Thursday, 28 April 2016

Devon Minerals Plan Examination - Maps

DCC has today advised:
The inspector undertaking the Minerals Plan examination has asked the Council to provide mapping showing matters raised in objections to the Straitgate Farm site to assist his consideration of those issues. He has also asked that this mapping be made available to the participants for the examination session for that site.
The mapping provided to the Inspector is available here.

"Watercourses threatened after digger fire"

A local news story that underlines why 1 metre should ALWAYS be left unquarried above the maximum winter water table when there are surrounding drinking water sources are at risk:
Fuel leaked into watercourses after a 16-tonne excavator caught fire at Northmostown, Sidmouth, this afternoon.
Firefighters have called in the environmental protection unit.
The alarm was raised just before 3.30pm this afternoon, and a spokesperson for the fire and rescue service said: “We received a call reporting a digger on fire, and two appliances from Sidmouth were mobilised.”
An update issued just after 4pm said: “Crews on scene have requested the attendance of the environmental protection unit due to fuel leaking into nearby water courses.
“This was sent with a support appliance from Newton Abbot. Steady progress is being made, and efforts are being made to contain the diesel leaking from the digger.”
The incident is ongoing.
Any diesel fuel contamination at Straitgate could devastate drinking water supplies for over 100 people. For Town Farm quarry, Hanson did recognise the importance of maintaining at least 1m unquarried:
The scheme proposes extraction within the Pebble Beds to 1m above the highest recorded water table level. C3.1
The unsaturated zone above the water table affords protection of the aquifer from surface pollution, allowing adsorption, attenuation and degradation of contaminants prior to reaching the water table. Removal of lower permeability clay layers from within the Pebble Beds could also remove some protection from the groundwater. During the operation of the site pollution may arise from the extraction and restoration activities. The pollution may be in the form of fuel, lubricants and other fluids associated with the operator’s machinery. C3.1

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Nutrients - a constant battle on the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths

Why did Aggregate Industries ever think it could bring hundreds of thousands of tonnes of farmland material to an internationally important area of habitat that has been battling against nutrients for years? And it has been years:
East Budleigh-based Clinton Devon Estates (CDE) says the heathland, opened to the public by Lord Clinton in 1930 and under the stewardship of the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust, is under threat.
'Invasive' trees and shrubs, like the purple moor grass, have spread due to a build up of soil nutrients over 50 years.
These aggressive plants prevent more diverse plant and animal life from getting a foothold, making vast tracts of land virtually inaccessible to the public.
CDE director John Varley said: "The East Devon Pebblebed Heath is more than 250 million years old, but over the last 100 or we have let it go somewhat."
Natural England have carried out assessments of the condition of the heaths and concluded that they are mostly in an unfavourable recovering condition. The main problems for managers of the heaths stem from natural processes of succession, changes brought about by inputs of atmospheric nutrients and the activities of people... Annual inputs of atmospheric nutrients, particularly nitrogen, cause deterioration of the heathland communities of heather and its allies, and help to drive a conversion from heather to grass domination... Atmospheric nitrogen inputs affecting the Pebblebeds in East Devon (including ammonia) and acid deposition reach or exceed the maximum critical load for lowland heaths.
As a result, areas were fenced and low stocking density grazing schemes introduced:
Grazing alone will not achieve the aims of managing the land back to lowland heath, but to be able to bring the cattle in to graze after burning or cutting, will keep the vegetation down for longer and will also help to re-establish the important boggy areas which are home to many rare species of flora and fauna.
And yet, remarkably, the issue of nutrients was overlooked in 2010, when AI won permission from DCC to import material from Venn Ottery to Blackhill - even though some of that material would also come from farmland, even though NOx pollution from AI's HGVs and associated haulage traffic would obviously make the situation worse.

When AI applied to quarry Straitgate Farm in 2015, the company didn't want to go anywhere near the subject of nutrients - despite the fact that Natural England had raised the issue in 2012 and despite DCC's Scoping Opinion:
The potential impacts of importing nitrate rich materials into the environment of Blackhill Quarry to be processed, and the impact on the potential restoration and biodiversity of that site from such movements of material should be assessed.
AI's Environmental Statement drew a complete blank on this subject; Natural England therefore issued an objection and DCC a Regulation 22 request:
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. NE 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.
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
Further to the Regulation 22 request for additional information, Natural England remains concerned about the potential importing of nutrients as a result of processing material from Straitgate farm at Blackhill quarry.
Only in 2016 did AI finally get around to testing any material, and when we now find that the nutrient levels of that material are up to 17 times the level expected for soils at Blackhill - hardly 'little evidence' at all - it's as if AI knew what the answer was likely to be all along.

Natural England has objected to the importation of just 40,000 tonnes from Hillhead; there would be up to 25 times more material from Straitgate Farm, where "all water samples showed elevated nitrate (NO3) concentrations reflecting the agricultural catchment" 7.32.

AI needs to forget about Blackhill for good.

Devon Minerals Plan Examination - Statements from the Council and Representors

Additional written evidence has been provided for the Minerals Plan Examination.

DCC's response to questions raised by the Inspector: What are the circumstances that have led to the selection of Straitgate Farm as the one specific site for sand and gravel extraction? and Is the site specific designation of Straitgate Farm unsound? can be found here.

We argue here and here that even designating Straitgate Farm as a 'Preferred Area' would be unsound; planning permission for processing cannot reasonably be anticipated when it relies upon exceptional circumstances, particularly when, as Natural England has just confirmed, it would have the capacity to significantly impact a Natura 2000 site.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

AI shouldn't have been surprised...

...when Natural England objected to the importation of Hillhead material to Blackhill last week - a proposal that sought to bring material with elevated nutrient levels to a site directly abutting the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths SAC; an objection that could put an end to mineral processing on Woodbury Common for good.

Aggregate Industries and consultants Amec had already had extensive communications and meetings with Natural England before the "Technical note: Blackhill Nutrient Investigation" was produced; both parties knew exactly what had to be done to allay Natural England's fears. Despite this, and despite Natural England's subsequent objection, AI "still wish to pursue this application". AI wants to have another go at persuading the statutory consultee, and intends "to provide a response to NE with the view to making June’s Planning Committee following re-consultation".

However, Natural England's objection could not have been clearer:
This habitat is more sensitive than any other wetland habitats and is very sensitive to any nutrient change.
In fact, as far back as 2012Natural England had been warning about Blackhill and nitrates - in relation to material from Straitgate:
Natural England has serious concerns regarding potential continued processing at Blackhill Quarry due to its sensitive location within the SAC. Although we have some concern regarding later restoration we are particularly concerned about the importation of waste material (including wet silts and water used to clean waste) with a higher nitrate content than that appropriate for restoration in a heathland area which requires negligible or preferably no nutrients. As Straitgate is intensively dairy-farmed, it would be impossible to prevent nitrates from entering lagoons at Blackhill if material were brought to Blackhill as dug.
Did AI think the problem would go away? That consultees would forget? Or not notice? AI may have got away with dumping any old material at Blackhill before - but this site is next to an area of European importance to nature conservation, and should be treated as such.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Natural England objects to the importation of Hillhead material to Blackhill

Another spanner in the works for Aggregate Industries. This response from Natural England, in relation to the company's planning application to import material from Hillhead to Blackhill, could have huge ramifications for the Straitgate application, and must surely be the final nail in the coffin for AI's plan to import a million tonnes of nitrate-rich material from a dairy farm to the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths.

At the current time, Natural England does not concur with the applicants view that the importation of the proposed material will not have an adverse effect on the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths SSSI/SAC for the following reasons:
1) The unit of the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths adjacent to Blackhill Quarry contains sensitive wetland habitats including areas of M14 - Schoenus nigricans-Narthecium ossifragum mire which is dependent on low nutrient status. This habitat is more sensitive than any other wetland habitats and is very sensitive to any nutrient change. In the area adjoining Blackhill quarry, this habitat occurs in some parts of the valley-bottom mires and towards the headwaters of the two main valleys...
...We recommend [your authority] obtain the following information or consider the following to help undertake a Habitats Regulations Assessment:
1) The potential implications the raised PH levels of the imported material may have on the sensitive habitats of the adjoining designated site. Particularly the impacts of long term leaching from the solid material with a higher PH that is proposed to fill the settlement lagoons.
2) The long term impact of filling the settlement lagoons with imported material with a high phosphorus content and the risk of continued leaching of Phosphorous into the designated site overtime.

Deep in the files

Aggregate Industries claims it's short of 218,000m3 of material to achieve it's approved restoration at Blackhill, but guess what, there's not a single word about any shortfall in recent Monitoring Reports.

Funny that, given that these DCC reports deal with the state of restoration for each of the Areas at Blackhill, indicated on the map below.

AI makes out that this 'shortfall' is a big deal, using it in an attempt to justify exceptional circumstances for processing Hillhead and Straitgate material in the East Devon AONB:
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
Of course, it wasn't flagged up as a problem in the Monitoring Reports because it wasn't one. It's an invention. There's already an approved plan for Area 6, drawn up in 2013:
The final height of the silt is not yet known but may be higher than originally thought. 4.8.2
But who would be surprised to learn that it's an invention that AI has used before... back in 2007. No doubt, given half a chance, AI would do the same in 2021. And so on. And so on.

Whilst there was nothing about a '218,000m3 shortfall' in the Monitoring Reports, there was plenty about failures to comply with planning conditions.

Reports that were meant to be with the Minerals Planning Authority in 2013 still seem to be outstanding - despite annual reminders and the threat of enforcement action.

AI makes a big play on the benefits it brings to the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths.
The ongoing restoration, aftercare and long term management of Blackhill Quarry is extending the existing area of heathland for which the East Devon Pebble Beds are given European and national designations. 2.40
But let’s keep that in context:
It has been estimated that some 640ha of the Pebblebed Heaths have been lost since 1906, with post-1947 losses amounting to 380ha... of which 166 ha was lost to conifer plantation, 79ha to grassland, 15ha to arable and 120ha to mineral development... at Blackhill, if the quarried area is returned to heath when the quarry finally closes, perhaps another 40ha will be restored to heath.

AI says whatever it takes

It's hardly surprising that local people can't trust what Aggregate Industries says; inconsistencies abound.

Another document has appeared in support of AI's application to process Hillhead material at Blackhill:

Only last month, AI was talking about 100,000 tonnes:

Which is it? Who knows?

In October last year, AI told DCC that it was unsustainable to haul Straitgate's material to Hillhead:
Hillhead Quarry does, however, present an option for processing of the Straitgate deposit, but the consequential impact of additional CO2 emissions from greater haulage distances are considered to be unsustainable. 8.38
Fair enough you might think. But in the very same month, AI lodged the application to haul 100,000 (or is it now 40,000?) tonnes of Hillhead's material to Blackhill, and claimed this was sustainable:
Consequently, in accordance with the presumption in favour of sustainable development... it is submitted that this application warrants a positive determination. 7.3
An odd conclusion, when the distance from Straitgate to Hillhead is 22.8 miles and from Blackhill to Hillhead 26.4 miles. The NPPF has a different idea of what's sustainable:
Plans and decisions should ensure developments that generate significant movement are located where the need to travel will be minimised... 34
For its application to quarry Straitgate Farm, AI had claimed for Blackhill:
In the absence of the silts from processing the Straitgate mineral... In order to fill [lagoon 3] and achieve the approved contours it would be necessary to import inert materials from elsewhere. This could give rise to quality control considerations to ensure no nutrient-rich or other deleterious materials were brought to site. 2.36
Now AI says it's fine to import material from Hillhead with phosphorous levels of 63-173mg/kg and pH levels of 5.89-7.13, despite the approved restoration scheme for Blackhill:
...all soils will be tested for pH and nutrient content to ensure that they are suitable for heathland restoration i.e. phosphorous is less than 10mg/kg and that the pH is between 3 and 5 3.6.1
Whether buried in lagoons or not, caution should prevail before importing thousands of tonnes of material with nutrient levels up to 17 times the limit for soils; particularly when using them for restoration in an area of European importance to nature conservation; particularly when nutrients "cause deterioration of the heathland communities of heather and its allies, and help to drive a conversion from heather to grass domination"particularly when these nutrients can leach into groundwater for decades.

The idea of processing Hillhead's material 26 miles away on Woodbury Common must surely be as farcical as you can get in minerals planning terms, and shows exactly what AI thinks of sustainability, nature conservation and the East Devon AONB.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Have AI’s new access plans run into trouble already?

Despite the date, this is no April Fool - although it may well read like one.

Rumour has it that Aggregate Industries' revised plans to access the B3174 Exeter Road, with up to 200 HGV movements a day, have run into trouble already.

SLR had already pointed out how dangerous this road would be:
The southern option, onto the B3174, was dismissed early in the process on highway safety grounds 5.44
Now another set of consultants are set to recommend that, for safety reasons, HGVs exiting the site would be restricted to only turning left onto this fast straight road - in other words, eastwards in the direction of Ottery, not towards Woodbury Common where AI want to process the material.

Outgoing HGVs would then need to find somewhere to turn around, before their 8-mile journey to Blackhill, which is obviously unworkable.

How AI will get around this problem, short of burying the report, or major road works, is anybody’s guess; an SLR Feasibility Appraisal in 2011 ruled out roundabouts and signalised T-junctions for this road.

It will be surprising if AI’s revised planning applications land on DCC’s desk any time soon.