Thursday, 28 January 2016

Local democracy in action...

DCC councillors yesterday approved, with two votes against and one abstention, the new draft Minerals Plan, with Straitgate Farm as a Specific Site - despite huge questions hanging over deliverability. The draft Plan will now be submitted to the Secretary of State for examination. Watch the webcast to see local democracy in action; discussion on the Minerals Plan begins 33 minutes in.

From the off, the Chair made it clear that he didn't want to talk about Straitgate Farm at all: "that's a request"; "this is about the strategic document, it is not about site specific" - which seems somewhat at odds with a Minerals Plan that is allocating Straitgate as a Specific Site.

Despite that, discussions centred wholly around Straitgate. Cllr Claire Wright made an impassioned presentation, advising members of the Development Management Committee that there were "fundamental issues that cannot be ignored" - namely on water, quantities, access and processing.

DCC’s Head of Planning was having none of it. Straitgate’s "been through numerous levels of evaluation - it clearly fulfils the criteria for the Plan".

But after all these years of evaluation, when allocation as a Specific Site - where viable resources are known to exist, landowners are supportive of minerals development and the proposal is likely to be acceptable in planning terms - has been made apparently "in recognition of the degree of evidence available on its potential impacts" 5.4.9, DCC can't even tell you how this site is to be accessed, how it will be worked, how much material there is, or how it will be processed; four fundamental points that define a quarrying operation.

Specifically, on the matter of access over third party land, the Minerals Officer was asked (58 minutes in): "Were the landowner’s concerns taken into account during the consultation". After some off-mic discussion, the officer carefully answered:
The development of the Minerals Plan has taken account of views of a whole range of people including the farmer, who’s a tenant of the actual extraction site [not correct] and who owns the fields beyond. The evidence at the time from the operator or the indication from the operator was that they believed that they had access rights over this land. In the course of the planning application that’s been received since, it’s been suggested that this is not the case and we are seeking further information from the operator on that. So it’s a very fluid position.
Without site access, there is no quarry. DCC allocated this Specific Site to include the third party land without seeing any evidence that the operator had rights over such land. Click here for the whole story.

It’s been the same all along. As we wrote in our response to the Minerals Plan, "time and time again the Council has taken the operator at its unsubstantiated, unevidenced word, whilst ignoring other voices that have proved to be the more accurate". Still, the unelected officer knows best. Let’s hope we get more sense out of the Planning Inspector. The Public Inquiry has already been booked for the summer. Of course, by then Aggregate Industries’ planning applications may have already been determined.