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 Melton Borough Council's plan was withdrawn after the Inspector said: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.