Saturday, 31 October 2015

And the reason for the delay until 2016?

It's unreal. At this late stage of the application process, Aggregate Industries is still having difficulty with agreeing to leave a 1m standoff of unquarried material above the maximum water table to protect drinking water supplies and stream flows.

DCC asked AI in the middle of October to clarify the subject. Two weeks later, the matter remains unresolved and "will be the subject of a meeting between AI/Amec/the Environment Agency and DCC as Flood Authority in the second week of November".

It’s disgraceful that AI is still not being straight on such a critical issue. It makes a mockery of AI's claims that "the applications were the culmination of three years of careful planning and consideration". The importance of leaving this 1m of unsaturated material has already been acknowledged. AI's ridiculous attitude is even more shameful given that the company proposes no Section 106 to safeguard Cadhay’s water supplies, the subject of an Environment Agency SPZ that stretches across the proposed excavation site.

Since AI is unable to straightforwardly confirm that this 1m would indeed be left unquarried, one can only assume, given the list of attendees, that AI wants to renegotiate the condition and thereby reduce the protection for local peoples' drinking water, the protection for wetland habitats in ancient woodland, and the protection for downstream communities against flooding - the condition confirmed by the EA back in July, the condition detailed in DCC’s draft Minerals Plan, the condition assumed by AI's own hydrogeological consultants:
The proposed quarry at Straitgate Farm would work the mineral dry and to a proposed limit of 1m above the highest predicted water table.
It is difficult to identify if “winter flashiness” is due to reduced unsaturated zone thickness or other factors that affect recharge… Within the proposed development the establishment of a 1m freeboard over and above the highest known water level provides for this eventuality.
In its letter, DCC warned AI:
Given the importance of this point, to you as the proposed operator, and evidently to the MPA and the EA who were both of the understanding that you had agreed to this restriction. I am now asking you to clarify in writing whether you are intending to work to the proposed levels set out in the Amec technical Note to the Policy Team and the EA (and on which their recommendation was clearly based) or whether you wish for the MPA to consider your proposal as working to the highest measured level of the winter water table without the 1m standoff.
You will understand the importance of this point and the need for absolute clarity in your response as it has serious implications for the further progress of this application.
DCC has confirmed that AI's response will be posted on the website with the application documentation, if and when received.

Environment Agency

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Decision on Straitgate and Blackhill delayed until 2016

If Aggregate Industries was hoping to get all this decided in 2015, that window has now closed.

It's hardly surprising, given the shortfall and reliability of information in AI’s planning applications; the inconsistencies, the inaccuracies, the fabrications, the need for DCC to raise 82 substantive issues. It's hardly surprising, given AI's inability to demonstrate why it has no choice but to process in an area of European importance to nature, not a nearby industrial estate. It's hardly surprising, given the risk of further blighting an AONB and SPA/SAC, and the risks of 1.2 million HGV miles on unsuitable roads. It's hardly surprising, given the potential harm to ecology and water supplies, and how little material is really available for the price of an East Devon farm. It’s hardly surprising, given that DCC is "still awaiting information and clarification", that determination has been delayed until 2016, 27 January at the earliest.


After the VW emissions scandal, is it any wonder? Aggregate Industries' planning applications for Straitgate and Blackhill, were littered with spin, inaccuracy and falsehood. Even for its current operation at Venn Ottery, AI said there would be an average of 138 trucks a day for a 4 day week - yet on the random day we checked, there were 194.

So it’s likely that AI has also misled people about the pollution it has pumped out; "HGVs make up approximately 5% of traffic flow and yet contribute more than 38% of the total NO2 emissions".

Lorry-makers have made no progress on fuel economy in 20 years.
3. Exceptional circumstances not proven in support of housing scheme
In ruling against an appellant planning to build up to 50 dwellings in the Cornwall AONB, an inspector decided that exceptional circumstances required under paragraph 116 of the NPPF had not been demonstrated.... The harm to the scenic qualities of the AONB was sufficient to reject the scheme.
The tragedy of this situation is that the UK aggregate companies have insisted on investing, with approval by the government, in marine dredging when actually the technology exists to wholly source sand from recycled quarry waste. This is not pie in the sky hyperbole. It is fact. Japan now sources the overwhelming majority of its sand to make concrete from quarry waste, and has been a pioneer in developing this new technology. Australia is on the brink of following suit.
A Christchurch quarry is being accused of using delaying tactics to avoid cleaning up its operation and of placing the town water supply at risk of contamination.
It's a story from the other side of the world, but something to bear in mind for those reliant on Straitgate for their drinking water, when AI talks about S106s and emergency tanker supplies.

Some of England’s most beautiful landscapes are threatened by inappropriate development because planning rules are not being followed properly, the National Trust has claimed.

Another article on bats that again puts Straitgate’s wildlife in context:
Of the 18 species of bat found in the UK, 10 can be found at Penrose. In the 20th century UK bat populations have declined by an estimated 70% and Greater Horseshoes have declined by 90%. They are under threat from unsympathetic building developments, loss of habitat and changing farming practices.
At Straitgate, "at least eleven bat species were recorded flying over the site" 8.114.

The High Court judge ruled that Aylesbury Vale District Council had failed properly to take into account the possible presence of great crested newts on the site when granting permission for the project. The CCJC submitted a revised application, along with additional information showing that Natural England would grant the required licence if the scheme was approved.
No cement business has ever admitted the scale of the problem. They tout their biodiversity pages in their websites and sustainability reports with pictures of ducks and frogs and children enjoying the wetlands created from the hills they remove. They give and receive prizes for their restoration work – but do not acknowledge what is being lost.

Friday, 23 October 2015

DCC has now supplied provisional sand and gravel production figures for 2014

2014 sales of sand and gravel in Devon were 531,900 tonnes. Reserves of sand and gravel at the end of 2014 were 7,502,087 tonnes.
Production in 2014 was therefore up 47k tonnes on 2013, but still down 24% on pre-recession 2007.

It was widely reported that 2014 was "the best year for British construction for over 18 years", but, in Devon at least, the long term decline of sand and gravel continues - as measured by the 10 year rolling average, the mineral industry’s indicator of choice:
The Devon Stone Federation is very pleased to see that the weighted average has been dropped and the LAA is now based on a straight average of the last ten years... C.5
For the planning application to quarry Straitgate, Aggregate Industries framed its need on the basis that:
The annual production of sand and gravel in the period from 2001 to 2009 averaged 0.8 million tonnes. 5.23
AI forgot all about 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, and that the 10 year average was 0.62 million tonnes. DCC said AI's need assessment was "misleading and inaccurate and should be re-cast", and the company has now re-presented its case. It claims there are exceptional circumstances why it must continue to scar and blight Woodbury Common and the East Devon AONB with its processing plant and hundreds of thousands of HGV movements. It claims need is one of those exceptional circumstances:
Given the… need for the mineral to maintain the seven year landbank in Devon as set out in the NPPF… it is considered that exceptional circumstances exist that should enable the LPA to permit the 5 year extension of the existing operation at Blackhill Quarry. 8.58
But, at the end of 2014, Devon had a sand and gravel landbank of 12.9 years, so need - along with all the other exceptional circumstances AI has given - is clearly not exceptional at all.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Blackhill restoration doesn't need Straitgate

Another one of Aggregate Industries' claims, is that material from Straitgate would allow it to finish restoring Blackhill:
...the applicant would submit that there are benefits to the local biodiversity and landscape that would result from permitting the continued operation at Blackhill Quarry for a further 5 years. 2.35
In the absence of this development the existing lagoon will remain as a deep, steep sided, angular lagoon, which is incongruous within the wider landscape setting of the AONB and Pebblebed Heaths. 4.1 EMMP
The silt from Straitgate development will enable the existing south-eastern silt lagoon to be filled and restored as heathland in accordance with the consented restoration and aftercare scheme. 3.26
But the consented restoration and aftercare scheme says nothing of the sort. It does not rely on the importation of further material to complete the restoration of Area 6 (Lagoon 3), the area in question; the agreed restoration scheme calls for the wall of this steep sided, angular lagoon to be removed:
On completion of silting operations at the end of 2016, the eastern wall will be clear felled and the timber removed from the site and soils will be stripped and stored for use in the restoration of the area. The eastern wall will then be removed to a depth of 3 metres above the surface of the drying silt. The material from the wall will be used with other indigenous material to form a capping to the silt body, approximately 1 metre in depth, and to batter the side slopes. The soils will be thinly spread over the whole area. 4.8.3
As a DCC officer explained, if material from Straitgate were not available, the already agreed earthworks would produce a perfectly acceptable landform.

AI is prepared to say anything to win permission to stay at Blackhill, whether true or not. 

AI was granted planning permission to continue to process material at Blackhill in 2011, with Condition 7:
The restoration shall be carried out in accordance with the approved scheme, or such alternative schemes as may be subsequently approved in writing by the MPA.
AI would be contravening this Planning Condition if the site were left with a "deep, steep sided, angular lagoon, which is incongruous within the wider landscape".

What message would that send out, at a time when it's trying to persuade people to trust its restoration plans for Straitgate?

Monday, 19 October 2015

Why does AI's extraction boundary not reflect what's actually recoverable?

There are areas at Straitgate Farm, that Aggregate Industries has indicated should be quarried and that are within the boundaries of extraction, that are not realistically quarriable at all.

We have already shown that AI is overstating the saleable resource by at least 500,000 tonnes; now it's clear that AI is exaggerating the extraction area too.

At least 1m must be left unquarried to protect groundwater supplies and at least 1m of topsoil and subsoil must be retained on site for restoration. There are areas in the south and east of the site, where the thickness of material above the maximum water table is under or just over 2m, that have little if any material to recover.

Why does AI's extraction boundary not reflect this? Or does AI have absolutely no intention of leaving the 1m of resource to safeguard drinking water supplies? After all, once AI gets its excavator teeth into the site, who would ever know??

Table: Points within the extraction boundary that have 2.5m or less of material above the maximum water table
Brown contours: surface topography (AI). Blue contours: maximum groundwater level (AMEC).

Birdstrike risk would fall on the shoulders of AI’s quarry manager

If Aggregate Industries was to win permission to quarry Straitgate Farm, it is proposed that:
Where a wildlife hazard is present that cannot be effectively managed, the Quarry Manager will notify Exeter Airport so that they can inform pilots of additional risk levels. 4.2 EMMP
The safety of 100,000s of passengers flying into and out of Exeter Airport would therefore, at least partly, be reliant on AI’s quarry manager. 

But that statement is also an admittance that AI's proposal could result in additional risk.

AI still proposes that lower-lying areas "are likely to hold ephemeral waterbodies and could be developed as wet grassland" 5.15, clearly against CAA advice, and that local people and birds can look forward to a variety of bird scaring and culling techniques:
During operations the Quarry Manager will be responsible for monitoring the conditions on site and instigating bird scaring techniques (bird scarers, birds of prey, and the like, including those methods described in the WHMP) when site activities may potentially attract more birds to the site, eg during soil stripping, during periods of prolonged heavy rain; such measures to be agreed in advance with the LPA and EHO to mitigate any adverse impacts on local residents. 4.6.2
At weekends, holidays and after restoration, when no quarry manager is on site, it's not clear who would bear responsibility.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Restoring low fertility heathland of European importance with soil from a dairy farm?

It’s common sense to assume that high fertility soils from a dairy farm would not be compatible with the restoration of low fertility heathland on Woodbury Common SAC SPA SSSI.

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. [our emphasis]
In Aggregate Industries' Regulation 22 response, there is no detailed investigation or analysis. AI says:
Any nutrients added to the surface as part of the dairy management practices would be unlikely to infiltrate through the top 1m of slowly permeable soil material to accumulate in quantities in the overburden and mineral resource that will be taken to Blackhill Quarry for processing. 2.12
There is therefore little evidence to suggest that the mineral and overburden that would be transported to Blackhill Quarry for processing would contain significant quantities of nutrients that might potentially affect the integrity of the surrounding habitats. 2.14
Slowly permeable or not (and remember, AI's drainage scheme "is feasible because of the highly permeable geology at the site" 3.40) Straitgate has been farmed for hundreds of years; slowly doesn't enter the equation. The fact is, AI has no idea by how much or by how far nutrients have permeated over this time, into the overburden and minerals it wants to work, and admits elsewhere in its response:
The pH and nutrient status of the existing soils is currently unknown, although productive farming is an established activity on the site and it is assumed that regular fertiliser applications and/or other husbandry will have sought to increase fertility. 5.33
Furthermore, in the original application, AMEC reported that at Straitgate:
All water samples showed elevated nitrate (NO3) concentrations ranging between 18 to 46 mg/l ...[one] showed nitrate concentrations greater than the UK threshold p18
Plainly therefore, AI has NO evidence to suggest that Straitgate's soils would not affect the integrity of a site of European importance to nature; its plans rely on a wing and a prayer.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

DCC asked AI to confirm access rights back in 2012

In the post Are AI’s plans unravelling? we wrote:
since the initial request on 13 May, AI has been unable to supply any evidence that it has the necessary rights over the surface, despite repeated requests
But in actual fact, DCC asked AI to confirm access rights at the proposed location back in 2012.  

For reasons only DCC can explain, the Council continued to blindly pursue Straitgate - upgrading it to a Specific Site this year in its draft Minerals Plan - without seeing any evidence that AI had the rights to use third-party land.

For those worried about losing their water supply…

More than 100 people are reliant on Straitgate for their drinking water. On the question of security of supply, AI says that "draft Heads of Terms are provided for discussion with DCC":
In the event that in the opinion of the EA, as party to this agreement, the balance of probability is that contamination or interference of groundwater boreholes or private water supplies or the inability to draw satisfactory water supply has occurred partly or wholly as a result of the wining and working of minerals at Straitgate Quarry then AI shall forthwith make alternative temporary and/or permanent arrangements for water supply to the users affected at AI’s cost and liability, proportionate to the cause. 3.4
AI proposes the following letter of 'comfort', but, if the loss or contamination of supply is disputed, water users could be left with a legal headache and a large bill:

But AI’s Section 106 agreement 3.5 is not all that it seems, since Cadhay Spring, which derives its water from Straitgate under protection of an Environment Agency SPZ and supplies 60 people at Cadhay and surrounding properties and 2,000 people each year in its Tea Room, is notably excluded:
The monitoring schedule included as part of the s.106 agreement shall include [list of springs and wells, not including Cadhay Spring]. In addition, monitoring will continue at Cadhay Spring. 3.6
Presumably, AI is not wholly confident that it would not impact this water supply in some way.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

23% of accidents on B3180 involved HGVs in 2014

As part of the Regulation 22 request, the County Highways Authority asked to see "more comprehensive up-to-date accident data for the whole of the proposed haulage route included within the application". AI has now supplied road accident data for the B3180 "obtained from DCC to cover the most recent time period available, from 1st January 2014 to 31st December 2014" 2.31. Why had AI not supplied this data before? Perhaps this is why:

In those 12 months, 13 accidents were recorded between Daisymount and Blackhill. AI assessed that "two of the accidents involved HGVs" 2.47But even simple numbers confuse AI and SLR; because HGVs clearly played a part in three, NOT two, of those accidents:
Prickly Pear to Tipton Cross
An accident that resulted in slight injury occurred when a bus/coach reversed into a car when allowing an articulated lorry to proceed in a narrow section of road 2.39
Lynch Head Road to Halfway House Junction
The other occurred when a driver lost control of the car and collided with the verges when trying to avoid an oncoming HGV 2.41
Sanctuary Lane to Castle Lane
The other accident occurred when an HGV collided with the rear of a car in front 2.44
It’s easy to see how the first one happened; watch this truck being forced to reverse by an AI truck:

AI makes the astonishing claim that "the majority of accidents that involved HGVs did not include causes/factors exclusively linked to the characteristics of HGVs; these types of accidents could have occurred with any vehicle type on the road at that time" 2.49. But, with wide HGVs on a narrow road with discontinuous central road markings, that was plainly NOT the case in at least two of the above.

AI says "drivers should be aware of the approaching conditions and proceed with caution, particularly given the rural nature and narrow width of the road" 2.48.

But given the narrow width of the road, it's obvious that the B3180 cannot satisfactorily accommodate AI’s 44-tonne HGVs, as the above video patently demonstrates. This application should be judged against the current Minerals Plan, the one that says:

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

AI can't get its head around CO2

If anybody’s wondering why all the Regulation 22 documents, for Straitgate and Blackhill, have changed, and why the consultation has been extended, it’s because SLR has submitted, apparently at DCC’s request, a revised set of documents, corrected (as far as we can see) for the triplication that many of the documents suffered and the nonsense CO2 figures that we have already pointed out.

For CO2, instead of:

AI and its consultants SLR have had a rethink, and we now have:

You'd have thought that AI/SLR would have checked this revised version very carefully, but not so. Because no HGV would be permitted on our roads if it really did emit 1.4807 tonnes of CO2e per mile. Numbers are obviously not AI's strong point.

If SLR are minded to amend this document again, it might also want to look at the word massively that still finds itself in the line "Processing at Hillhead may be feasible, but would generate a massively greater quantity of CO2 emissions from the additional mileage required to be travelled" 8.48; 47,241,000 tonnes certainly is massive, 3,344 tonnes somewhat less so.

Monday, 12 October 2015

You couldn’t make this up!

Fancy that! Suddenly, at the 11th hour, Aggregate Industries has found a European Protected Species it can call its own; how remarkable, how helpful, how timely!

AI couldn’t be bothered to look properly for great crested newts around Straitgate Farm: "the majority of ponds within 500m of the site boundary were not surveyed due to lack of access permission" 2.3.1; the pond fed directly by Straitgate in nearby Cadhay Wood, indicated as likely to contain GCNs by a senior SLR ecologist, wasn’t even looked at. DCC had to request that:
But it was nothing to do with access permission. AI has now changed its tune, saying that the majority of these ponds were in fact "non-existent or were dry hollows which were incapable of supporting breeding amphibians" 4.8. In which case, how can we rely on anything from the original report? Another pond, less than 500m away at Lowlands Farm, was also not identified or surveyed, despite again getting its water from Straitgate and showing up as clear as day on Google Earth.

But AI can find GCNs when it wants to, and now says that GCNs in one of its ponds at Rockbeare should stop the site being used as an alternative to Woodbury Common AONB SAC SPA SSSI.
A further significant constraint to the disposal of silt at Beggars Roost is the presence of Great Crested Newts (GCN) which has been identified during a survey of waterbodies at Rockbeare between April and June 2015. 8.17
AI must be getting worried if it's looking for new reasons to put 1.2 million HGV miles on our local roads, compromising the East Devon AONB and the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths, a site of European importance to nature. Because this claim did not come out in AI's original application - the one that was several years in the planning. In fact, why was AI suddenly looking for GCNs at Rockbeare, in a location it never intended to use, other than to present another obstacle for the site to be used as an alternative?

The ecologists AI used for Rockbeare, not SLR this time but JG Ecological Surveys Ltd, 33 Cranford Avenue, Exmouth, seemed to know exactly why the company wanted to find GCNs:
If from an operational perspective a viable alternative exists for ancillary quarrying operations to continue without disturbing/destroying GCN habitats then obtaining a licence for destruction or modification of GCN habitat would seem vulnerable to legal challenge.
It is the opinion of JG Ecological Surveys Ltd that alternative opportunities to achieve the operational objectives for the company while avoiding disturbance to the local populations of GCN at Rockbeare Quarry should be sought.
Unfortunately for AI, however, the ecologists we have spoken to see no reason why a licence should not be granted to move the newts to other ponds at Rockbeare, or other suitable ponds nearby, in much the same way that AI hopes to secure a licence for Straitgate to move dormice, another European Protected Species, before destroying 2km of ancient hedgerow. What GCNs could do to AI's plans, however, is add delay and expense; if it adds delay, then that will have been of AI's own making for not doing the survey earlier. Natural England has "issued about 1,000 licences to disturb great crested newts so far in 2015, the vast majority of which were to move them for development purposes".

Nevertheless, as we have said before, if AI cares about GCNs at Rockbeare and is worried about relocating them, it can always use a silt press, negating the need to use the area in question, and providing material that could be used to restore Straitgate.

And given that GCNs have now been found in the area, [SLR originally said: "The desk study found no records of great crested newt within 2 km of the proposed development site. This lack of records is reflective of the general Devon area." 3.1], AI should go back and look at the ponds surrounding Straitgate Farm more carefully, including the one in Cadhay Wood and the one at Lowlands Farm, and do a proper survey - as requested by Natural England. Perhaps AI could use JG Ecological Services Ltd this time, if they are better at finding ponds and GCNs than SLR.

But whilst AI takes a shine to GCNs, it's lost interest in bats & dormice at Straitgate

Aggregate Industries now wants to get away with NOT planting the 10,547m2 of trees that would have been "primarily managed for dormice" 8.257 - the trees it said had been planted between January and March 2015, but in actual fact had not. In addition, many of the trees that were planted in January 2014 will have to be moved for airport safeguarding and archaeology reasons.

AI will now therefore have to convince Natural England to grant it a European Protected Species Licence with little substantive mitigation planting in place to offset the loss of 2km of ancient hedgerows. AI thinks the bats and dormice using these hedgerows can take their chance mainly in the hedgerows and wooded areas that currently abound the site.

AI’s previous planting scheme was already substantially short of the 5,748m of new hedgerow that Defra suggests should be planted to offset the expected loss; AI said such shortfall "must be placed in the context of creating [14,547m2] of new woodland and tree belt habitat" 8.261-8.263:

Which begs the question, what context must that shortfall now be placed in - with so little of that 14,547m2 to be planted? Natural England recently told DCC:
We are also aware that tree and hedgerow planting proposed as mitigation for both landscape purposes and replacement habitat for the dormouse population may not yet be in place in the quantity identified throughout the documentation supporting this application...Your Authority will need to be satisfied that the mitigation plan proposed by the Applicant is deliverable in the quantity and to the quality required and within the appropriate timescales to provide the necessary replacement habitat.
Area provided should exceed losses in potentially high impact cases as the acceptability of new habitat to dormouse is not predictable… Planting of replacement habitat should begin as early as is practical in the works programme as it will take several years before areas become utilisable by dormouse both in terms of structure and food supply.
In fact, where significant impacts are predicted there will be an expectation that compensation will provide an enhanced habitat (in terms of quality or area) compared with that to be lost. Compensation should also remedy any loss of connectivity brought about through the development.
It’s much the same with bats. AI had originally said "Survey data demonstrated that bat activity was concentrated along hedgerows" 8.186.

But again, AI thinks it can do without any substantive compensatory planting, that the bats can rely on a reduced amount of hedgerows around the boundary instead, once the 2km of hedgerows within the site have been removed 4.20.

AI had originally conceded that:
Further, recent case law has clearly demonstrated that local planning authorities have a legal duty to consider the Habitats Regulations when making planning decisions; therefore the key considerations for the developer prior to gaining planning permission (and ultimately to enable grant of a licence) are to demonstrate that (i) sufficient habitat enhancement can be delivered in peripheral areas of the site; and (ii) that vegetation clearance to be phased such that dormouse can progressively retreat to enhanced marginal habitats. 4.1.5 [our emphasis]
It seems odd therefore that AI doesn’t think that sufficient habitat enhancement applies at Straitgate Farm - except on drawings. You will have heard of corporate 'green-washing'; well, AI's latest plans have been 'tree-washed': with broader existing tree-belts than Google Earth, you'd hardly know that '10,547m2 of trees' have been dropped from its plans.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Has AI now demonstrated “exceptional circumstances”?

The central premise behind Aggregate Industries’ application to process sand and gravel at Blackhill on Woodbury Common, AONB SAC SPA, is that it can’t process Straitgate's material anywhere else. However, the NPPF is clear:
Planning permission should be refused for major developments in [AONBs] except in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated they are in the public interest.
In AI's Regulation 22 response, it now considers that:
Given the absence of predicted significant adverse effects on the AONB and other protected sites; the absence of another suitable site for processing the mineral; and the need for the mineral to maintain the seven year landbank in Devon as set out in the NPPF; and particularly in the context of the benefit of allowing a further 5 years of processing at Blackhill, it is considered that exceptional circumstances exist that should enable the LPA to permit the 5 year extension of the existing operation at Blackhill Quarry. 8.58
There are no alternative sites for mineral processing that would either give rise to less damaging environmental impacts or offer a more sustainable solution. 2.34
Let’s consider this absence of another suitable site. AI thinks it has demonstrated the need to use an AONB, the need for 1.2 million polluting HGV miles, instead of using somewhere nearby:
...processing at Rockbeare is not physically possible due to a lack of silt space and clean water storage, insufficient stocking and processing area and the presence of great crested newts in existing ponds. 8.37
AI has supplied numbers, but many fall down on scrutiny.

Take lack of silt space. AI claims that "Beggars Roost has maximum operational depth of 4.5 metres and [is] therefore not capable of accommodating the volume of silt that would be generated from working the Straitgate material" 8.16The lagoon at "Beggars Roost has a surface area of 28,850m2" 8.16, and therefore, with a depth of 4.5m, a volume of 130,000m3. AI would have us believe that the "total silt capacity arising from the proposed five year development at Straitgate will be 217,141m3" 8.11.

But AI can't be trusted with numbers. Because that silt volume figure is NOT derived from the actual amount that would be recovered, but from AI's exaggerated 1,659,781 saleable tonnes figure; a figure that fails to account for the 410,000 tonnes lost by leaving 1m of resource, as required by the EA and admitted by AI, and fails to include a realistic estimate of any resource won from the overburden.

In reality, if the mineral volume is 763,402m3, subtracting 256,000m3 for the 1m of resource above the maximum groundwater level leaves 507,402m3; of this, 20% - 101,000m3 - would be silt. If there are 200,000 saleable tonnes from overburden, then this would produce 50,000 tonnes of silt - again assuming AI's 20% wastage - which, at 1.7t/m3, would equate to 29,000m3. There would therefore be a requirement for 130,000m3 of silt capacity - which is apparently what Beggars Roost has.

Let's also not forget what AI said in 2003:
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.
Furthermore, if AI is short of silt capacity at Rockbeare it can always do what has been done before; look at Rockbeare’s planning history:
03/06/1974 Excavation of land to form silt pond
09/04/1980 Construction of banks to enlarge capacity of silt pond
Now take lack of clean water storage. AI says:
Blackhill currently has approximately 132,000m3 of water storage [which has] only just been enough. 8.22 Rockbeare only has one notable water storage facility [which has] a capacity to hold approximately 88,000m3. 8.23
But wait a minute. AI also tells us:
There are various other water bodies around Rockbeare Quarry from previous workings. In the past, these have been used as clean water lagoons, returning water back to the processing plant. These would need to be retained should processing recommence at Rockbeare and could not be infilled with silt. 8.18
The one notable water storage facility has a surface area of around 12,300m2. The other water bodies have a combined surface area of about 7,400m2, and, assuming depths are similar, would provide 60% more water. This would give a total of 141,000m3, which would be more than enough.

Take insufficient stocking and processing area. AI now says - and shows why nothing can be trusted:
Blackhill Quarry currently occupies approximately 60,000m2 of surface area for material stockpiling 8.28 The available footprint for stockpiles at Rockbeare Works is restricted to 34,000m2 8.30
But only a few months ago, AI's planning application was telling us all that:
At present AI uses 3.85 ha [38,500m2] of land at Blackhill Quarry for stockpiles 5.35
And even in one of the Regulation 22 responses:
At the time of a survey carried out by the applicant in October 2014 the stockpiles covered an area of approximately 2.5ha [25,000m2] 3.29
Plainly AI has no idea what area they cover, and, in any case, it should not be too difficult to find space in a site that totals over 160,000m2 in area. But, who’s to say that AI must work in the same way as it does at Blackhill? Or that the stockpiles should be so large?

The subject of great crested newts we’ll keep for another time. Save to say, if AI can secure a licence for dormice - another European Protected Species - at Straitgate, and destroy 2km of hedgerows and dormouse habitat, it can secure a licence to move newts.

So, AI has not demonstrated exceptional circumstances. It has a perfectly suitable site just down the road from Straitgate - a site that's derelict and not in an AONB; a site with a history of mineral processing, on which mobile plant could be employed - like many other operations are forced to. If AI's really short of silt capacity and/or water, and is really bothered by great crested newts, it can always use a silt press - as the company itself suggested 5.37 - and return the material to restore Straitgate. If Straitgate really cannot be processed locally, then another quarry site should be sought. Because what will AI do in 3,4,5 years time, when it wants to extend operations? Plead exceptional circumstances again?? And again??

And on the subject of stockpiles

Aggregate Industries can't be trusted on these either - we've written about stockpiles before.

 Now AI says:
...the existing stockpiles do not currently break the wooded skyline in any of the views visited. It is therefore concluded that so long as the stockpiles do not significantly increase in height then this key landscape characteristic should be adequately protected for the duration of the proposed extension of time. EMMP 3.2 Management of Stockpiles
Maybe AI should have visited more views.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Are AI’s plans unravelling?

As part of its Regulation 22 request, DCC asked Aggregate Industries:
Please can the Applicant clarify the legal query over land ownership sent to them on 9th July 2015. Reason: To ensure that the proposal can be implemented in the manner proposed in the application
The land in question is the northern field, the proposed access to the site. It is owned by a third party. AI has now replied, and has said:
This matter is being addressed directly between the applicant and the surface land owner. The applicant contends that it has necessary rights over the surface to implement the proposals as presented 8.78
Which is interesting, because, since the initial request on 13 May, AI has been unable to supply any evidence that it has the necessary rights over the surface, despite repeated requests.

In fact, on 25 June, DCC was advised by solicitors that:
The area of land in question, as owned by our clients has been designated as land suitable for use as a transportation hub and we confirm that Aggregate Industries have not supplied evidence of their right to use that land for those purposes. Our clients therefore wish to object on the basis that their land will be used for purposes beyond the extent of any usage rights that Aggregate Industries have.
DCC has allocated Straitgate Farm as a Specific Site in its draft Minerals Plan. But 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.
Unfortunately for both AI and DCC, this landowner is NOT supportive.

AI now 'admits' it's down to 900,000 tonnes of resource

Several months ago we calculated that Aggregate Industries had overstated the saleable resource by at least 500,000 tonnes, after its claims that the 1.66 million tonnes figure already factored in the 1m maintained above the maximum water table to satisfy the Environment Agency.

DCC therefore asked AI "to provide a simple, but evidenced assessment of the resource available". This is AI's response:

Applying this loss factor results in a saleable quantity of 1,659,780 tonnes of sand and gravel, 1,200,000 tonnes of which is from the Pebble Bed deposit. 8.76
AI's gross volume of 1,408,000m3 agrees with our calculations of 5.47m x 256,000m2 = 1,400,000m3, but the company is still claiming "a saleable quantity of 1,659,780 tonnes".

But now however, and contrary to what was previously said, it goes on to admit:
Since elsewhere in the Regulation 22 response it now accepts that:
the "saleable quantity of 1,659,780 tonnes" cannot therefore be "saleable" at all, and the resource available, excluding anything from the overburden, is now 900,000 tonnes - by AI's reckoning.

But AI has even made a hash of this calculation. Elsewhere AI accepts that:
... 256,000m3, being the volume required to restore a 1m soil thickness over the base of the mineral working. 5.9
but it's simple arithmetic to work out that the 300,000 tonnes AI has deducted for the 1m should in fact be:
256,000m3 x 80% (allowing 20% wastage) x 2 tonnes/m3 = 410,000 saleable tonnes
In which case the resource is 1,200,000 - 410,000 = 790,000 tonnes, before overburden.

For that overburden, AI has unrealistically assumed the same wastage of 20% as it has for the Pebble Beds. We were previously advised by AI’s Head of Geological Services that the overburden:
...can only be quantified on a month by month basis in a working scenario as it can depend as much on the weather as the skill of the excavator driver whether blending is possible. It is therefore not a tonnage I can quote in a formal Competent Person Report, however I would anticipate nominal tonnages and if pushed to guess would say approx, 200,000 saleable tonnes...
In total, therefore, AI has no more than 990,000 tonnes, including any speculative overburden.

This is the quantity - less than 3 years worth - that must now be weighed against the harm and the destruction of an East Devon farm.

This is the quantity that should have been in the draft Devon's Minerals Plan that is now out for consultation. DCC was warned, but chose to believe AI instead. But then DCC has made the same mistake before. Back in 2013 we wrote "DCC is overstating the 'recoverable' resource at Straitgate by more than 50%":
So if we are going to talk about destroying a farm and violating the East Devon landscape, creating something like the photograph above, let's consult on the correct figures so that local people know exactly what's involved and are able to make an informed response. We should then consider how little economically recoverable sand and gravel there actually is at Straitgate Farm, and debate whether that's a price worth paying for the loss of so much.