Friday, 12 August 2016

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.