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??