Wednesday, 31 August 2016

"Nothing more than a sinister attempt... keep the processing plant at Blackhill in use after the current planning application runs out in December 2016.
That’s what one councillor thinks of Aggregate Industries’ planning application DCC/3861/2016 to vary the restoration conditions of Venn Ottery Quarry:
At [a] previous meeting we were told that Venn Ottery would be exhausted by Easter 2016 but still things rumble on... I strongly suspect that this links in with the application to quarry at Straitgate Farm and transport the quarried material to Blackhill.
Another councillor's objection agrees:
I think this is a ploy to continue processing at Blackhill processing plant and to delay restoring both it and Venn Ottery.
As we wrote on 12 August, AI has no permission to process any material (including from Venn Ottery) at Blackhill beyond 31 December. However, the Supporting Statement for the Venn Ottery planning application looks to have other ideas:
1.22 At the beginning of 2016, the remaining saleable reserve of sand and gravel was standing at some 190,000 tonnes. Production in 2016 will be “slowed-up” with production anticipated as being some 145,000 tonnes. This will leave 45,000 saleable tonnes of reserve remaining in the ground, extraction of which will be completed by the end of Quarter 1 2017 ie. by 1st April 2017.
We first raised this matter with the planning officer on 11 August only to be told:
there is no restriction or requirement for material from Venn Ottery quarry to be processed at Blackhill
Which is all well and good, but where would it be processed? We raised this matter with the planning officer again on 17 August, saying that:
We would nevertheless be interested to hear what AI have to say about it; and, if it is not an error, where they would intend to process any material proposed for extraction post-2016. Perhaps you could let us know? The comment [1.22] is particularly interesting, considering their recently granted application for processing 40,000 tonnes of material from Hillhead at Blackhill, for which the justification given was to utilise excess capacity. As well as AI's assurance at the Liaison Meeting that extraction at Venn is due to finish imminently.
The planning officer then recognised that "The application documents didn’t adequately address the intentions for processing intentions between 31 December 2016 – 1 April 2017. I sent an email on 17th August 2016 requesting clarity in this regard from the applicant:"
Could you provide an update to the statement (preferably in a word document so it may be clearly published on the website) explaining intentions for processing between 31 December 2016 – 1 April 2017. If the intention is to stockpile the material on site - this will need to be addressed in an amended plan. If the intention is to transport the material elsewhere - this is required to be referenced.
You can see why many people think this is another ploy to keep Blackhill running longer - to fit in with the delayed planning application for Straitgate; production of Venn Ottery material was apparently "slowed-up" by AI in 2016, only for the company to have the audacity to then say, in trying to claim exceptional circumstances required by the NPPF to operate in an AONB, that it needed to import 40k tonnes from Uffculme or else:
Should materials not be permitted to be imported to the site, this could potentially result in the processing plant at Blackhill Quarry otherwise remaining under-utilised for the remainder of the planning permission
For the sake of a site of European importance to nature, for the sake of the AONB, for the sake of the people in Woodbury and those who live along the B3180, for the sake of all the visitors to Woodbury Common, it's plainly obvious that processing of sand and gravel at Blackhill must come to an end in 2016 and the site restored - as the existing planning conditions state. The Venn Ottery planning application is open for comments until 8 September.

EDIT: Since the above post, AI has provided the following update:

Saturday, 27 August 2016

"In our commitment to #sustainable construction..."

As so often with Aggregate Industries, things are not quite what they seem.

It's an admirable claim that AI is sourcing sustainable secondary aggregates. Bravo. Or it would be, if the photograph used to promote such claims was not showing unsustainable primary virgin aggregates quarried, processed and stockpiled in the East Devon AONB.

In fact, if the photograph seems familiar, it was the same one used last year to support the unsustainable destruction of an East Devon farm; a farm that's been in operation for hundreds and hundreds of years.

The giant Boeing C-17 Globemaster...

... and the Airbus A400M Atlas are now regular visitors to the airspace directly above Straitgate Farm as the RAF uses Exeter Airport more and more for training flights

... and the Red Arrows of course.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Hi-vis jackets out in force this afternoon

You would have thought, having bought Straitgate Farm in 1965, having put it forward in 2010 as a site for the Minerals Plan, having applied for planning permission in 2015, that Aggregate Industries would by now have sorted out the site access; obviously, a fundamental part of any quarry.

But today, working closely with officers from DCC's planning and highways departments, AI and its traffic consultants were standing beside the fast, dangerous B3174 Exeter Road, the main road into and out of Ottery St Mary - scene of an HGV crash earlier this year - discussing where and how to access this road, to turn right up the hill with slow, lumbering 44-tonne HGVs - up to 200-a-day.

Skid marks on the B3174 - outside the proposed Little Straitgate exit - photographed today

Monday, 22 August 2016

Households could get fracking payments under government plans

Quarrying is 'worse' than fracking, according to a recent survey, but it was fracking that was in the news again this month after the government launched a consultation on the 'Shale Wealth Fund'.

Articles from the construction press commented that: "PM’s fracking payments set to have wider implications" and from the planning press that "May revives plan to pay residents to support development":
The statement said: "The government will also be looking at whether this approach to the Shale Wealth Fund (SWF) can be a model for other community benefit schemes with the aim of putting more control and more resource in the hands of local households.
"Examples of where the principle could be extended include the Community Infrastructure Levy, which is currently being reviewed."
May said: "The government I need will always be driven by the interests of the many - ordinary families for whom life is harder than many people in politics realise. As I said on my first night as Prime Minister, when we take the big calls, we’ll think not of the powerful, but of you.
"This announcement is an example of putting those principles into action. It’s about making sure people personally benefit from economic decisions that are taken - not just councils - and putting them back in control over their lives.
"We’ll be looking at applying this approach to other government programmes in the future too, as we press on with the work of building a country that works for everyone."
The announcement comes a year after the government quietly ditched a plan to pilot proposals for paying residents to support new homes in their areas.
As The Engineer wrote:
Time will tell if money paid directly to households will effectively kill off widespread opposition to fracking, but it must now be asked whether people living alongside arguably more complex projects – such as Hinkley Point C (if it does proceed) or HS2 – will be similarly compensated, and if that is a scenario that should be welcomed.

Monday, 15 August 2016

How times have changed

Brexit has put the brakes on UK construction; even Aggregate Industries complained at the Venn Ottery Liaison Meeting last month that sales out of Blackhill "have slowed right up" and that production has been scaled back accordingly. As one economist commented:
Brexit negotiations will be protracted, so businesses will hold off committing to major capital expenditure for a long time to come.
Who knows whether AI will change any of its plans? In 2008:
Now can hardly be the best time to go cap-in-hand to your continental parent to ask them to bankroll another planning application for a UK greenfield quarry that could deliver less than a million tonnes.

Friday, 12 August 2016

In the press

Mistakes happen

A large part of the argument over the years has concerned the actual amount of resource at Straitgate, the size of the benefit that should be weighed against the destruction of an East Devon farm, the risk to drinking water supplies and wetland habitats in ancient woodland, the destruction of 2km of ancient hedgerows - hedgerows up to 4m wide and habitat for bats and dormice, the increased risk of birdstrikes to planes landing at Exeter Airport, the impacts of HGVs on road safety along the B3180 and B3174, the increased risk of flooding to flood-prone communities, as well as impacts on the AONB, the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths and Ottery St Mary.

Straitgate has already been a disaster for Aggregate Industries - with now just 6% of the resource first estimated in the 1960s. Even since 2013, when we said "DCC is overstating the 'recoverable' resource at Straitgate by more than 50%", the resource has been revised down again, and, as recently as May, half a million tonnes of apparently saleable resource from the overburden disappeared from the calculations, leaving Aggregate Industries saying:
Resources were re-calculated accordingly and currently amount to 1.2 million saleable tonnes. “Resources are classified as Measured Resource according to PERC Standard 2013”. Calculations have been undertaken by Chartered Geologists.
Of course, in reality, if 1m of sand and gravel was left unquarried, as stipulated by the Environment Agency, there would be less than 900,000 tonnes. And 1m must be left to protect drinking water supplies, because quarrying is not precise, mistakes can be made, even by Chartered Geologists.

Take AI's planning application for Venn Ottery Quarry just down the road, DCC/3861/2016 Variation to conditions 3 and 19 of Planning Permission 97/P1588 to alter the working and restoration of the site, an application validated and put out to consultation this week. The non-technical summary tells us:
The variations sought take account of the reduction in sand and gravel available on site. Owing to the location and nature of the remaining sand and gravel it is now proposed that the quarry will be worked in a slightly different way from that originally approved.
Why? Because:
A recent survey carried out on the amount of sand and gravel remaining on site has identified an error with the previous estimated amount. This amount has now been revised down from 2.5 million tonnes to 1.27 million tonnes.
That’s quite a mistake. Furthermore (and obviously also of relevance to Straitgate where AI plans to grub up those 2km of dormouse habitat referred to above) the overall finished levels at Venn Ottery are different because:
the identification of dormice (a European Protected Species) on site resulted in a delay to the phasing of the sand and gravel extraction and the provision of compensatory tree belt planting
So when DCC now says in a modification in the draft Minerals Plan that Straitgate has:
Up to 1.2 million tonnes from extraction above the maximum protected water table (with a potential 0.46 million tonnes of saleable overburden)
No-one - least of all the Council - knows how much can be recovered. Perhaps, as at Venn Ottery, it’s only half the amount promised; after all, we’ve already been told that at Straitgate, as at Venn Ottery, "there is the possibility for steps in the water table related to faulting… unmapped local faulting".

Of course, no serious mineral operator throws good money away opening a greenfield quarry site for less than a million tonnes:
But AI wants Straitgate in order to extend its processing operations at Blackhill on Woodbury Common, an area of European importance to nature in the East Devon AONB, for another 5 years. And for how much longer after that? According to the Company at the Venn Ottery Quarry Liaison Meeting last month:
Currently, AI has no permission to process any material (including from Venn Ottery) at Blackhill beyond 31 December 2016, even though the Supporting Statement for the Venn Ottery planning application above seems to have other ideas:
1.22 At the beginning of 2016, the remaining saleable reserve of sand and gravel was standing at some 190,000 tonnes. Production in 2016 will be “slowed-up” with production anticipated as being some 145,000 tonnes. This will leave 45,000 saleable tonnes of reserve remaining in the ground, extraction of which will be completed by the end of Quarter 1 2017 ie. by 1st April 2017.
The Venn Ottery application is open for comments until 8 September.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Final chance to have say on Devon’s future quarry plans

...reads the headline in the Sidmouth Herald.
Residents are being urged to take this last chance to submit their views on 199 modifications to the new Devon Minerals Plan which the county council says aim to address objections and strengthen protection of communities.
Decide for yourself if any of the 199 modifications strengthen protection of communities. Here's one of the modifications for Straitgate Farm:
The development of this site will only involve dry working, above the maximum winter (wet) level of groundwater with an unsaturated zone of at least 1m maintained across the site. The depth of working above this level will be determined through monitoring and analysis of historic data, in agreement with the Environment Agency. MM58 Table C.4
It certainly does not strengthen protection for the 100 people and the 3 farms and the mediaeval fish ponds and Tea Room at Grade I Cadhay - that are all totally dependent on their water from springs and wells fed by the aquifer at Straitgate Farm.

Write to before 23 September if you are concerned by this change, or any of the others.

New method of road resurfacing dramatically cuts quarried stone use

It’s ironic that whilst DCC is running the final consultation on its new Minerals Plan, a Plan that makes huge projections into the future and allocates millions of tonnes of aggregates across the County, "Highway contractors on the A1 in Northumberland have pioneered a new way of resurfacing roads that is 10 times quicker than traditional methods... and results in a 75% reduction in the amount of quarried stone used on the job".
The Wirtgen cold recycling machine is being used for the first time in the UK. It allows the underlying layers of the road to be recycled, churning up the old surface material, combining it with new material within the body of the machine then laying it back down immediately on the road behind.
More than five million square metres of thin layers are paved in cold application in Germany every year but this is the first time that the technique has been used in the UK.
There is also a 75% reduction in the amount of quarried stone used on the job, a 66% reduction in the amount of waste taken to landfill and there are 70% fewer lorry trips to and from site... [and is] between 33% and 50% cheaper than repaving with hot rolled asphalt.

Does AI think a few tweets will fix the damage?

The story above seems to have hit a nerve at Aggregate Industries; it obviously wasn't helpful for the company's environmental image nor for its wider public image. Perhaps AI thought that a flurry of tweets to industry colleagues would fix the damage.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Modifications Consultation

Consultation on the proposed modifications to the draft Minerals Plan starts today.

Information can be found here. As DCC makes clear, the consultation relates only to the proposed modifications, not to the wider content of the Plan. Here are the proposed modifications in relation to Straitgate - regarding Preferred Area designation, estimated resource, site access and depth of working above the maximum water table.

Why has DCC put a line through the 1m to protect drinking water supplies?

It was always inconsistent to say there were 1.2 million tonnes of resource at Straitgate if a 1m stand-off was to be maintained above the highest level of the water table. It was a point we raised at the Examination hearings 24-27 May, and in subsequent correspondence to the Inspector of 29 May. The Inspector wrote to us on 31 May, and said:
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.
On the same day, the Inspector passed this message to the Council:
To my mind the best solution might be to omit the words “with an unsaturated zone of at least 1m maintained across the site” from the “Water” section of Table C.4. Please ask the County Council to consider making this small amendment when they publish the main modifications for consultation.
The Council dutifully modified the 'offending' passage:
The development of this site will only involve dry working, above the maximum winter (wet) level of groundwater with an unsaturated zone of at least 1m maintained across the site. The depth of working above this level will be determined through monitoring and analysis of historic data, in agreement with the Environment Agency. MM58 Table C.4
The Inspector has since said:
The Inspector's suggestion was intended to reflect the on-going uncertainty about what could be an acceptable way of working the site. An unsaturated zone of 1m may or may not feature in the final solution. However, it could be seen as inappropriate for Table C.4 to commit to a definite method of working when potentially acceptable alternatives have not been determined. The important points are that (a) only dry working would be acceptable; and (b) the depth of working (the final, acceptable solution) would be decided in agreement with the Environment Agency. These points are addressed in the proposed modification.
Which may be the case. But the changes are obviously at odds with the comments received from the Environment Agency of 3 June, who, in response to DCC’s email to them of 16 May, were quite certain that they did not want any change to the wording:
We welcome your decision not to make any alteration to the current wording to accommodate Aggregate Industries’ revised statement explaining their proposal to work below the winter water table during summer months and reinstate levels to 1m above winter water table with overburden prior to winter… Your authority will be aware that we consider this site to be sensitive in relation to risks to controlled waters… We are therefore still waiting for a robust assessment of the risks that would result from this modification to the operation… It is for this reason that we concur with your recommendation to retain the current wording within the Minerals Plan in relation to the working depth...
Anyone with any comments to make on this issue, or any of the other changes in the Plan, has until 23 September 2016 to respond.