Friday, 10 February 2017

People can decide for themselves 'if the whole bloody system is functional or bent'

In December, we made a complaint about the Devon Minerals Plan to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and requested a holding direction. The basis of our complaint was that extensive haulage plans from Straitgate to a processing site beyond the immediate area had at no time been the subject of a Sustainability Appraisal.

A SA is required under Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive 2001/42/EC for each Local Plan proposal. The SEA Directive is to ensure that "an environmental assessment is carried out of certain plans and programmes which are likely to have significant effects on the environment." This directive is transposed into the NPPF, which says that "a sustainability appraisal which meets the requirements of the European Directive on strategic environmental assessment should be an integral part of the plan preparation process, and should consider all the likely significant effects on the environment, economic and social factors."

During the Minerals Plan process, there was a stand-off between operator and council over processing locations. Aggregate Industries insisted it could only process Straitgate Farm material at Blackhill, not Rockbeare; DCC was pushing for the reverse. No alternative processing locations were ever considered.

Natural England’s concerns over importing nitrate-rich material to Blackhill, and the approval of an alternative planning application for Rockbeare, finally confirmed the unavailability of both locations for processing. Despite having been told both of these facts, the Inspector nevertheless concluded:
71. Rockbeare... is an option that could be explored if Blackhill Quarry could not be used.
AI is looking to process Straitgate material at Uffculme, 23 miles away - the only location available to the company. Most normal people would consider a 2.5 million mile haulage scheme to have a significant effect on the environment, yet this was never assessed in the Minerals Plan process by SA or otherwise.

DCC’s SA runs to 100s of pages. We learn that "the purpose of SA is to promote sustainable development by integrating sustainability considerations in to the preparation and adoption of plans."

For Straitgate, we learn things such as:
Straitgate Farm also has nesting House Sparrows and possibly a Schedule 1 bird species - the Barn Owl.
We learn that:
...residency time of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 200 years and therefore the impacts will continue to affect the climate for an extended period.
We learn that:
At this site, processing is likely to occur elsewhere which contributes further emissions compared to a site option that has capacity for on-site processing.
What we do NOT learn, however, is that Straitgate Farm - one of DCC's two Preferred Areas for future sand and gravel quarrying - can only be worked with a 2.5 million mile haulage plan.

We made this point to the DCLG. We also made the point, as we did in 2012 along with the Environment Agency and Natural England, that a SA did not inform the choice of sand and gravel sites for inclusion in the Plan. DCC rejected eighteen alternative sites several months before the SA. The SA confirmed that Straitgate was one of the most constrained sites of all the sites considered.

But actually, we needn't have bothered. The DCLG - who has had dialogue with DCC subsequent to our complaint - has now written, without explanation:
I have considered your letter and have found no grounds for concern in the inspector’s report, nor grounds for the Secretary of State to intervene at this time.
The Devon Minerals Plan will now be formally adopted on 16 February 2017. It remains to be seen how a 2.5 million mile haulage plan would fit with the very first objective of this new Plan:
Objective 1: Spatial Strategy
Within geological constraints, secure a spatial pattern of mineral development that delivers the essential resources to markets within and outside Devon while minimising transportation by road and generation of greenhouse gases, supporting the development of its economy while conserving and enhancing the County’s key environmental assets.