Monday, 7 March 2016

Noise, dust, statutory nuisance

Whilst we wait for Aggregate Industries to rewrite its planning applications - right the wrongs, bury the bad bits, create some new fiction - look what’s been going on in Buckfastleigh, and the joys that quarrying can bring to a community. Buckfastleigh Town Council has produced a noise leaflet, because:
The Council has received a number of complaints from local residents about the noise coming from Whitecleave Quarry and we understand that noise has disturbed some people in areas of the parish not usually affected by activities at the quarry.
The Council decided to produce this leaflet to provide information to those affected by noise to tell them how they should register their complaints and provide a facility to complain anonymously if required. This information has not previously been made available to residents by Devon County Council, Teignbridge District Council or the quarry operator.

As the leaflet points out:
There is no specific decibel level or limit to determine nuisance. If it is found to be 'statutory nuisance' the authority must serve an abatement notice – which is an order to deal with the nuisance. This order may demand the noise stops altogether.
For those unfamiliar with the term, 'statutory nuisance' is a decision based on what the average reasonable person would find unacceptable; it is a criminal offence. East Devon District Council has more information on Common Law Nuisance and Statutory Nuisance:
In common law there is something termed a 'nuisance' which can be defined as a matter which is an unreasonable and substantial interference on the use and enjoyment of a person's property.
A statutory nuisance, under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, must fall within one of the following categories: i.e.
(g) noise emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance;
or for that matter
(d) any dust, steam, smell or other effluvia arising on industrial, trade or business premises and being prejudicial to health or a nuisance;
(e) any accumulation or deposit which is prejudicial to health or a nuisance;
As the Environmental Protection Act 1990 makes clear:
For those interested in the matter, here are two more links: Statutory nuisances - how councils deal with complaints, and Friends of the Earth - Statutory Nuisance.

On the face of it, and without appropriate standoffs, the average reasonable person would find much of what a quarry brings to communities to be unacceptable. Any operation at Straitgate would grind to a halt if it became a 'statutory nuisance', but with some homes as close as 70m to its previously proposed extraction zone - reneging on assurances made by AI in 2013 of a 100m minimum standoff - AI is already setting itself up for problems. AI says:
The potential for fugitive dust emissions from the proposed excavation of sand and gravel at Straitgate Farm is minimal due to the inherently high moisture content of the ‘as dug’ material. 11.8
Here's Blackhill Quarry down the road; same material, same 'dust mitigation policy', same operator:

Is DCC Minerals Planning any help in all this? No. The new Plan cares more about minerals, and multinational cement conglomerates, than local people. It proposes Mineral Safeguarding Areas all over Devon "for the protection of mineral resources" with buffers delineated around such areas which "ensures that account is taken of development beyond the extent of the mineral resource or site that could constrain existing or future mineral operation". 

DCC says the buffer "reflects the characteristics of each resource"; ball clay has 100m, china clay, sand and gravel 250m; the buffers "are considered to reasonably reflect the differing degree of impact of extraction of different groups of minerals" - in itself, an admission that sand and gravel operations can have impacts 250m away. Absurdly, no such standoffs are specified to protect people. DCC says:
Buffer zones are one means of minimising adverse effects... but the choice of mitigation measures will be dependent on specific circumstances and it is inappropriate to require buffer zones for all development.
However, the industry - in the form of Imerys Minerals responding to the Minerals Plan - has expressed: 
Concern that the 100m and 250m buffer zones will be insufficient to avoid issues arising from the proximity of mining and residential / other uses. To avoid conflict and nuisance claims arising from ball clay and china clay operations the buffer may need to increase
In other words, whilst Imerys are concerned that even 250m may be insufficient to avoid nuisance claims, AI is hoping to get away with 70m. Keep a copy of Buckfastleigh’s noise leaflet - it may come in useful.