Tuesday, 29 September 2015

MCAs - When legal advice was issued on this matter back in 2002…

...an eminent barrister advised:

And yet DCC wants to splash Mineral Consultation Areas widely across the county, 'safeguarding' all sorts of uneconomic, unrecoverable, unviable deposits, potentially blighting the homes of thousands of people. Most of those affected wouldn't find out - (DCC says "notifying every property within such areas would be disproportionate and not a justified use of our resources") - until they tried to sell their house, when the purchaser’s local search would reveal whether the property is within (not adjacent or nearby to) a MCA. A property encumbered with such a designation and with open land nearby is likely to ring alarm bells for most purchasers, or at least give reason to secure a sizeable discount.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Hugo Swire MP holds meeting with Aggregate Industries

'If planning is eventually granted then I do feel that DCC should explore alternative entry and exit points to mitigate the disruption that this development will cause.'

Is this really the best way to 'safeguard' minerals?

DCC’s new draft Minerals Plan intends to safeguard huge swathes of minerals across the county - outlined on its interactive map as Mineral Consultation Areas. Since the risk of future quarry working, however remote, would be enough to put off most home buyers, thousands of homes could be needlessly blighted. Needlessly blighted, because most areas safeguarded would have little prospect of ever being worked.

DCC says it aims to conserve Devon’s minerals by:
To ensure a robust approach that ensures the protection of those resources currently or potentially of economic value, reflects Devon’s local characteristics and strikes a realistic balance that avoids protecting large areas of mineral resource with no prospect of future working, Devon County Council... has undertaken a detailed review of potential resources. 3.3.5 [our emphasis]
DCC states:
The inclusion of land within a Mineral Safeguarding Area 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, since DCC says it has avoided protecting "large areas of mineral resource with no prospect of future working", the corollary is that the Council has only protected those areas that could be worked. Let’s list some of those areas that could be worked:

Woodbury Common & Castle, East Devon Golf Club, Bicton College & Gardens & Arena, Woodbury Park Hotel Golf & Country Club, Bystock Pools Nature Reserve, Aylesbeare Common Nature ReserveSouth West Coast Path, Budleigh Salterton to Exmouth cycle path, Squabmoor Reservoir, East Devon Way. Look at the map for yourself and see how many other nonsensical areas have been 'safeguarded'.

In correspondence, DCC says:
Both MSAs and MCAs exclude existing settlements (as defined by settlement boundaries in district councils’ existing and emerging Local Plans), as mineral resources underlying those settlements are effectively already sterilised, and also to avoid a disproportionate level of consultation between district and county councils[our emphasis]
but that will be no comfort to those with homes in:

Fairmile, Yettington, parts of Budleigh Salterton, Coombelake, Taleford, parts of West Hill & Higher Metcombe, Larkbeare, parts of Feniton, Colestocks, Kerswell, parts of Kentisbeare, Smithincott, Yondercott, Appledore, Hawkerland and Stoneyford.

Many of the deposits in these locations would be completely unworkable - see the Colestocks MCA, for example. Tick 'sand and gravel' to see the ridiculous size of deposit being 'protected' - not in fact economic at all.

And this is just for the Budleigh Salterton Pebble Beds.

This broad-brush way of safeguarding minerals appears to be a particularly lazy way of doing things, likely to bring distress to many. The majority of homes affected won't even have been informed about what is planned or that there is a current consultation.

B3180 - AI's mining haul road

In mining, the haul roads - from rock face to processing plant - "represent the highest capital expenditure requirement". But not so for Aggregate Industries in East Devon. When AI mines sand and gravel from the Budleigh Salterton Pebblebeds, it conveniently uses our public B roads - across wildlife conservation areas - causing damage and safety concerns.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Is Devon's new Minerals Plan sound?

"Effects on people’s health may not be reversible" - That’s what local people can look forward to, according to DCC's Sustainability Appraisal Report (SA), if quarrying were to be permitted at Straitgate - and that’s when the SA assumes "Approximately 100 HGV movements per day", not the 140 average, 200 maximum, that Aggregate Industries wants. It’s another price local people would pay whilst AI profits from destroying an East Devon farm.

At the time, the Environment Agency commented:
We advise that this SA should have accompanied the formal consultation in March 2012… In this circumstance it is not clear how the SA has influenced the preferred site options which have been put forward by your Authority. It is apparent from the SA that some of the excluded sites may [be] preferable in environmental terms.
It’s something to bear in mind when DCC says "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".

Why? Because in the draft Minerals Plan, DCC now misleadingly claims:
Each of these stages [of Preparation of the Devon Minerals Plan] was accompanied by publication of the evidence supporting the emerging Plan, while preparation has also been informed by Sustainability Appraisal and Habitats Regulations Assessment. 1.4.2
Even on its website, DCC claims:
Following appraisal of options for sand and gravel sites in East and Mid Devon, a Sustainability Appraisal Report was published following consultation with statutory consultees, and has informed subsequent decisions on the choice of sites for inclusion in the Minerals Plan.
A similar claim is made in Minerals Topic Paper 4.1:
To inform future decisions on the identification of sand and gravel sites in East and Mid Devon, the County Council's sustainability appraisal team published a draft Sustainability Appraisal Report on the East and Mid Devon site options in June 2012. 7.1
The SA didn’t inform "the choice of sites for inclusion in the Minerals Plan" in East Devon because in its haste, perhaps worried that the SA would not give the right 'answer', DCC rejected the nine alternative sites to Straitgate for sand and gravel extraction months before the SA was even published.

It’s an important matter. Melton Borough Council's plan was withdrawn after the Inspector said:
DCC’s site appraisal process for sand and gravel was a forgone conclusion - an entirely artificial exercise designed to make Straitgate look the best option among the southern sites.

Artificial? DCC claims that potential alternative sites excluded "outcrops which are too small to be quarried or have already been built on, and those very distant from the strategic road network" 5.4 MTP 4.1.

This is nonsense. A number of the alternatives were plainly unworkable. The SA recognised that "S9 is too small to be viable... It is therefore not a reasonable option and has thus not been subject to SA". S4 was also clearly too small; S2 and S3 too far from the SRN. From the remaining sites that might have been workable, the SA confirmed Straitgate (S7) to be one of the most constrained. Something to bear in mind when DCC says:
Soundness of the Devon Minerals Plan should be assessed against the following... : Justified – the plan should be the most appropriate strategy, when considered against the reasonable alternatives...

DCC now makes the point that:
It is important to note that the sustainability appraisal was carried out on the original site boundaries shown in Figures 2 and 3, not those refined in light of the appraisal findings (detailed in Section 5) and published in the ‘Future Quarrying in East and Mid Devon’ local consultation. 7.2
but the SA on Straitgate's revised boundaries still contains a hefty amount of significant negative effects:

Seemingly it doesn’t matter what anybody tells DCC. The Council is set on having Straitgate in its plan - even despite there being no acceptable way (acceptable to both AI and DCC, that is) of actually processing the minerals.

DCC says "The Minerals Plan is not making provision for the processing of material from Straitgate at Blackhill" and "Given the apparent availability of an alternative location for processing at Rockbeare... it may be difficult for the site promoter to demonstrate the ‘exceptional circumstances’ required for development in the AONB" MTP4.1; AI says Rockbeare’s not possible "due to lack of space especially for stockpiles and silt storage; and non-availability of process water38. DCC accepts that "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 Minerals Plan" MTP4.1.

It seems utterly perverse for the Minerals Plan to allocate Straitgate Farm as a "Specific Site" - supposedly a designation where "the proposal is likely to be acceptable in planning terms" - when so much risk hangs over its deliverability. Again, something to bear in mind when DCC says:
Soundness of the Devon Minerals Plan should be assessed against the following... : Effective – the plan should be deliverable over its period...
AI will no doubt, in any submission it makes in response to the Minerals Plan, make the case for again extending the life of Blackhill - the plant that's 8.2 miles away from Straitgate in an AONB without an adjoining active quarry, that was supposed to close years ago after the EC designated the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths an important area for conservation. It will no doubt make out that up to 200 HGV movements a day - a total of 1.2 million CO2 polluting miles over 5 years - "are insignificant to cause a noticeable impact to road users" 4.3.

However, the new Minerals Plan's Vision is that:
Spatial pattern of new mineral development will minimise its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, while the design and management of quarries, including their use of renewable energy sources, will enhance Devon’s ability to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
and "Wherever possible, the processing of the mineral should take place on-site to minimise transportation distances" 8.8.2.

In fact, both the Climate Change Act p.122 SA and the SEA Directive require that "The Minerals Plan should help achieve the UK Government’s targets for reductions in CO2 and other targeted greenhouse gasses through reducing emissions from minerals operations and transport" Table 3-1 SA, because we should all remember, as indeed the SA points out:
The minerals industry is the third highest energy-consuming industrial sub-sector in the UK.
The extraction, processing and transport of minerals are probably responsible for about 7% of total global energy consumption. This effect is assessed as significant negative due to the global scope of the effects, the reality that global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise despite an urgency to reduce emissions, and the strong likelihood of cumulative effects alongside emissions from other non-minerals development. Emissions will return to predevelopment levels following restoration but the residency time of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 200 years and therefore the impacts will continue to affect the climate for an extended period.

Friday, 4 September 2015

To put the importance of Straitgate’s biodiversity into context

Wildlife surveys carried out for the Woodland Trust and National Trust have revealed that Fingle Woods contains some of the richest diversity found in woodland in the South West of England.
Along with birds, butterflies and invertebrates, the woods contain a rich diversity of wildlife, including:
Dormice found in five locations. Nine species of bats were recorded in Fingle Woods, over half the species in the entire UK bat fauna, making Fingle Woods significantly important.

Aggregate Industries should feel proud that its tenant farmer has so successfully combined dairy farming with rare and protected species all on one site!

Gravel at Hillhead

If anybody gets to the small print of Devon's new draft Minerals Plan, they will find the statement:
Information provided by the operator since 2011 indicates that the proportion of crushable gravel… within the BSPB decreases from south to north. While the proportion of crushable gravel in the Ottery St Mary area is not significantly lower than at the existing Blackhill and Venn Ottery quarries, the resource around Uffculme is much less gravel-rich. This further supports the need to consider future sand and gravel supply from both the northern and southern options. [our emphases] Minerals Topic Paper 4.1
As we’ve seen with Aggregate Industries’ planning application for Straitgate Farm, "information provided by the operator" is not always a good guide - if the figures on resource, overburden, silt and need are anything to go by.

However, if there is any shortage of gravel around Uffculme then it didn’t stop Hillhead Quarry operating for decades:
If there is any shortage of gravel from south to north then it doesn’t stop Hanson working Town Farm Quarry near Burlescombe, north of Uffculme.

If there is any shortage of gravel around Uffculme then it won't stop AI from applying to quarry Penslade if its application for Straitgate founders.

If there is any shortage of gravel then why did AI’s Estates Manager, in a relation to a query about Penslade's resource, say that there was a "similar quality at Straitgate as at Uffculme"?

If there is any shortage of gravel then it hasn't stopped DCC from relying on Penslade to cover the sand and gravel shortfall indicated in its Minerals Plan.

Nevertheless, it suits DCC to buy in to AI’s argument. It suits its misguided reasoning that:
Retention of working within the northern and southern areas was considered to be the most sustainable option as it would minimise the distances that sand and gravel will need to be transported to major markets such as Exeter and Taunton. Pursuit of this option was also considered to provide greater flexibility to respond to future changes in demand 4.15
But the illogic of that statement is quickly exposed in the Council’s own Sustainability Appraisal Report:
Note: It is not the intention of the Devon Minerals Plan for simultaneous sand and gravel extraction to occur at West of Penslade Cross and Straitgate Farm…
In which case, it’s not clear how maintaining northern and southern areas would minimise any transport distances, particularly when Straitgate, the southern area, entails - as it stands - a processing proposal of 1.2 million miles, and the northern area - capable of supporting on-site processing - zero miles.


1. AI would be restricted to quarrying down to 1m above the maximum water table...

But in New Zealand, there were fears that thousands of Christchurch residents could have contaminated drinking water when a quarry was served an abatement notice "after it breached a consent condition requiring it to stay at least one metre above the highest known level of the water table".

The quarry company claims, of course, that its operations have remained above groundwater levels at all times, but locals disagree saying 'quarrying into the aquifers would have gone unnoticed had residents not laid a complaint with the regional council'.
2. Another case of quarried land not going back to farmland...
Hundreds of people have signed a petition in a bid to stop an Oxfordshire quarry site being redeveloped into a business park.
It was due to be returned to farmland but Faringdon Town Council's neighbourhood plan has earmarked the area for industrial use.