Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Letter from the EA

This letter from the Environment Agency was dated 3 June but only made public today.

It was written in response to Aggregate Industries finally coming clean on how it hopes to win 1.2 million tonnes from Straitgate by assuming "a working base that coincides with... the maximum recorded winter water table".

Readers must be sick and tired of this long-running saga of the resource and the 1m. Prior to AI's resource statement, rushed-out less than two weeks before the Examination, DCC had been ready to concede that there were only 900,000 tonnes at Straitgate to reflect the "retention of a one metre unsaturated zone above the winter water table, as required in Table C.4 of the Plan" previously agreed with the EA, to protect drinking water supplies. It was a different story, however, at the Examination:
DCC argued blindly that the resource should still be identified as "Up to 1.2 million tonnes", even though AI’s resource statement confirmed that this amount could ONLY be achieved by quarrying right down to the maximum winter water table.
The EA has now confirmed, exactly as we had stated at the Examination hearings, that:
It is also notable that the applicant appears to be basing the present resource assessments on the basis of a hydrogeological model (highest water level) that has not been formally agreed.
Furthermore, despite AI having had years to work on groundwater modelling at Straitgate, the EA says:
We are... still waiting for a robust assessment of the risks that would result from this modification to the operation.
Whether DCC continues to push a resource figure inconsistent with the conditions in its own Minerals Plan, siding with AI and its resource of "up to 1.2 million tonnes" - when the EA has agreed to no such thing - remains to be seen.

There will, in any case, be a further consultation on any modifications tabled.

Monday, 20 June 2016

AI operating asphalt plant at Rockbeare without planning permission

Aggregate Industries has submitted a planning application for the "retention of the existing asphalt plant, aggregate store and ancillary stockyard/storage bays and the importation and storage of Recycled Asphalt Planings (RAP) at Rockbeare Quarry".

AI’s supporting statement reads:
3.1 The existing asphalt plant was permitted, in its current location, under planning permission 99/P0568 (see Appendix 1). Under condition 8 of this permission, the asphalt plant was time limited by way of requiring removal of the plant upon cessation of mineral extraction. Condition 8 states:
“Unless otherwise agreed in writing with the Mineral Planning Authority, upon completion of the mineral working at the mineral site, the plant hereby approved shall be removed and the area restored in accordance with details to be submitted pursuant to Review of Old Mineral Permission No.7/11/98/P0050.
Reason: To ensure satisfactory restoration in the interests of visual amenity.”
3.3 Mineral extraction ceased at Rockbeare Quarry (Marshbroadmoor) in 2014. The purpose of this planning application is to seek the permanent retention of the asphalt plant, aggregate store and associated facilities.
Indeed, extraction at next door Marshbroadmoor may have ceased in 2014, since which time AI has been operating without permission - in breach of planning conditions, but since none of this mineral was ever processed at Rockbeare that date seems immaterial. What does seem material is, as AI pointed out in its planning application for Straitgate, that "mineral processing was last carried out at Rockbeare in 1994" 5.36, 22 years ago, when "most of the production was used on a daily basis by the on-site asphalt plant and the Charcon Concrete Products Factory (now closed)".

When AI now argues 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
why should Rockbeare continue to be a suitable and sustainable location for asphalt processing? Why should the community permanently forgo the "satisfactory restoration in the interests of visual amenity"? 

Is this just the sort of thing that would happen at Straitgate? Moving restoration goalposts? Breaches of planning conditions? As usual, AI wants to have its cake, and eat it too. This planning application DCC/3867/2016 was validated on 24 May, but is open for comments until 7 July.

Habitats Regulations Assessment - AI supplies another report on nutrients

As a Natura 2000 site, the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths are protected under the Habitats Directive, transposed in the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010; a Habitats Regulations Assessment is required for any proposal that could affect it. Western Power, for example, had to go to the lengths detailed in this report to underground 1600m of power lines across Aylesbeare Common.

With respect to Aggregate Industries' planning application to process material from Hillhead at Blackhill, Natural England wrote in its previous objection to DCC:
...there is currently not enough information to determine whether the likelihood of significant effects can be ruled out. We recommend you 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.
As Natural England pointed out (and who by now is surprised by such glaring omissions?):
[AI's Technical Note] makes no reference to the potential long term impact of importing solid material with high Phosphorous levels and leaving it in the ground so close to these sensitive habitats where it will have the potential to leach into the designated site over many years.
AI has just supplied another Technical Note, and Natural England will be consulted again. If enough information has now been provided, a Habitats Regulations Assessment would go something like this:

Note the "Not sure" outcome; note the "If there is any doubt about adverse effects on site integrity, the proposal will fail this test"; note the "Conclusions must be made on the basis of there being no reasonable scientific doubt as to the absence of adverse effects".

Where it cannot be demonstrated beyond doubt that there would be no adverse effects, a proposal could only proceed if i) there are no alternative options, and ii) there are "imperative reasons of overriding public interest", and iii) there are ecologically viable compensatory measures "to ensure that the overall coherence of Natura 2000 is protected".

AI would have difficulty meeting any of those, let alone all three; it is not an insignificant hurdle that the company now faces to continue processing at Blackhill.

East Devon Pebblebed Heaths - Providing Space for Nature - Biodiversity Audit 2016

The full scale of biodiversity to be found within the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths SSSI has been documented for the first time. Over 3,000 species are listed in a new publication from the Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust.
The objective of this study was to collate data on the biodiversity of the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), in order to increase understanding of the species it supports and their conservation status. The wildlife value of the Heaths has long been recognised, but there is a need to be able to quantify and articulate more precisely what this value is. This is essential in securing support for the Heaths in the long term, and provides the necessary baseline evidence to improve conservation management decisions.

"We care about the climate"

...claims Aggregate Industries' parent LafargeHolcim.

But if LafargeHolcim cared about the climate... why do AI's haulage plans for Devon look like this?

If LafargeHolcim cared about the climate... why does AI propose hauling as-dug material 1.2 million miles for Straitgate and 185,000 miles for Hillhead? If LafargeHolcim cared about the climate... why are AI's CO2 emissions going up not down?

Monday, 13 June 2016

"Phosphorus is the biggest cause of water quality degradation worldwide"

...causing 'dead zones', toxic algal blooms, a loss of biodiversity and increased health risks for the plants, animals and humans that come in contact with polluted waters. This threatens the loss of economic and social benefits from freshwaters upon which society relies...

...all soils will be tested for pH and nutrient content to ensure 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
Phosphorus acts as a plant nutrient. Blackhill abuts a Natura 2000 site, a protected European wildlife area on Woodbury Common. Natural England has already warned AI:
This habitat is more sensitive than any other wetland habitats and is very sensitive to any nutrient change.

And yet, despite material from Houndaller having phosphorous levels up to 17x the level required, amazingly AI has still not given up on its madcap planning application to process Hillhead material at Blackhill - each round trip 52.8 miles - according to last week's Extension of Time letter:
It is hoped this will allow sufficient time for Natural England to be consulted on the additional information to be provided.
Quite what additional information AI can concoct to persuade Natural England that environmentally it’s a good idea to import tens of thousands of tonnes of material from agricultural land at Houndaller - potentially hundreds of thousands from Straitgate - (land that's nutrient-rich, high-yielding, good for growing grass for dairy farming) to "a heathland area which requires negligible or preferably no nutrients" (when these nutrients can leach into groundwater for decades) remains to be seen.

But it’s not rocket science:

So, since we're persistently being told how much @AggregateUK cares for wildlife and the environment, it's about time the company walked the walk - right out of Blackhill.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Remember the years of delays

...in the preparation of the Minerals Plan, whilst DCC waited subserviently for Aggregate Industries to prove it could quarry Straitgate Farm without wrecking drinking water supplies for more than 100 people? This is how DCC summed it up for the Examination, in document CS06:
1.6 The County Council subsequently undertook extensive discussions with the mineral operator, the Environment Agency and Natural England to address the potential impacts of the working of the western part of Straitgate Farm on groundwater and surface water and consequent effects on water-sensitive habitats and water supplies. The key outputs of this dialogue are provided in PD61, leading to the Environment Agency’s statement that they "are now satisfied with the information submitted with regard to the allocation of this site and have no objections to the inclusion of the Straitgate site from the minerals plan". A key outcome of these discussions was clarification that sand and gravel extraction within the site would be through dry working only with retention of an unsaturated layer of one metre above the maximum water table, resulting in further reduction of the potential reserve to 1.2 million tonnes.
However, AI confirmed in its planning application that "...excavating to a level 1m above the highest winter water table level would reduce the saleable tonnage by approximately 300,000 tonnes" 8.77; in other words, leaving only 900,000 tonnes.

Nevertheless, at the Examination hearings, DCC argued blindly that the resource should still be identified as "Up to 1.2 million tonnes", even though AI’s resource statement confirmed that this amount could ONLY be achieved by quarrying right down to the maximum winter water table.

In so doing, the Council has plainly ignored the key outcome identified above, the one that allowed the EA to say that they have no objections to the inclusion of the Straitgate site from the minerals plan.

For those concerned about their drinking water, the Inspector has since recognised the issue:
I agree that there is a potential anomaly in the wording of the Plan. I shall be asking the County Council if they intend to address this point when the main modifications are formally published for consultation.

Another month passes

...and still no sign of Aggregate Industries' revised planning applications for Straitgate and Blackhill, the ones to replace those withdrawn 3 months ago, the ones due at the end of March "for essentially the same development".

Why the delay? Is it the Natural England response to the Blackhill/Houndaller application? Is it the safety audit and DCC Highways' comments on AI's new access proposals at Straitgate? Is it a reality-check after the Minerals Plan Examination Hearing? Is it that the project, as it stands, makes no sense at all for less than 900,000 tonnes?

Who knows? What we do know is that nothing is likely to come in front of the Development Management Committee before the autumn.

Well, that application looks to have slipped again too.

"Cadhay's house and gardens are a Devon destination"

The mediaeval fish ponds at Grade I Cadhay form part of the setting of the house, and are listed in their own right. For many hundreds of years, they have relied on ONE water source - originating at Straitgate.

Is it any wonder then that local people are worried by Aggregate Industries' reckless 'seasonal working' scheme, a scheme that would see giant excavators tear right down to the water table - as the company outlined in its recent resource statement, particularly when its hydrogeological specialists can't say with any certainty where the maximum water table lies?

Latest news on the Dorset and East Devon National Park proposal

...can be found here and here.

Aggregate Industries' plans for Straitgate Farm rely on using an area within this proposed National Park boundary - specifically the continued processing of sand and gravel at Blackhill, putting hundreds of polluting HGV movements each day across Woodbury Common, postponing the restoration of the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths for another 5 years.

Of course, if the Dorset and East Devon National Park ever happens, the East Devon AONB would be put beyond the clutches of DCC's Minerals Planning, in line with the National Parks of Dartmoor and Exmoor.

Dorset & East Devon National Park Team

Natural England is now blogging

Natural England has launched a new blog to give readers insight into its work. Whether it’s opening up a stretch of the England Coast Path, protecting pollinators, or conducting research on the dormouse, Natural England helps to protect England’s nature and landscapes for people to enjoy...
Natural England's blog can be found here.