Friday, 29 August 2014

Doesn't AI do hearts and minds any more?

If you wanted to win over a local community with a planning application for a sand and gravel quarry, how would you go about it? If you were Aggregate Industries, wouldn’t you have laid some foundations by now; shown what a positive difference the company could make; shown that ‘there’s nothing to worry about, we’ll be good neighbours, etc’; shown contributions and donations the company has already made to communities to offset some of the impact that operations have made? Other companies have open days - invite the community in, show them how the company works, give them tea and biscuits. Like this:

Open days at AI seem to be a thing of the past. Cash donations are going the wrong way too. Something for AI's new Head of Sustainability to address? Or doesn't AI do hearts and minds anymore?


An article from Mineral Planning that local people may find of interest; it's written by Sue Penaluna, principal planning officer at DCC. The Council has issued two separate temporary mineral permissions for working dimension stone at Exeter cathedral.

This is not quarrying on the scale or impact of Straitgate: "Both permissions are personal to the cathedral for ten years and allow up to five cubic metres a year to be extracted using hand tools."

Andy Price, strategic health and safety manager for Sibelco Europe, gave an update on respirable crystalline silica (RCS) and the mounting problems of inhaling silica, the basic component of soil, sand and other minerals. He told the conference that "more than ever" the aggregates sector was being drawn into the debate on RCS because of diseases such as silicosis.
Evidence suggested people with silicosis could develop lung cancer: 16 deaths were caused by silicosis in 2011, while 40-50 cases were registered every year. But projections from the HSE suggested there could be 800 deaths a year due to past exposure. RCS was number two in the HSE priority list for occupational health behind only asbestos, he said.
Other areas picked up were quarry fencing, traffic management, risk assessments and dust from control of substances hazardous to health...
To hear that the issue of quarry fencing was being discussed at an industry conference, before the school holidays and before a number of tragic drownings, beggars belief.

For those with an interest in the subject, this industry article written by lawyers makes sobering reading:

Here’s just one part:
Fracking involves the injection of large volumes of water. This water is likely to pick up naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) from underground strata. This means that, upon returning to the surface, fracking fluid may contain sufficient NORM to be classed as radioactive waste and require an environmental permit for its storage and disposal.
Operators are unlikely to be granted a permit unless they show a clear strategy for disposing of radioactive flowback. This is significant because of the limited number of installations available nationally to treat waste containing NORM. The December 2013 DECC and AMEC Strategic Environmental Assessment report concluded that volumes of flowback waste water could range from 3,000 to 18,750 cubic metres per well.
Under a high-activity scenario, that could mean a potential wastewater treatment and transit requirement of up to 108 million cubic metres, which would place a substantial burden on existing infrastructure.
The eight-megawatt solar farm at Ketton [cement works in Rutland] is part of Hanson’s action plan to increase the use of renewable energy to achieve its 2020 goal of cutting carbon emissions by 10% per tonne of product.
When cement contributes 1 tonne of CO2 for every tonne produced, producers like Hanson and Holcim will need to do much much more in the years and decades ahead - the UK government for one has set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Planning appeal for quarry working in AONB SPA SAC dismissed

If Aggregate Industries is still clinging to the hope of using Blackhill Quarry beyond 2016 to process any material it might win from Straitgate, then planning appeal decisions are not going its way.

After the one in Staffordshire, mentioned here a couple of weeks ago, here’s another one - this time in Ashdown Forest, which has the same conservation and protection designations as Woodbury Common - AONB, SPA, SAC. In this case the applicant wanted to infill and restore an old quarry with imported inert waste material.

Despite the Inspector agreeing that the "proposal would enhance the character and appearance of the High Weald AONB" and "result in an appropriate measurable improvement to the agricultural use of the land", it would however "jeopardise highway safety along the B2026" and "potentially prejudice any biodiversity interest of the site and harm the nature conservation interest of Ashdown Forest".

Substitute B3180 and Woodbury Common into that last sentence, and you can see why AI is making plans for Rockbeare.

AI's new Head of Sustainability

Aggregate Industries has appointed Shelley Frost as its new Head of Sustainability, a post that's been vacant since February. "Ms Frost joins the company from Lafarge where she held the position of regional director of environment and public affairs in Northern and Central Europe". She said:
Aggregate Industries is passionate about sustainability and committed to performing at the highest standards to minimise our impact on people, the environment and the economy. We are already leading the way in many of these fields and I take pride in working for such a forward thinking company.
This is the same forward thinking company that only now - after almost 50 years of ownership - is working out how to quarry Straitgate Farm.

Locals will of course scrutinise the impact that any quarry at Straitgate will have on people, the environment and local economy if or when a planning application transpires.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

"Airports' global bird slaughter - 100,000s gassed, shot, poisoned"

... writes Rose Bridger, author of Plane Truth: Aviation's Real Impact on People and the Environment, in The Ecologist and the accompanying blog post Airports are waging a war against birdlife. They are important articles, highlighting the cost to birds across the world in the struggle to manage the risk of birdstrike to aircraft. As she says:
Keep airports away from birds! ...the most effective way of minimising bird strikes, aside from constraining aviation growth so that skies are not so crowded, is not to build airports in or near important bird habitats and migratory flightpaths.
The corollary for airports already in place is: don't build developments that attract birdlife - quarries with water being one of them, as proposed here at Straitgate by Aggregate Industries - directly beneath their landing and take-off airspace.

Exeter Airport, now owned by Rigby Group plc, has seen passenger growth pick-up after a six year hiatus. Sir Peter Rigby said: "We see great opportunities to cement Exeter’s position as the gateway airport to the South West and a real driver for economic growth." Matt Roach, managing director of Exeter Airport, said: “We’ve had a very encouraging start to the year and are well on course to exceed three quarters of a million passengers in 2015."

Monday, 11 August 2014

AI makes plans to process at Rockbeare

Local people may have noticed that Aggregate industries' Charcon blockworks at Rockbeare closed this year, and the site remains unused. The suspicion was obviously that this site was being earmarked to process any material won from Straitgate. Now, someone from within AI has confirmed that this is indeed the case.

Whether the company has given up hope of continuing at Blackhill beyond 2016 or whether this is Plan B, remains to be seen. What it does indicate is that AI is not wholly confident of winning the extension.

And rightly so. It was absurd for AI to ever think it could maintain a processing plant in the middle of Woodbury Common AONB, SPA, SAC without a permitted, working and adjoining quarry. Quarrying there finished long ago, following an EU directive, and while it was granted short term permissions to process material from Venn Ottery and Marshbroadmoor, Straitgate could be for another 10 years.

The situation is not dissimilar from a recent planning appeal in Staffordshire, where an inspector ruled that a workshop - that the appellants wished to retain to process stone from other quarries - should be removed, "since its presence was wholly dependent upon the quarrying use, [and] once that ceased it was necessary for the building to be removed in order to protect the green belt”:
The development was by definition inappropriate, the inspector concluded. It reduced the openness of the area and also detracted from the rural character of the locality. While government policy supported economic development in rural areas, there was no need to process stone brought in from other quarries in the green belt… Alternative premises on an industrial estate could be sourced, he determined.
Of course, AI may find securing planning permission to process at Rockbeare not straightforward either. The Highways Agency may have something to say about 100 or more HGV movements a day travelling to and from Straitgate around possibly both Daisymount A30 roundabouts. And AI would still need to convince Exeter Airport and the CAA that having settlement ponds directly below a flightpath would not increase the risk of birdstrike and compromise airport safeguarding; it was 1947, after all, that permission was last granted to work and process at Rockbeare - air traffic and airport safeguarding regulations have both increased dramatically since then.

And on that point, let’s remind ourselves again what one of the ponds at Blackhill Quarry - nicknamed by AI staff as ‘Seagull Pond’ - looked like a couple of years ago:

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

#we_stand_for - and other industry news

A range of industry-related stories that have appeared over the last month:

1. So that we all know exactly what to expect if Aggregate Industries quarries Straitgate Farm, Swiss-owners Holcim have launched a #we_stand_for campaign to promote its "values and behaviors". Number one on its list? "Integrity":
Integrity stands for recognizing the right thing to do, admitting mistakes, having the courage to stand firm on compliance, and taking appropriate action. We follow the Holcim Code of Business Conduct and respect local laws in all situations. Integrity stands for Strength. Performance. Passion
2. For those concerned about the possibility of 100 or more HGV movements each day trundling along the B3180 from Straitgate to Blackhill and back, there's now another issue - from early 2015, HGV speed limits will increase on single-carriageway roads - from 40mph to 50mph:
The FTA said the decision supported an improvement in road safety by reducing the 20mph differential between HGVs and other road users, and would allow UK single-carriageway roads to be used more effectively.
Such a move would of course increase the speed differential between HGVs and cyclists/pedestrians.

3. "Closure threat hangs over quarries" shouts the headline in Minerals Planning.
More than 100 pits and quarries could close within the next five years unless new reserves are granted, a leading consultant has warned.
The leading consultant? "BDS Marketing Research Ltd is an independent marketing and market research consultancy specialising in the construction materials and waste sectors... BDS is a member of, and active participant in, the following trade associations - Mineral Products Association and British Aggregates Association". Not quite so independent then.

In any case, a few days later, the Mineral Products Association, when reporting second quarter aggregate sales - with sand and gravel up 4% on 12 months before, claimed "even with 3% growth trends markets would not regain pre-recession levels until after 2020".

Demand is rising in some sectors of the construction industry: Brick shortages 'worst in living memory' and UK concrete shortage threatens major projects. The latter ironically due to the 'dwindling availability of fly ash'.

4. Last month the Mineral Products Association issued a wish list of actions for the Government - here are some of them:
Ensure energy and climate change policies are consistent with the need to sustain a competitive UK mineral products sector, including Energy Intensive Industries (EIIs). Withdraw the carbon price floor. Review and reduce the cumulative cost and volume of environmental legislation. Freeze the Aggregates Levy while there is a comprehensive review of the policy.
Demands that appear inconsistent with any concern for climate change or the environment.

5. Lastly, and closer to home, Minerals Planning reports that DCC "has approved schedule of new conditions for [Aggregate Industries'] quarry near Barnstaple, subject to the operator agreeing to avoid further working in one area of the site and indemnifying the council against compensation claims".