Saturday, 26 July 2014

Another tragic drowning in a quarry

It’s the same every year - people, often children and teenagers, drown in disused and active quarries all over the UK. Every year there are safety campaigns. Every year there are deaths.

Mineral companies are proud of their contribution to the economy and the built environment. Increasingly, they ‘greenwash’ their activities by promoting their contribution to the natural environment too. But drownings at quarries damage the industry's image, arguably more than anything else.

The industry can blame the victims for not reading or heeding the warning signs, for not having more common sense. But more often than not, the victims are just children looking for an adventure, looking to have a good time with friends in the sun.

The industry has to do more. It has left a legacy of deep, cold, water-filled pits littering the country - a trail of potential danger.

The industry must do more than just safety campaigns - hoping the message will get out, hoping it will register with teenagers wanting to go tombstoning. The industry - most of which, let’s remember, are multinational multibillion-pound corporations - must make their sites and ex-sites safe and secure - and, until then, with security guards and CCTV if need be; a few warning signs and a couple of strands of barbed wire is not enough. Look how a quarry in Northern Ireland can be protected - when it wants to keep out fracking protesters: "by metal fences and razor wire, and is guarded by a private security company". 

The costs of such measures are insignificant - compared with the loss of a 16 year old at the beginning of his life. After Thursday’s tragedy:
One villager... said children had been climbing over the fence and getting into the water "for ages" and it was "an accident waiting to happen".
In 1984, two young brothers drowned in another former quarry in the village.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Does a Norfolk planning appeal decision have implications here?

A planning appeal, where permission for a sand and gravel quarry in Norfolk was rejected, has thrown up a couple of matters we should bear in mind here:

Firstly, it would seem that the NPPF and new planning policy guidance has, if anything, made it more difficult for operators to win ad-hoc planning permissions for quarrying using a shortfall in landbank reserves as an argument, if the site in question does not form part of a Minerals Plan. As this Planning Resource article summarises:
An inspector noted, however, that the national planning policy framework and the planning policy guidance published in March 2014 strongly supported a plan-led system and a move away from a landbank based on regional apportionment. Annual monitoring reports played an important role in warning of a possible disruption of supply and any shortfall should be addressed through an immediate revision of the development plan and not by the granting of ad hoc permissions.
Secondly, the appeal highlights the importance of paying due regard to listed buildings and their settings, following Judgement in the case of Barnwell Manor Wind Energy vs. East Northamptonshire District Council, English Heritage & others. As the planning inspector noted:
15. ...This Judgement reinforces the obligation evinced by s.66(1) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (s.66), which requires the decision maker to “….have special regards to the desirability of preserving the building or it’s setting…”. The Court held that considerable importance and weight should be given to the desirability of preserving the setting of Listed Buildings, when carrying out the balancing exercise, adding that this duty applies with particular force if harm would be caused to the setting of a Grade I Listed Building.
How is all this relevant here?

Firstly, Aggregate Industries will want to apply for permission to quarry Straitgate Farm whether the site is in Devon’s Minerals Plan or not; the Norfolk ruling would indicate difficulty for AI if it is not.

Secondly, the Barnwell Manor case reinforces the importance of listed buildings AND their settings. Here we have not only Grade II listed Straitgate Farm itself, but also Grade I listed Cadhay Manor, and its mediaeval fishponds - directly fed from a watercourse originating at Straitgate Farm.

Monday, 21 July 2014

News on Twitter

Here are an assortment of stories we have put on Twitter this month about quarry-related matters. We appreciate they pale into insignificance compared with current world events.

Edit: New link for Uttoxeter story

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Quarry plans could mean a 17 year wait

We’ve lost count of the number of times we have seen stories like this, but for the residents around Lomond Quarry, near Leslie in Fife, who have been plagued for years by blasting and HGVs, the news must come as a terrible shock. The nearest house is just 55m away; Fife Council has received over 900 complaints. Residents were no doubt looking forward to the day when the quarry was worked out and restored.
Leslie residents may [now] have to wait until 2031 for the restoration of Lomond Quarry if amendments to existing planning conditions are approved.
Quarry owners Skene Group are understood to have applied for a variation on operational phasing and subsequent restoration programme which, if approved, would allow the developer a greater level of deeper blasting at the site and the potential for increased rock extraction.
If amendments are given the go-ahead, plans to carry out a phased restoration would start once work on all quarry phases is completed.
And if Aggregate Industries manages to get its foot in the door at Straitgate Farm, with one set of planning conditions, local people will no doubt fear the same thing as in Fife - extensions, modifications, applications for adjacent fields, one change of the planning 'goal-posts' after another...

Wednesday, 2 July 2014


The meeting referred to in the last Update to discuss Straitgate took place at DCC yesterday. Aggregate Industries asked that the details of the meeting be treated as "commercially confidential".

Discussions concerned Straitgate, Rockbeare, Marshbroadmoor, Venn Ottery and Blackhill. The area is being looked at as a whole, since restoration would make up an important part of any proposal.

AI is still aiming to submit a planning application later this year, subject to persuading the Environment Agency and other statutory bodies that its proposals are acceptable. However, with a smaller recoverable resource, AI and its Swiss paymasters will no doubt need to assess the financial viability of any scheme.

DCC has informed us that AI's final campaign at Marshbroadmoor is scheduled to start this month. Approximately 45,000 tonnes of aggregate remain; once this has been removed the site will be restored. Work at Venn Ottery will temporarily cease while the Marshbroadmoor site is being worked.