Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Devon’s new Minerals Plan could blight thousands of homes across the county

After years in the making, years of waiting while Aggregate Industries assessed the viability of quarrying Straitgate Farm, Devon’s new Minerals Plan is finally out for consultation in pre-submission form. After various consultations dating back to 2007, the public can now see just how many of their views have been ignored. Now people are being asked to respond again:
Devon County Council wishes to encourage as many people as possible to respond to this Minerals Plan to ensure that, when adopted, it represents the views of Devon’s communities and businesses.
In commenting on the Pre-submission Consultation Devon Minerals Plan, you are entitled to make representations on whether the Plan is (a) legally compliant and (b) sound.
DCC claims that:
Examples exist in Devon of quarries enhancing wildlife and public access, both during and, in particular, following their closure and restoration, and we need to build on this good practice so that quarries offset their adverse effects through positive impacts.
DCC doesn’t say where or how many examples; this photograph is of Houndaller at Hillhead, which has a large proportion of Devon’s permitted sand and gravel reserves.

Apart from specific site designations, one of the most controversial parts of the new Plan must surely be DCC’s intention to safeguard huge swathes of minerals across the county:
Taking account of national policy and guidance, a more comprehensive approach to mineral safeguarding has been developed that aims to protect the full extent of Devon’s economic mineral resources, together with associated tipping capacity and the infrastructure required for the processing and sustainable transportation of those minerals. 3.3.4 
DCC assures local people that:
The inclusion of land within a Mineral Safeguarding Area [MSA] carries no presumption that mineral development would be acceptable or that planning permission would be forthcoming for extraction of the underlying mineral resource. 3.3.8 
but proposes that:
Mineral Consultation Areas [MCA] in the DCC Plan Area cover the MSA and for mineral resources, an additional buffer zone as set out in Table 5.3 Minerals Topic Paper 2 7.0.2
For mineral resources, Mineral Consultation Areas are drawn wider than the relevant Mineral Safeguarding Area (at a diameter indicated in Table 3.1) to ensure consideration not only of development directly overlying the resource, but also development that may indirectly constrain future mineral working by introducing new uses that are sensitive to noise, dust and other impacts of mineral working. B.2
Despite local people and communities raising concerns of blight in previous workshops and consultations, thousands of homes in Devon will therefore, if this Plan is found to be sound, find themselves within a MCA. Such a designation would be revealed on a Local Authority Search. Any homeowner within such an area, particularly with open land nearby - even if there is little likelihood of the resource ever being worked, may well find themselves blighted by this broad-brush safeguarding approach; just a whiff of a house being near to a future quarrying site would be enough to put many house buyers off. Across the county, millions of pounds in total could be wiped off the value of Devon’s homes - a consequence of the Council putting the minerals industry first again.

To see if your home would be within a MCA, here’s a link to the Council’s interactive map.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Does this look the sort of road that AI's HGVs should be pounding up and down?

Aggregate Industries thinks it’s fine to put up to 200 of its 44-tonne HGVs on this road each day, saying:
the proposed B3180 is considered to be suitable as the recommended route for the transport of material from Straitgate Farm to Blackhill Quarry 4.2.1
the increased flows along [the B3180] are insignificant to cause a noticeable impact to road users 4.3
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. 8.0
Local people, on the other hand, will regard such statements as simply dishonest. 

But it’s not just that the B3180 goes through an AONB and SPA/SAC; it’s not just the unsustainable 8.2 miles; it’s not just that it’s too narrow in places for two trucks to pass, or that verges are being broken down and stones scattered into the road. The B3180 is also used by vulnerable road users. Yet, as Charlie Hopkins makes clear, AI’s Environmental Statement "provides no analysis of adverse impacts of high volumes of HGVs on other users of the road network, which is not limited to motorised traffic, but includes pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders".

But then again, what is SLR’s analysis of adverse impacts worth anyway? AI’s consultants say that "there are no sharp bends along this route4.2.1, which, as road signs clearly indicate, is yet another fallacy.

Consultation on Devon's new Minerals Plan is due to start on 24th August

This plan will look to provide "a Vision for how mineral development will be undertaken in Devon to 2033" and allocate where future mineral development should take place. 

DCC wants to include Straitgate Farm "as a ‘Specific Site’ in recognition of the degree of evidence available on its potential impacts"; a specific site is "where viable resources are known to exist, landowners are supportive of minerals development and the proposal is likely to be acceptable in planning terms" - which to local people might look as though DCC has already made its mind up about Aggregate Industries' planning application.

Whilst DCC looks to earmark sites with many millions of tonnes of sand and gravel for many years into the future, building techniques are changing and more sustainable construction methods are being employed, more recycled and secondary aggregate is being used and demand for primary aggregate is falling. Locally, even the sources of primary aggregate are changing:
Glendinning is to begin manufacturing sand from limestone at its Ashburton quarry, and hopes in time "to produce manufactured sand that is the equal to, if not superior to, naturally occurring sand".
At the last count, Devon had almost 140 million tonnes of crushed rock aggregate reserves and 8 million tonnes of sand and gravel reserves.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

It’s not only in Devon that AI has difficulty with planning conditions...

Councillor Bill Hunt said: "We have all had enough. Everyone should support officers to take legal action and do it today, not tomorrow. Prosecute if necessary and do it as soon as possible to get that area back on track."

Quarry operator urged to abandon plans for Perthshire beauty spot...

"This has been a long battle... The local community, Friends of the Ochils, Clackmannanshire Council, all the community councils in the area and others had vigorously objected to the quarry. The moral of this story is that even when confronted by a massive, multinational corporation, its army of highly-paid advisers and local authority planners – all of whom are arguing that permission must be granted – do not give in, it is possible to win."

Friday, 7 August 2015

It’s a good thing AI's Venn Ottery Quarry isn’t directly below Exeter Airport’s landing approach…

… judging by the number of birds photographed there this week - and this, at the highest point of the quarry, where there was no water. Straitgate, on the other hand, is directly below Exeter Airport’s landing approach. Aggregate Industries' plan here is to leave - in perpetuity - areas of "seasonally wet grassland", which, as the CAA warns, would be attractive to birds. AI says that, following cessation of operations:
To ensure that excess runoff is mitigated, it is recommended that some low lying areas are maintained for further attenuation and also to encourage infiltration to the aquifer, protecting the nearby springs and private water supplies. 7.102

But having had years to prepare, years to come up with some sort of detailed scheme that would address one of the central problems of the whole proposal - the seemingly intractable issue of how to reduce surface and groundwater impacts without introducing wetland features and increasing the risk of birdstrike - the best that AI can come up with is:
A detailed drainage scheme would be developed and submitted for approval prior to the commencement of operations. 3.39 The arrangements for the collection and disposal of surface water arising from the restored site would be designed in conjunction with the appointed hydrologist. 3.57
It's no surprise, therefore, that DCC is not satisfied with this and has made it clear to AI that:
The surface water management is inextricably connected to Flood Risk Management/Airport safeguarding and the need to maintain and recharge watercourses. This issue is so important in terms of the likely significant impacts of the proposal the MPA would wish to ensure that a SWM scheme can be designed to meet all of the requirements identified in advance of the determination of this application. 17
And here's another photograph that indicates why these matters are so important - a giant RAF Boeing C17 Globemaster flying low over Straitgate last week.

Monday, 3 August 2015

More inconsistencies…

Do any of Aggregate Industries' numbers stack up? Is there anything we can trust? We have established that AI has been disingenuous with the resource, overburden and need figures, but now it seems that the silt numbers don’t add up either.

Why is this important? Because lack of silt capacity at AI's disused and unrestored Rockbeare Quarry was one of the reasons the company gave to justify the continued use of Blackhill Quarry to process material from Straitgate 8.2 miles away, trucking as-dug sand and gravel through an SPA/SAC/AONB on an unsuitable B road - 1.2 million HGV miles over 5 years:
Rockbeare Quarry was not taken forward as an alternative location for processing due to lack of space especially for stockpiles and silt storage; and non-availability of process water. 38
DCC has now asked AI to quantify the silt, a waste component from processing the as-dug sand and gravel, from Straitgate, and the available capacity for it at Rockbeare, and furthermore to:
... explain in detail the reason for their change of mind about the availability of Rockbeare Quarry for processing given the content of the letter from AI to DCC dated 14 May 2014 (AI Ref: CT/7812/DMP) – “Location for Processing” which states clearly that Beggars Roost has capacity for the silt produced and that Areas D and K would be used for stockpiling and Pond J for water.
And whilst AI ponders on what numbers to give this time, let’s not forget what the company said in 2003, when there was apparently "an inextricable link between Straitgate Farm and the Rockbeare Minerals Working Area":
The processing of at least 20% of the Straitgate Farm mineral reserve at Rockbeare is necessary in order to generate sufficient silt to complete the approved restoration scheme at Rockbeare and Beggars Roost. The current remaining silt capacity within the Rockbeare complex is about 210,000 cubic metres and at Beggars Roost 180,000 cubic metres giving a total of 390,000 cubic metres of silt space.
In 2003, the Straitgate Farm resource was still considered to be 8.1 million tonnes, but now that AI’s application is for just 20% of that figure, silt capacity at Rockbeare should obviously be adequate. But let's look at the numbers another way:

AI gives the silt fraction as 15% (3.16) or 17-20% (3.9), but assuming 20% and, for the sake of argument, AI’s exaggerated saleable combined resource figure of 1.66 million tonnes, then there’s an implied gross resource of 2.075 million tonnes, and a silt/waste component of 415,000 tonnes which, at 1.33 tonnes/m3, equates to 312,000m3. In reality, with 1m of resource maintained above the maximum water table, there would be around 263,000 tonnes of silt/waste, or less than 200,000m3.

Clearly, both of these figures are within the capacity the company said was available in 2003; the letter DCC references implies that it was still the case in 2014.

Wherever you look, AI’s applications are riddled with inconsistencies. Local people will no doubt make up their own minds as to whether these were down to lack of care by AI or its consultants SLR, or were just wilful acts aimed to deceive.

DCC asks AI for additional information - this time on Blackhill

Following a review of consultation responses on the Blackhill application, DCC has issued Aggregate Industries with another long list of requests for further information, for example:

Habitats Regulations Assessment 1
It is the view of both NE and the MPA that... insufficient information has been given to enable the MPA to properly screen the proposal for likely significant effects on the adjoining Natura 2000 sites as required by Regulations 61 and 62 of the Habitats Regulations.
AONB Policy 2
The applicant has not provided sufficient information for the MPA to properly assess the likely impacts on the AONB, nor has it demonstrated the “exceptional need” for the development in this location.
Protected Species 9
No information is provided in the ES as to whether there are protected species on the application site and whether these might be affected by the continuation of processing or the delay in the restoration of the site.
Alternatives 16
Rockbeare/Hillhead/Straitgate – The applicant needs to provide a clear assessment of the potential or otherwise for all of these sites (as a single document). Which should include calculations of existing silt capacity against predicted requirements, calculations for storage and availability of clean water, space for plant, costs/viability (taking account of reduced transport costs). This is important given that AI used to transport materials from Rockbeare to Hillhead for processing and that Hillhead could also cater for future development of the resource at Penslade as well as taking into account the applicant’s previous comments in writing on the potential for processing at Rockbeare Quarry. Reason: There is a requirement to demonstrate alternatives to major development in the AONB.

Natural England issues an "Objection/Further information required" for Blackhill

Natural England has expressed concern about the importation of nitrate-rich material into Blackhill, with the effects it could have on the SAC/SPA, and has issued an "objection/further information required":

The potential impacts of importing nitrate rich materials into the environment of Blackhill Quarry to be processed, and the impact on the potential restoration and biodiversity of that site from such movements of material should be assessed 8.0
Other respondents to Aggregate Industries’ Scoping Request raised the matter too, but despite all this, AI chose to completely ignore the issue in its voluminous Environmental Statement. It’s not surprising therefore that Natural England now has this to say:
The proposal to add the silt washed from the ‘as dug’ quarried material from Straitgate into the lagoons at Blackhill requires further detailed investigation and analysis. The designated heathland communities surrounding Blackhill quarry are nutrient poor and an increase in available nitrogen as it leaches from the lagoons could result in a change in the vegetation composition of parts of the site and affect the composition of any regeneration that may happen as the quarry site is restored. We advise that there may be an increase in nitrogen and other soil nutrients due to the land at Straitgate being farmed as a dairy enterprise.
The substrate of the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths is a complex mix of pebbles and various sizes of sands and gravels. Such areas are often free draining. Therefore water and any nutrients absorbed in it are likely to be able to move readily through it and into the many minor watercourses that cross the site. The nutrients can then be taken up by the surrounding vegetation. An increase in the nutrients may lead to a decline in those plants that require a nutrient poor environment and result in a change in the vegetation mosaic of the dry heath. Ultimately the watercourses flow into the wet heath and valley mires at the bottom of the valleys and therefore these are also at risk from of the vegetation mosaic changes as a result of the potential increased availability of nutrients. This impact on the wet and dry heathland vegetation could also have an effect on key SAC and SPA species. These potential effects need to be properly assessed and evaluated.
Furthermore, on Protected Landscapes, Natural England says:
We believe the [Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment] has not been adequately undertaken and there is a potential for a continuing significant impact on the purposes of the designation of East Devon AONB. We therefore require further information to be provided.
The adverse impacts of the stockpiles have not been taken into account and do not feature in the LVIA viewpoints, which mis-represents the actual situation.
We consider that taking into account para 115 and 116 of the [NPPF], ‘exceptional need’ for this development within the AONB has not been established in the documents provided. The delayed restoration of this site for another 5 years extends the significant adverse impact on the scenic quality and tranquillity of the area.