secondary aggregates were being used in major London building projects, including the Olympic Park, and that, according to Aggregate Industries, secondary aggregates are a "substitute for primary aggregates in the vast majority of cases”.

We asked that "if the economics can work supplying London, why not Devon?"

We also pointed out that Imerys, with existing contracts coming to an end, was "actively developing the growth of their secondary aggregates (china clay waste) products from Cornwall” and was "seeking partners to realise the full potential of the materials in the markets they serve”.

Last week it was announced that AI - having processed Cornish china clay waste for 40 years - lost the Imerys supply contract to S Walsh, an Essex based company, who will ship it for use in the South East. The implication is that AI could not, or would not, realise the full potential of this waste material. Forty people now stand to lose their jobs at two AI sites in Cornwall.

Here’s what S Walsh had to say:
S Walsh recognises the growing demand for “green” construction materials and sees this agreement as the catalyst for realising the potential of this material in the market... We have undertaken extensive research and know that these products can be used more widely for infrastructure, residential, commercial, education & health construction projects.
Secondary Aggregate from china clay waste meets the requirements of sustainable building in the UK. There is a huge lack of understanding of availability and potential for this ‘secondary’ resource and we expect that through our commercial relationships we can share what the possibilities are.
Products sourced from S Walsh can be used to produce high specification construction products such as asphalt, ready-mix concrete and various concrete products such as blocks, kerbs, flags, bricks and precast products such as tunnel segments, constituting up to 100% secondary aggregates.
Until recently, and until lobbying by mineral trade bodies, china clay secondary aggregate was free from the £2/tonne Aggregates Levy - a government incentive to encourage its use. The EU is looking into whether this exemption constitutes illegal state aid, and it has been temporarily suspended. Apparently, however, the EU has been fed "some odd and biased information about what is and what is not secondary aggregates” and representations have been made by government and by members of the House of Lords to maintain the exemption to promote secondary aggregates use. Hundreds of jobs in Cornwall are at riskIt seems odd therefore that this temporary suspension of the Aggregates Levy was played upon by DCC in its most recent LAA:
the removal of the Aggregates Levy exemptions for secondary aggregates introduces significant uncertainty into the prediction of future requirements for land-won aggregates
DCC is the biggest customer for local aggregates. Does it have an inbuilt bias against secondary material? Many people new to the world of minerals planning will be dumbfounded to learn that the council is looking at new virgin primary aggregate sites when it already has a ready source - hundreds of millions of tonnes of waste blighting the landscape.

So why is Devon not demanding that more be made of this material, before assigning new green field sites? DCC writes a Minerals Plan not to make life easier for multinational aggregates conglomerates, but for the good of the County and its inhabitants as a whole. Secondary aggregates are a waste product - a sustainable product - a ‘greener' product; what more could be done to promote its use? Since secondary aggregates can replace primary in the “vast majority” of cases according to AI, “up to 100%” according to S Walsh, it could be argued that some of the millions of tonnes available should be added to the primary sand & gravel landbank - to extend the time before new sites are called upon. That might focus some minds. Few other counties have such large secondary aggregates supply - Devon could be argued to be a special case. After all, what's the sand & gravel shortfall DCC is looking to cover in its plan to 2031? 1.6Mt How much secondary aggregate is there again? 600Mt By tackling this issue, DCC's Minerals Plan really would leave a lasting positive impact on the County. The industry would kick and scream - but hey, they shouldn't leave the landscape in such a mess.

So we ask exactly the same question that we asked over a year ago: "if the economics can work supplying London, why not Devon?”

Friday, 7 March 2014

Aggregate Industries' answer for the dormice - an 'escape route'

No seriously. Contractors have planted this 'hedge' with hazel and honeysuckle to act as a 'corridor' for dormice at Straitgate Farm to escape. And one day it might be a hedge, but by then, after years of quarrying, there would be no dormice left to use it anyway. In truth, it's nothing more than a 'tick-box' hedge; an attempt to convince Natural England that this species, a species on the edge of extinction, has been 'taken care of'. But dormice live in trees and ancient hedgerows - not twigs and tubes.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

DCC publishes 2nd Local Aggregate Assessment 2003-2012

DCC has just released its 2nd Local Aggregate Assessment; a requirement of the NPPF "to provide a rolling evidence base to inform the approach to be taken in the Local Plans of the individual Mineral Planning Authorities to the supply of aggregates”.

Despite protestations from the minerals industry, through the South West Aggregate Working Party and Devon Stone Federation, the weighted 10 year moving average to calculate future landbank requirements has been maintained.

The status of permitted sand and gravel sites in Devon, table 3.6, has been updated: 
Blackhill, Woodbury: Extraction of remaining reserves was completed in 2011. Plant is retained for processing materials transported from two other sites until December 2016 
Hillhead, Uffculme: No extraction undertaken since 2009, although small quantities have been sold from stockpiles. Renewed extraction of sand and gravel at Houndaller is being considered for 2014.
DCC points out that "the removal of the Aggregates Levy exemptions for secondary aggregates introduces significant uncertainty into the prediction of future requirements for land-won aggregates".

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Climate change - we should all be doing our bit...

No one can pretend that quarrying aggregate, or manufacturing cement and concrete, is anything but environmentally unfriendly. The cement industry alone "is responsible for 5% of worldwide man-made emissions of CO2" - almost a tonne of CO2 is emitted for every tonne of cement produced.

But let's bring the climate debate closer to home, and look at Aggregate Industries' proposal for Straitgate Farm. In particular, how much CO2 would be generated just by AI transporting any material it should win at Straitgate to Blackhill Quarry on Woodbury Common, its preferred site for processing.

If Straitgate does have 3.1 million tonnes of saleable sand & gravel, then with 10% silt that's 3.44 million tonnes gross. If an HGV transports 29 tonnes, that’s 118,600 loads in total. A 44-tonne laden HGV produces 2.23kg CO2/mile, unladen 1.34kg CO2/mile. A 15 mile round-trip to Blackhill and back would therefore generate 26.8kg of CO2; 118,600 trips would produce 3180 tonnes of CO2. Over a proposed 10 year lifespan that would be more than a tonne of CO2 for every working day.

3180 tonnes of CO2 - because it's cheaper for a Swiss cement giant not to move some equipment.

There are many notable projects around the country attempting to bring down our carbon footprint. There’s one in Lyme Regis - a hydro-electric system in the Town Mill. By generating electricity from the River Lim, it hopes to save 13 tonnes CO2 annually.

But benefits from schemes like this are dwarfed by unsustainable proposals from corporations, selfishly focusing on nothing but profit. Whatever happens with Straitgate, the idea of processing material 7.5 miles away must be a non-starter. With climate change, everybody must pull their weight.