Monday, 26 June 2017

What’s AI doing to improve truck safety?

In 2015, CEMEX UK became:
the first company in the country to own and operate the new Econic tipper, designed by Mercedes-Benz and providing the driver with an unrivalled field of vision helping to protect vulnerable road users.
In 2017, CEMEX continues to add Econic tippers to its fleet; as it should do.
Pedestrians and cyclists continue to be killed by HGVs at an alarming rate.

Other operators have also deployed the Econic tipper, not only in London.

But - if you Google "econic truck" AND "aggregate industries" you’ll be disappointed. AI use contract hauliers. It’s unclear what new measures, if any, are being stipulated by Aggregate Industries to make their contractors' HGVs safer for vulnerable road users.

Decline in Britain's dormouse population far more rapid than previously thought

New research from Exeter University - widely reported in the national press - concludes that, despite being protected, dormouse numbers have plummeted 72% between 1993 and 2014, and the species is in danger of extinction:
An urgent appraisal of dormouse conservation is required to ensure the species’ favourable conservation status.
The People’s Trust for Endangered Species which runs the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme, and who has also 'strongly objected' to Aggregate Industries' Straitgate Farm application, has called for more action:
The declines highlighted in this paper are alarming and there is an urgent need to review conservation of hazel dormice to protect this much-loved species.

Whilst AI are planning to grub up 2km of dormouse habitat in Devon, the PTES, in conjunction with other parties including Paignton Zoo, is actively working to boost numbers; this article describes one example.

Monday, 19 June 2017

“We welcome birdwatchers to our quarry…”

... says an Aggregate Industries' quarry manager in Staffordshire. In fact, so long as they stop wandering off the footpaths, "we ask birdwatchers to share their sightings and any logs of the species found":
Aggregate Industries operate both quarries and have claimed that the sand and gravel produced from the quarries create perfect habitats for wildlife, especially birds.
At Straitgate Farm, on the other hand, AI would rather not draw your attention to the birds that would be attracted to the water and wet grasslands left in perpetuity from any sand and gravel quarrying - given that it’s directly - just 195m - beneath an international flight path.

Moreover, rather than any signs welcoming birdwatchers and encouraging them to "share their sightings", there would instead be an altogether less-friendly Wildlife Habitat Management Plan which could lead to the "culling of wildlife".

Of course, it's another one of those issues that DCC will have to add to the planning balance;

weighing up the positives of the scheme...  against the ever expanding list of negatives:

Monday, 12 June 2017

Just how many products can a mobile processing plant produce?

Aggregate Industries wants to take any material it wins from Straitgate to Hillhead to be processed - not with fixed plant, but with mobile plant similar to that above. In its Reg22 request, DCC wants to know:
It is understood that the mobile processing plant installed at Hillhead Quarry is incapable of maintaining the product range offered by the Blackhill Plant. If the resource at Straitgate and its potential product range is economically important then can the applicant explain why this proposal is not premature until such time as there is sufficient processing capacity to deliver the most efficient use of this diminishing resource? 8.4
Who wouldn't be surprised if AI came back with some riposte about the wonders of modern mobile processing plants, and about just how many products state-of-the-art equipment can now produce? Which is why this recent article, "Little Paxton Quarry brought back to life", is interesting. It tells how one of AI’s sand and gravel quarries in Cambridgeshire has lain dormant for the past six years, until modern mobile processing plant was brought in. It tells how:
Having been operational for eight months, the plant is currently processing up to 200 tonnes/h to produce +75mm, 75–40mm, 40–20mm, 20–10mm and 20–5mm products, as and when required, as well as soft and sharp sands.
In other words, AI’s modern plant in Cambridgeshire can produce not "14 different finished products" but six - which backs what AI has said about Straitgate all along, that "mobile processing plant would severely restrict the output and product range".

So, let’s get this straight: AI proposes to haul Straitgate material an unsustainable 23 miles - 2.5 HGV million miles in total - to a location that’s further away from its target market - adding another million HGV miles or so - to a mobile plant producing a restricted range of products, a plant that can’t make the best or most sustainable use of "this diminishing resource".

Surely this can’t be the same company that crows:

Surely this can’t be what Devon’s newly adopted Minerals Plan had in mind when it promised:

... a Plan that apparently "emphasises the need to conserve mineral resources for future generations", not squander "this diminishing resource" at the earliest opportunity.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017


After DCC’s Reg22 Request and the Environment Agency’s objection, Aggregate Industries has spent the last month running around trying to address the multitude of issues that have been raised in the company's quest to destroy the ancient fields of an East Devon farm.

Readers can make up their own minds why Straitgate Farm, a relatively small site, should still be causing this multinational so much trouble after all these years. Perhaps, as we’ve said all along, the site should simply not be quarried.

Whatever the reason, AI has assured DCC that a response to its Reg22 Request and other matters will be produced by the end of this month, which will then be subject to yet another round of consultation. AI is working towards determination at the DMC meeting of 6 September. However, bear in mind that previous assurances AI has made on dates for Straitgate have rarely been met.

On the issue of water, and following a meeting last month between AI and the EA, the company will this week* embark on yet another round of borehole drilling and piezometer installation to monitor groundwater levels at additional locations. You might have thought that for this relatively small site, deciding where to put a few boreholes would have been a simple matter for AI’s experts - but apparently not. Six boreholes were drilled in 2012. Less than a year later, it was decided that a further five were needed. Amec, AI’s consultants, then helpfully highlighted that there was "no piezometer in the centre of the site" and another two were then installed last year. And this week, contractors will drill and install another five piezometers, this time "around the N/NW perimeter of the site." Three existing piezometers will also be replaced. If AI had simply assured the EA that it would leave the typical 1m unquarried buffer above the maximum water table, it surely wouldn’t be in this mess.

On the issue of ecology and mitigation planting, DCC’s planning and ecology officers met with AI at Straitgate last week. It’s likely that AI has been persuaded to modify the extraction area to reduce the amount of hedgerow lost; something we suggested in our response. Extra standoffs from trees and hedgerows for soil storage are also likely to be agreed. New dormouse and bat surveys are now underway in preparation for AI attempting to secure licences from Natural England.

On the issue of access, AI has apparently resurveyed Birdcage Lane and has produced new draft plans magically showing that two-way HGV traffic can enter and exit the Exeter Road junction within the existing confines of this tiny lane - without the need for third party land. It’s anybody’s guess quite how that’s been achieved.

On the issue of bovine movements across the B3174, AI was at Straitgate this week trying to work out how 150 displaced cows could cross the busy Exeter Road - without bridge, underpass or flashing warning lights - four times a day to new pasture - closing the road for around 20 minutes at a time.

This point alone makes the scheme unworkable. The Exeter Road is the main road into and out of Ottery St Mary. Apart from the obvious safety implications of vehicles, and aggregate HGVs, backing up towards the brow of a hill, AI will also need to explain to the ever growing population of Ottery St Mary why they should face such delays on their drive to and from work and school each day.

And all this to allow the company to truck sand and gravel 23 miles up the M5 for mobile processing.

If AI’s scheme didn’t look like a joke before, it certainly does now.

*Edit: Drilling now due to commence 12.6.17