Friday, 27 February 2015

There are so many holes in AI’s story

Aggregate Industries' brochure, showing glossy pictures of four men in hi-vis clothing and how excavators could transform Straitgate Farm, is poor on clarity, poor on facts. There are so many holes in AI’s story you could drive one of its HGVs through it.

For a start, those 100 acres of green fields on the brochure's cover are the ones there now, not the ones we will be left with. But it's the words that are the most misleading:
...working in partnership with the surrounding communities every step of the way.
AI may claim that in East Devon, but in Mid Devon, at Hillhead near Uffculme, residents tell a completely different story. 
Devon will have a shortfall of sand and gravel reserves during the period of the Minerals Plan to 2031.
Perhaps - but not now, not next year, because Devon has over 8 million tonnes of reserves currently available with planning permission. At current rates of use, it may not be until 2025 that the county has less than the seven years of reserves required by the NPPF
We’ve provided robust evidence that Straitgate Farm can provide a strategically important and sustainable supply of aggregates…
But not enough robust evidence to satisfy statutory consultees that extraction of that supply could be performed without unacceptable environmental damage. And sustainable?? If trucking 1.2 million tonnes of a finite resource to Woodbury Common is AI’s idea of sustainable, God help us. 
The Straitgate site would be restored...
However, with the intended Phase 2 below the water table, AI can’t tell us how or when. What is clear is that it would never be restored to the "best and most versatile agricultural land" that it is today.
Advanced tree planting and new hedgerow planting has been undertaken…
But a spokesman has already confirmed that many of those trees would need to be removed for archaeological work, and the rest are in the wrong place for long-term airport safeguarding considerations. Some of the new hedgerows planted are now in the wrong place too. 
...dry working option would not affect the groundwater and surface water quantities feeding into the four streams…
Yet AI fails to say a single word about protecting drinking water supplies for the 100 people relying on surrounding wells. The Environment Agency thinks that even dry working "could potentially result in more ‘flashy’ groundwater and surface water flow, and a reduction in water resources during dry periods. This could adversely impact the numerous groundwater and spring abstractions down-gradient of the proposed quarry". 
The proposed restoration scheme offers opportunities for ecological gain over and above what currently exists through the provision of additional hedgerows and woodland planting.
Who does AI take us for? Almost two miles of ancient hedgerows would be ripped out, some up to 4m wide; they have European-protected dormice in them, a bio-indicator of species-rich habitats. Compensatory planting would take generations to come anywhere close. In any case, for airport safeguarding reasons, Exeter Airport wants no trees or hedges planted above 135m AOD, which rules out planting in most of the area AI wants to quarry. AI shows pictures of ponies grazing at Blackhill, restoration that won an award from the Quarry Products Association. AI doesn’t show pictures of its derelict and unrestored site at Hillhead, Uffculme (below).
The B3180 has been used for the transportation of locally won sand and gravel for many decades.
But not the transportation of as-dug material for decades. Material quarried at Blackhill was processed at Blackhill, material quarried at Rockbeare was processed at Rockbeare; material quarried at Marshbroadmoor was only taken to Blackhill on a campaign basis after 2008. Venn Ottery - AI's latest working - is transported 5 miles to Blackhill, and not through a village. Planning permission for Venn Ottery was granted 50 years ago. We work to different standards today, and AI should too. The numbers that are missing from AI’s story are 8.2 - the number of miles between Straitgate and Blackhill, and 100 plus - the truck movements each working day for the 5 years of Phase 1.

All things to bear in mind when speaking "to the team responsible for making it happen" at next week’s drop-in public exhibition .