Tuesday, 23 June 2015

AI wants to quarry down to the water table - of the aquifer that supplies 106 people

Which might not be so laughable - if AMEC knew exactly where the maximum water table was, and AI could be trusted not to quarry beyond it.

But after two years of groundwater monitoring, this is what AMEC says on the maximum groundwater levels - "there is uncertainty about how smooth the transition is because there is no piezometer in the centre of the Site and there is the possibility for steps in the water table related to faulting" 2.4 and "the two [maximum water table grids] therefore represent just two of the many possible interpretations of the data which themselves are based on an incomplete parameterization of the detailed groundwater dynamics of the site" 4.2.

And on the matter of trust, AI also made assurances to the Environment Agency not to quarry below the water table at Venn Ottery Quarry, and this is what it looked like a few weeks ago.

DCC and the EA will stipulate that "an unsaturated zone of at least 1m [be] maintained across the site", but as it stands, AI’s application is to quarry down to the maximum level and then backfill "by placement of 1m combined thickness of topsoil and subsoil over the quarry floor to replicate current ground conditions" 3.42. So AI already wants to play fast and loose with people’s drinking water.

And for the 106 people reliant on the Straitgate aquifer, who is to effectively monitor what goes on if AI is let loose with its excavators and dumper trucks, with all that sand and gravel and no-one looking? Who was monitoring Venn Ottery? The first that local people would know is when their drinking water supply fails or becomes polluted. And then what? Would AI connect people to the mains and pay their water bills in perpetuity, or would AI say 'the borehole readings seem fine - it can’t be anything to do with us'?

Monday, 22 June 2015

Human receptors - and the numbers you won’t find in AI’s application

SLR claims to have counted the bats and dormice, not the great crested newts, but there’s no mention anywhere in Aggregate Industries' planning application of the number of people that could be affected.

Besides all those who live along the B3180, who would have to put up with some 140,000 HGV movements over 5 years, SLR says: "Excepting a limited number of isolated farms and residential properties there are no other human receptors close to the site" 2.27.

What SLR should have said was within 200m of the site there are 61 properties with 146 permanent residents; furthermore planning permission currently exists for a further 17 properties (up to 50 further residents); furthermore Long Range Hotel has staff of 6, regularly 28 guests and daily swimming classes of up to 30; furthermore Kings School (1150 students) and Ottery Hospital are both within 2km, in relation to PM10 and PM2.5 carcinogenic dust particles.

What AMEC should have said was that most recent figures show 106 people rely on the spring water from Straitgate for their drinking water supplies, together with 3 farms, and 2000 visitors to Cadhay's tearooms each year.

Did SLR and AMEC not know these numbers? Of course they did - they just didn’t want to say.

Friday, 19 June 2015

One map 'edited out' of AMEC’s flood risk assessment

The Environment Agency expressed concern that Aggregate Industries’ plans for Straitgate could mean:
A possible change in recharge and runoff patterns (e.g. an increase in runoff and decrease in aquifer recharge during high intensity rainfall events ) as a result of removal of part of the unsaturated zone, with the potential to impact on: eastward flowing groundwater; the flow of springs; local private water supplies; the volume of groundwater draining to Cadhay Wood CWS and Cadhay Bog CWS. 7.104
AMEC has prepared a Flood Risk Assessment, and accepts that "the four watercourses which rise from springs and seepages at the margins of the BSPB around the site pose a flood risk to localised areas downstream from the site" 3.4.2. Amazingly, however, the only reference to the extreme flooding of 2008 in AMEC’s report says:
In [DCC’s Strategic Flood Risk Assessment], several significant flooding events in the East Devon Catchment are noted, of special significance to the Site was the flooding that occurred at Ottery St Mary (3km east of the Site) in October 2008; "This resulted in an estimated 350 properties flooding from main rivers, ordinary watercourses and surface water, with 25 people requiring assistance from the fire service. The incident is considered to be the worst flood event to have occurred in Devon in the past 25 years." 2.3.7
No mention of 2008 in Section 3.3 "Historic flooding". Which is odd, because the company was fully aware of the facts in 2013 - here’s AMEC’s report from that time, which included some of our photos and the map above. All traces of the impacts of 2008 have now been edited out. How can a comprehensive flood risk assessment ignore such an important event? After all, it was in 2008 that the Cadhay Bog watercourse flooded 50 properties at Thorne Farm Way, prompting the EA to build a flood defence scheme there.

Editing out this flooding event surely undermines the whole integrity of AMEC's Flood Risk Assessment.

But whilst AMEC and SLR happily write-off the flood risk to local people, tellingly, it warns AI workers:
Access points to the quarry should be clear of the four watercourses near the Site so that safe access and egress can be maintained during extreme rainfall. 5.1.1 A formal Site evacuation/risk management plan should be drawn up and staff briefed with regards to procedures if flooding affects parts of the quarry or one or all quarry access/exit routes. 5.1.2
The EA map shows all four watercourses from the site have a high risk of causing surface water flooding:

AMEC says that surface water runoff during any quarrying would be captured by "infiltration ponds... supported by the construction of an impermeable bund", such that "23% of working areas [would] be reserved for infiltration... 6.2 ha [15.3 acres] of infiltration area is required for every 26.4 ha of working area" 4.1.14. It’s anybody's guess what would happen after quarry operations have ceased, when the impermeable bunds and unsaturated sponge-like sand and gravel layer have gone, because "arrangements for the collection and disposal of surface water arising from the restored site" have not even been designed. 3.57

Here are photos of the damage that flooding immediately downstream of the site can do, in 2008 and in 2012; the two on the left appeared in AMEC's first report, but, unsurprisingly, not the report that supports AI's planning application. 

The EnviroCheck maps are copyright © 2012 Landmark Information Group drawing from sources which themselves are protected under Crown Copyright (Ordnance Survey, Environment Agency, British Geological Survey, and other public authorities) or under copyrights owned by private enterprises. You are kindly requested to use these maps solely for activities relating to the Straitgate Action Group, as other uses may not fall under the licence granted.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

What maximum number of HGVs would SLR have quoted if we hadn’t counted them?

AI’s planning application for Venn Ottery in 2010 talked about an average of 138 HGV movements a day over a 4 day week, yet, on the one random day we checked, it was 194.

SLR’s Transport Assessment claims that this figure we chanced to count also happens to be the maximum number of HGV movements, and that there were only 3 days in the last 12 months like this:
Over the previous three years an average of 398,000 tonnes of material per year has been extracted and transported to Blackhill Quarry. This is equivalent to a daily average of 67 HGV trips each way, or a total of 134 movements each day, with a maximum number of movements up to 194 seen on occasion. 2.3.1 …in the past 12 months there have been three days during which HGV trip generation exceeded 90 trips per day (180 movements). 5.2
What's the chance of that??

AI's proposals for Straitgate Farm entail some 140,000 HGV movements over 5 years, but SLR writes this off and says "the increased flows along [the B3180] are insignificant to cause a noticeable impact to road users" 4.3. There are likely to be many statements in SLR’s transport reports that will anger local people; here’s one that might - it’s the last paragraph of the Transport Assessment:
Based on the findings of this assessment it can be concluded that the proposed development will have no material adverse impact on the operation or safety of the local road network. The proposed mitigation measures would offset any adverse impact generated by the proposed development. The benefits of any mitigation would be extensive, improving operation and safety beyond that experienced in the existing situation. 8.0
And the almighty mitigation measures that would offset the 1.2 million HGV miles, the impacts on road safety, air pollution and climate change? AI offers to cut back the trees on its own property, and change the Old A30/B3174 road junction to facilitate its own trucks 7.0. Local people will be thrilled.

In our view, SLR's transport reports for the Straitgate proposal are as far removed from reality as any we have seen. We suggest local people read these sections, here and here, and then tell DCC what really goes on along the B3180.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Homes 70m away, retirement homes 100m away... and AI says 'trust us on dust'

A dust assessment forms part of Aggregate Industries’ planning application for Straitgate. It claims:
The potential for fugitive dust emissions from the proposed excavation of sand and gravel at Straitgate Farm is minimal due to the inherently high moisture content of the ‘as dug’ material. 1.2 Notwithstanding this and in order to ensure that the mitigation measures are appropriately adhered to, it is recommended that a detailed scheme of dust management and monitoring be prepared pursuant to a condition for approval by the local planning authority. This will be prepared by the applicant… 1.4
Furthermore, for properties (including "high sensitivity" retirement homes) where "there is the potential for an intermediate dust impact… the operator will ensure the diligent application of appropriate mitigation measures as outlined in section 8.0. This will ensure an insignificant impact from fugitive dust." 6.4

But AI employs the same mitigation measures at Blackhill - and this is what it can look like:

Would this be AI's idea of insignificant

Some homes are as close as 70m to the edge of the proposed workings at Straitgate. The company has reneged on an assurance made by AI’s Head of Geological Services in 2013, that future plans would "incorporate a 100m standoff from properties along [Rhubarb] lane (... at some points our extraction boundary came to within 65m...)".

We have written about the health impacts of dust before. Even a 100m standoff from excavators and dumper trucks would not be enough with dust emissions like the ones above. We all know AI is desperate to maximise its recovery of Straitgate's ever shrinking resource, but any permission must have appropriate standoffs to protect the health and amenity of local people; 70m is absurd.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Can AI demonstrate ‘exceptional circumstances’ to justify the use of an AONB to process sand and gravel, and not Rockbeare or another industrial location?

Aggregate Industries wants to haul as-dug sand and gravel from Straitgate across Woodbury Common, an area of international importance to nature in an AONB - 1.2 million HGV miles over 5 years - because, it says, it is not able to process the material at Rockbeare, one quarter the distance away.

In recent advice, DCC said:
Given the availability of an alternative location for processing at Rockbeare Hill Quarry (3.5km from Straitgate Farm) with the opportunity to also consider a range of alternative processing locations, it may be difficult for the site promoter to demonstrate the ‘exceptional circumstances’ required for development in the AONB.
We have written about what might represent 'exceptional circumstances' before, but AI claims it has to use the AONB because its derelict industrial site at Rockbeare is too small:
Although the processing plant at Blackhill occupies just over 1 ha in area, and could therefore be accommodated within the Charcon Concrete plant area which is now closed, there is insufficient space elsewhere on the site for the finished product stockpiles. At present AI uses 3.85 ha of land at Blackhill Quarry for stockpiles, an area that would be increased if some stockpiles could not use the old quarry faces to reduce their land take. This area of land is not available at Rockbeare Quarry. 5.35
Which seems odd, because this tool measures the site at over 16 ha:

There are, of course, no 'exceptional circumstances' why AI has to process material in an AONB; in fact, SLR confirms that Blackhill is "the applicant’s preferred option" 5.39, not the applicant’s only option.

What's driving these unsustainable plans is AI's bottom line, and that of its Swiss multinational parent; again, SLR helpfully confirms this by telling us that staying at Blackhill "would enable best use to be made of the investment that has already been made5.39, which is no reason at all to continue to impact a Natura 2000 site or the East Devon AONB.

Is SLR asking local people to suspend all rational thought?

SLR, Aggregate Industries' consultants, tells DCC, statutory consultees and local people that:
The [Environmental Statement] demonstrates that there would be no unacceptable adverse impacts on the natural and historic environment, local amenity or human health 4.18
[The] review of national and local planning policy has demonstrated that the proposed development broadly accords with and supports planning policy and sustainable development. It has not identified any instances where planning policy is not complied with... planning balance is therefore weighted in favour of a positive determination 4.101
... incredible and delusory statements for a 100 acre greenfield quarry and unsustainable 1.2 million mile HGV haulage operation through an AONB and internationally designated wildlife conservation site. It even has the nerve to say:
Arguably some aspects of the application site would be improved as a result of the proposed development 6.102
... when Aggregate Industries is unable to demonstrate a successfully finished and restored quarry anywhere in East or Mid Devon.

There are a multitude of misrepresentations in AI's applications; here's just one:
Views from within this part of the AONB [East Hill] are actually quite restricted... illustrated by Reference Photograph ‘R3’ 6.189 ...the colour of exposed soils / overburden would not be dissimilar to the muted brown tone seen over other field compartments within the view 6.193
... 'forgetting', of course, the view points from car parks and picnic spots at White Cross on East Hill, and the impact that AI's quarry at Venn Ottery is already making. 

And on 'need', SLR would rather we went back in time:
The annual production of sand and gravel in the period from 2001 to 2009 averaged 0.8 million tonnes. 5.23 There is an identified shortfall in supply of sand and gravel of some 6 million tonnes, minimum, and an ongoing need for 0.8 million tonnes per year to meet current, established demand. 5.33
But it's not 2009, it's 2015 and DCC has production figures up to the end of 2013, figures that show that the last 10 years averaged 0.61 million tonnes per year, and the last 5 years (the method directed in the existing Minerals Plan MP20) averaged 0.47 million tonnes. Devon has a sand and gravel landbank of 8.53 million tonnes that would last almost 14 years at the 10 year rate, over 18 years at the 5 year rate.

SLR's claim for an 'ongoing need for 0.8 million tonnes' has about as much integrity as its claims on tree-planting or great crested newts. Does SLR think we were all born yesterday?

Friday, 12 June 2015

DCC Minerals Plan - Straitgate Farm update for Town and Parish Councils

DCC has released an update on Straitgate Farm:
This note is intended to provide an explanation to representatives of the local communities of the work undertaken by Devon County Council to address the issues raised through the 2012 consultation on preferred sites, and to outline how those proposals are being taken forward through the emerging Minerals Plan.
On Transport, DCC says:
Given the availability of an alternative location for processing at Rockbeare Hill Quarry (3.5km from Straitgate Farm) with the opportunity to also consider a range of alternative processing locations, it may be difficult for the site promoter to demonstrate the ‘exceptional circumstances’ required for development in the AONB. While this represents a risk to the deliverability of Straitgate Farm, this is a matter that can be tested through a future planning application and should not preclude allocation of the site in the Devon Minerals Plan.
On Landscape impact on AONB:
The Devon Minerals Plan is not making provision for the processing of material from Straitgate at Blackhill.
On Land and Soil:
...sites can often be reclaimed to their original agricultural land quality if appropriate techniques are used throughout the life of the site. This is a factor in determining the acceptability of temporary mineral extraction at this site.
[AI's planning application: "For areas of the site that are to be developed as species rich grassland, then topsoil will not be used in the restoration soil profile and the subsoil would be placed more thinly on the overburden to create the less fertile growing conditions required for establishing this type of plant community." 3.42 "The long term after-use would be light intensity agricultural grazing." 3.47.]

On Water and Biodiversity:
The Devon Minerals Plan therefore will contain a limitation on this site allocation to only allow dry working on site, above the maximum winter (wet) level of groundwater with an unsaturated zone of at least 1m maintained across the site.
[AI's planning application: "The quarry would be excavated no deeper than the maximum groundwater level..." 3.24 "The side batters and floor of the quarry would be progressively restored with materials..." 3.25 "The base of the extraction area will be restored by placement of 1m combined thickness of topsoil and subsoil over the quarry floor to replicate current ground conditions." 3.42 "Mineral extraction to the high groundwater level surface contoured from maximum groundwater levels from all data would be dry for the vast majority of time..." 7.89]

Thursday, 11 June 2015

10,547m2 of missing trees

Consultees will read the ecology chapter of Aggregate Industries’ planning application to quarry Straitgate Farm, and will perhaps be reassured by the statements:
4000m2 of new woodland habitat was advance-planted using native stock in January 2014, and a further 10,547m2 will be planted between January and March 2015. The new woodlands will be primarily managed for dormice. 8.257 Two further, short sections of hedgerow c. 25m and 35m will be laid from January to March 2015 8.264
However, for the record, no such planting has been undertaken this year. 

Together with claims about denied access to survey for great crested newts, how many other false statements has SLR made?

Who would be in charge of the birdstrike risk?

A Wildlife Habitat Management Plan has been commissioned by SLR, Aggregate Industries' consultants, for the application to quarry Straitgate Farm and to 'answer' the birdstrike question for planes flying 195m above the site on their approach to Exeter Airport. But according to a birdstrike expert:
[These plans] are not a means by which otherwise unacceptably hazardous developments can be transformed into acceptable ones... Wetland creation is one of the most problematic development types in terms of birdstrike prevention at aerodromes. Wherever possible developers should seek to keep proposals as far from aerodromes as possible and outside the 13km safeguarded zone of major civil and all military aerodromes.
So who would be responsible for implementing the Wildlife Habitat Management Plan at Straitgate?
Aggregate Industries will be responsible for the implementation of all safeguarding within the site boundaries, monitoring bird numbers and activities and ensuring Exeter Airport is informed if any significant changes to ground and habitat occur and reviewing the performance of the plan... Avian Safe will also be responsible for all lethal control...
But here's a photo of AI’s Blackhill Quarry - also within Exeter Airport's 13km safeguarding zone. Gulls are classed as high risk. How is AI managing this risk - at 'Seagull Pond'? Would Straitgate be different?

AI doesn’t illustrate ponding on its plans for Straitgate any more. What it says now is that an "attenuation feature" would result in "seasonally wet grassland". CAA Advice Note 3 says "a wet meadow would attract feeding ducks and nesting waders, and should be avoided".

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Is this an indication of the care SLR has taken in putting together AI’s application?

In May 2013, we walked the surrounding woodland with an SLR Technical Director who was an expert in ecology. He said that a number of the small woodland ponds in the locality had ideal conditions for great crested newts, particularly the one in Cadhay Wood that is fed by water directly from Straitgate Farm. He said these sites would be surveyed in due course, but he left the company a short time later.

Neither the landowners at Cadhay and Escot, nor we acting as coordinators, denied access to anyone at any time. In fact, the pond in Cadhay Wood, some 500m away from the site, is not even indicated on SLR's map, whilst the pond indicated at location 7, an arable field, does not exist.

SLR won’t find protected species if it doesn’t look for them. Or is that the idea?

This is just the start of the inconsistencies, errors and omissions that have jumped out of Aggregate Industries' applications to quarry Straitgate and process the as-dug material on Woodbury Common.

Purple orchids in Cadhay Wood

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

AI’s applications to quarry Straitgate and process on Woodbury Common go ‘live’

Aggregate Industries’ planning applications for Straitgate Farm [DCC/3774/2015] and Blackhill, Woodbury Common [DCC/3775/2015] have been validated and a 21 day public consultation will now begin.

Finally, people have a chance to respond to AI's proposals and to tell Devon County Council about the concerns they have: whether it’s the 5 years of HGVs and related safety and pollution impacts along the B3180, the risk to drinking water supplies and flooding, the loss of ancient hedgerows and risk to protected dormice, the visual impact, the risk to ancient woodland habitats, or the continued effects on the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths. We have written a summary of our concerns on the ISSUES page, and would encourage as many people as possible to respond with what matters to them.

Responses can be sent either by email to planning@devon.gov.uk or to Devon County Council, Development Management, Room AB2, Lucombe House, County Hall, Exeter EX2 4QD. Respondents should give their name and address, and quote the planning application reference. These CPRE guidelines may be helpful.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Other hauliers are told to go the long way round

Regional freight maps are produced to ensure that hauliers use the most appropriate route to minimise the impact of HGVs on other road users and on local residents. Wherever possible, truck drivers are expected to use these designated networks to access freight destinations. Advisory HGV signs are used to deter the use of unsuitable routes.

Indeed, HGVs approaching the Daisymount junction from Honiton are directed to stay on the A30 in order to reach Exmouth, rather than turn off onto the B3180 which is the shorter route.

Aggregate Industries' 1.2 million HGV mile haulage scheme proposes to use the Daisymount junction too. But AI doesn’t think this sign applies to its 44-tonne vehicles; the 'haul road' it proposes to use between Straitgate Farm and Blackhill for 5 years is the same B road that other HGV drivers are told to avoid.

AI's ridiculously unsustainable plans should never have seen the light of day; processing plants should be as close to the quarry face as possible, not 8.2 miles away, nor 14.4 miles the long way round.