Friday, 21 November 2014

‘Straitgate’s not enough’ - AI wants more of our local area

Minerals planning in Devon has taken a new, bizarre and disturbing twist. No decisions have yet been made, but, according to DCC, ‘Straitgate may not be enough on its own’ - other areas around Ottery St Mary, West Hill and beyond may have to be earmarked as well.

And no, the sites at Penslade near Uffculme are not being ruled out either. In actual fact, if both Straitgate and Penslade are designated as Preferred Sites, that would cover any shortfall of sand and gravel for the Minerals Plan period to 2031 many times over, even if reserves at Houndaller near Hillhead are ignored. There should be no need to identify any further sites. So what’s going on?

First of all, Aggregate Industries obviously has little interest in Penslade - unless permission is refused for Straitgate. Secondly, Straitgate has a smaller available resource of sand and gravel than either AI or DCC had hoped - arguably not enough by itself to cover the expected shortfall in the Plan. AI clearly wants to be at Straitgate, but also wants to stay in the area once the Farm is exhausted. To facilitate this, DCC is considering making further provision in the Minerals Plan for this area. What DCC is now talking about, in addition to making Straitgate a Preferred Site, is identifying a more extensive 'Area of Search', in other words identifying the next areas for AI to quarry. BGS defines an 'Area of Search' as:
...broader areas where knowledge of mineral resources may be less certain than in Preferred Areas, but within which planning permissions could be granted to meet any shortfall in supply if suitable applications are made.
What area might it cover? It’s not known yet, but the best indication is this map, where the yellow indicates the extent of the Budleigh Salterton Pebble Beds, the sand and gravel that AI wants.

So much for DCC's idea 'that supply should be maintained from the northern and southern areas’. Nevertheless, most of this is no more than we have said before, that once AI gets a foothold in Straitgate it will move on to other farmland around Ottery St Mary, West Hill and beyond - quarrying here for generations to come; it already owns the mineral rights. What has changed is it now looks like DCC is working in tandem with AI to make it happen - opening the door for this Swiss multinational to wreck large parts of the Otter Valley. Huge areas are at risk; sites S1-S10 that had previously been excluded will now be looked at again. This is no longer just about Straitgate.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Devon Minerals Plan further delayed

Two passages to note from the report:
Further progress on developing proposals for sand and gravel supply has been limited by the delay in receiving further information from the potential mineral operator necessary to establish whether the constraints identified through the consultation are capable of being avoided or adequately mitigated. However, the operator has now undertaken extensive investigatory work and has indicated that the outcomes will be reported to the Council shortly to inform preparation of the Minerals Plan. [2.4]
It is anticipated that the pre-submission Minerals Plan will be reported to the Committee and Cabinet in June 2015 for approval for public consultation in advance of its subsequent submission to the Secretary of State. [3.1]

Straitgate planning application "in due course", confirms Aggregate Industries

A request was made in September to Aggregate Industries for copies of the archaeology trench plans. It was indicated that such plans would be forthcoming once certain amendments had been made; copies were freely shown to us on site visits.

As the archaeological investigations draw to a close, AI is now unwilling to share such plans; plans that show the position and nature of the farm’s geophysical anomalies, and indicate the revised extent of AI's proposed extraction area. Local people interested in the history of their surrounding area will instead have to wait for AI’s planning application and its environmental statement.

For those in any doubt it would get to this stage, AI has now confirmed that its application will be submitted "in due course".

And yet there is still no resolution of the outstanding issues with statutory agencies, and Devon still has no new Minerals Plan. It is a warning to local people, however, to be ready.

Monday, 17 November 2014

How much Roman archaeology has AI already destroyed at Straitgate Farm?

AI extracted 400 tonnes of sand and gravel from eight pits for testing.

All eight pits were dug in the field now showing extensive signs of settlement from the Roman period.

AI did engage someone to look for archaeology when the pits were first opened. He gave each each pit a cursory glance after the top soil was removed, before giving the excavator the nod to continue. He failed to find anything - in a landscape that’s now proving to be rich in history going back thousands of years...

Monday, 10 November 2014


Somerset’s Minerals Plan is at a much more advanced stage than Devon’s - after DCC’s prolonged wait for Aggregate Industries to prove the viability of Straitgate Farm. Somerset’s Plan was examined in September, and a list of modifications is now out for consultation from 5 November to 17 December.

Somerset has limited resources of sand and gravel, but is a significant producer of crushed rock. This meets some of its demand for sand and gravel, but otherwise Somerset is supplied by quarries in Dorset, Devon and elsewhere. Of the 378k tonnes of sand and gravel that Somerset 'imported' in 2009, 65% came from Dorset (mainly AI’s Chard Junction Quarry on the Dorset/Somerset border) and, if the numbers are to be believed, less than 10% came from Devon (mainly from Hanson’s Town Farm Quarry at Burlescombe, on the Devon/Somerset border, which produces around 170k tonnes pa) [SCC LAA 2013]. In 2009, Devon 'imported' 93k tonnes of sand and gravel from elsewhere; 'much is likely to have originated' from AI's Chard Junction Quarry [DCC LAA 6.4], which produces around 160k tonnes pa.

SCC LAA 2013
What worries Somerset, and plainly the Planning Inspector, is what happens when these quarries finish:
Somerset County Council is mindful that reserves at the Town Farm site in Devon are expected to run until the early 2020s and that the planning permission at Chard Junction expires in 2023 [SCC Statement Sep'14 5.3]
There is a potential resource of around 400k tonnes near Hanson's plant at Whiteball, near Wellington:
Extraction at Whiteball may be proposed on the Somerset side of the border during the next 10 years, moving from extraction on the Devon side of the border. Whilst this is unlikely to change Somerset’s approach towards sand and gravel policy, it will alter the import/export figures, leading to Somerset exporting to local markets in Devon. [SCC LAA 3.10]
But following public examination, SCC has been prompted to add a new paragraph, 6.78:
Somerset County Council encourages proposals to come forward for sand and gravel extraction that are in accordance with relevant policies in the Development Plan and contribute to sub-regional supply. Informed by updates to the Somerset Local Aggregate Assessment, the need for new sources of sand and gravel is anticipated to become more pressing in the early 2020s, notwithstanding there may be benefits of proposals coming forward more quickly. [SCC Statement Sep’14]
If Somerset is now looking for sand and gravel supplies from within its own borders, does this reduce how much Devon needs to allocate in its new Plan? Probably not. SCC said:
It would be premature for the Plan to allocate sites for sand & gravel at this stage, noting the lack of interest from industry in sites for sand and gravel extraction in Somerset (except for interest in the continuation of Whiteball operations) and the lack of information on available resources other than those around the Whiteball operations. [SCC Statement Sep'14 6.9]
And DCC has already recognised the issue. In its latest LAA:
...during the later part of the period to 2031 covered by the LAA, some of the sand and gravel supply previously delivered from Devon will be met from Somerset through continued working at Whiteball. [3.25] However, this supply from Somerset will be offset by the likely cessation of supply of sand and gravel from Dorset, as Chard Junction Quarry, located close to the boundary with Devon and supplying materials into the east of the county, is anticipated to cease working in 2022/23. [3.26]
From a strategic point of view, this likely cessation of supply of sand and gravel from Dorset into the east of the county is probably another reason why Straitgate is so important to AI.


The site comprised the existing quarry together with an area of 34 hectares identified as preferred sites in the minerals local plan…. The council concluded that the need for the mineral had been proven through the site’s allocation in the mineral local plan.
The risk to a protected aquifer in Hertfordshire was sufficient reason for an inspector to dismiss an appeal involving the extraction of sand and gravel from land in the green belt.
Extractive companies contribute in a number of ways, said committee chair Adrian Bailey. But reports of poor practice around the world are a concern and give extractive industries a bad name. To improve the performance and accountability of mining firms, a tough social responsibility index needs to be developed in the UK, which features all extractive companies listing here.
4. Group of experts calls for national minerals strategy to meet the UK’s needs up to 2050
Continued access to minerals in the UK should not be at the expense of adverse impacts on the environment. So far the UK has generally been able to secure adequate and steady supplies within a highly protective environmental framework, and with care this should still be possible.
The community has really rallied together to fight these plans. I think the proposal is an absolute abomination and will totally ruin Shelford Valley. It is completely outrageous.
Delays to the end of work at [AI's] Uttoxeter Quarry has been an on-going issue for residents and the latest plan could see it delayed until the 2020s.

8. Crickley Hill Iron Age battle site preserved
Iron Age battle site containing the remains of a hill fort has been given legal protection by English Heritage
The team of archaeologists, who unearthed the remains of a 2,000 year old Iron Age and Roman settlement and two medieval and post-medieval stone-constructed buildings in December 2012, will be presenting their findings to local residents and interested groups.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Straitgate just keeps giving…

Archaeological excavations are beginning to draw to a close at Straitgate, but the Farm has revealed yet another side to its past - as we learnt at a meeting on site today.

Two of the fields have already shown extensive evidence of Iron Age settlement, as already reported. Now, another field is showing widespread evidence of settlement during the Roman period. Numerous samples of pottery have been found, including black-burnished ware and mortaria dating back to around 300AD; baked earth and in-situ pottery possibly shows signs of a Roman corn dryer.

Perhaps the most dramatic discovery has been evidence of substantial earthworks - once a bank and ditch, enclosing possibly a settlement, maybe more... A 20-30m long feature was originally picked up on the geophysical survey; the ditch alone may extend to over 2m in depth. The bank has eroded over time and the ditch has filled with multiple layers of sediment. Pottery from the Roman period was found in the top layers of sediment, with underlying layers obviously pre-dating this. Further investigations are needed and additional trenches will now be opened in an effort to discover its full extent.

A report will be written by the contractors in due course; AI will include this with any future planning application. Whatever form this takes, it is now recognised that there have been settlements of one sort or another at Straitgate over thousands of years. The extent of the area where AI would now need to perform a full archaeological survey, should planning permission be granted, has grown yet again.

Trench running into AI's newly planted trees exposing finds from the Roman period
Baked earth and in-situ pottery possibly shows signs of a Roman corn dryer
Evidence of bank and ditch earthworks