Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Natural England issues an "Objection/Further information req'd" for Straitgate too

Aggregate Industries’ problems go from bad to worse. Further to Natural England's response in July, the agency has now responded to the company's Regulation 22 response with an "Objection/Further information required" for Straitgate Farm. 

Since AI's Regulation 22 response identified Blackhill as the only viable processing option, NE has advised DCC to assess whether the Straitgate Farm proposal will have a significant effect on a European designated site, raising again the issue of importing nitrate-rich soils from a dairy farm into the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths SAC and East Devon Heaths SPA. It has responded on a number of other issues too - the lack of a "thorough examination of potential alternative sites", the lack of a proper great crested newt survey and the lack of replacement habitat for dormice.

AI had made the claim that:
It has been demonstrated that 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
Given… the absence of another suitable site for processing the mineral... 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
Natural England demolishes this argument:
The presence of Great Crested Newts at Rockbeare Quarry is cited as a constraint to the consideration of using Rockbeare Quarry as an alternative location for the processing of quarry materials from Straitgate Farm. Natural England advises that the potential exists for this to be addressed through European Protected Species licencing and that this avenue could be explored through consultation with our licensing team.
The applicant also does not appear to have explored the feasibility and costs of undertaking modifications to increase the capacity of water storage and silt settling lagoons at Rockbeare quarry. It is also noted in para 6.39 that concrete settling tanks were previously used at Hillhead quarry, however, there is no discussion as to whether a similar proposal at Rockbeare would be an option to increase capacity. Similarly there is no discussion around options to increase the depth of Beggars Roost or raise the height of the bund around Beggars Roost to increase its capacity.
The justification for using Blackhill Quarry to continue to process quarry materials appears to be based on the economic benefits to the Applicant of not moving heavy processing equipment that has been installed at Blackhill, rather than a thorough examination of potential alternative sites.
And on the issue of protected species in and around Straitgate:
We have not assessed this application and associated documents in detail for impacts on protected species, however, despite further information being provided through the Reg 22 response, there is still doubt over whether the Great Crested Newt survey has been completed in line with our standing advice.
We are also aware that changes identified in the Reg 22 response in relation to the tree and hedgerow planting proposed as mitigation for both landscaping purposes and replacement habitat for the dormouse population may affect the quality and quantity of planting that will be in place. 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.