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