Thursday, 26 October 2017

AI’s application for Straitgate Farm lurches from one delay to another

After all these years, Aggregate Industries still can’t get its act together; its planning application to quarry Straitgate Farm has been delayed yet again.

Readers may remember that DCC had been rushing to make the DMC meeting on 6 September, only to be stopped in its tracks by concerns from the EA. Alternative arrangements were then put in place for committee members to visit Straitgate prior to the 25 October DMC meeting; these were also cancelled when AI requested that determination be deferred until the DMC meeting of 29 November. 

It now appears that AI is not ready for that date either, and the application will therefore not be determined before 2018; the first DMC meeting in 2018 is on 24 January.

DCC and the EA are still awaiting information on a number of issues. DCC asked AI for a Stage 2 Road Safety Audit regarding the cattle crossing in September; perhaps it’s telling that no such audit has been posted on DCC’s planning website.

Looking further back, it was two years ago this month that we wrote Decision on Straitgate and Blackhill delayed until 2016. These previous applications were also beset by delays, and were finally withdrawn in March 2016, AI’s intention being that "revised applications for essentially the same development… will be submitted towards the end of March 2016".

Of course, the revised applications were not essentially the same, and did not go live for another year.

Further back still, the Devon Minerals Plan was also beset by delays as DCC waited for AI to show that Straitgate Farm was deliverable.

This catalogue of delays shows yet again that Straitgate Farm is not a suitable location for a quarry.

When will somebody put this dog out of its misery?

Friday, 20 October 2017

AI objects to development in its backyard

The adverse environmental impact of a concrete products factory prevented a farm barn in Devon from being converted into a dwelling under Class Q of Schedule 2 of Part 3 of the GPDO 2015.
The factory had no restriction on its hours of operation or the noise levels emitted an inspector noted. Despite the appellant’s noise survey suggesting that acceptable indoor noise levels that would be experienced at day and night. Nonetheless, it was not clear whether the factory had been operating at night when the readings were taken and it was conceivable that at periods of high demand, the factory would operate 24 hours. The inspector decided that allowing the appeal might lead to pressure from future occupants to try and curtail operating hours at the factory which would in turn adversely affect the contribution it made to the local economy. It was therefore undesirable to allow the barn to be converted.
The article related to application 16/01343/PNCOU, received by MDDC on the 5 September 2016, to convert a farm barn NGR 307104 113338 to residential use. The barn is next to the area used to store concrete blocks at AI’s plant at Uffculme.

It would seem that AI didn’t get wind of the application until November 2016, by which time consultation expiry dates had passed. Even so, on 17 November AI wrote:
Aggregate Industries wish to object to the proposed development as we have serious concerns that should planning permission be granted it would introduce an unnecessary constraint on our business by placing a likely complainant within an industrial setting and thus prejudice our permitted site operations.
The proposed dwelling was clearly outside any industrial setting, and you might have hoped that planning conditions and good working practices would have precluded any complainants

I was only made aware of this application today by a third party, and it is of concern that Devon County Council has not been consulted in its role as the mineral planning authority.
The factory manager has expressed concerns that a residential property located so close to the Blockworks may introduce a number of restrictions on the daytime operations of the site
A noise assessment has been submitted in support of the application but is deemed to fail to take into account the activities of two large vehicles which regularly operate within 25 metres of the application site and which have high noise level outputs... On this basis, it is not desirable or suitable for a dwelling to be provided in this location.
The applicant appealed; their Statement of Case maintained that such vehicles operated to the north of the blockworks, "at the furthest point from the Proposed Development", and:
It is therefore questionable as to how regularly, if at all, Wheeled Front End Loaders would be operating near to the Proposed Development, given that there is no ostensible use for them in this location. 3.1.9
Whilst the Concrete Products Factory does have permissions in place to operate on a 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week basis, with no specific noise limits; it does not give the operator carte blanche to generate infinite levels of noise without any form of action from the Local Authority. Given that we have measured very low ambient sound levels during the daytime, it is reasonable to assume that operations are not going to be louder during the night-time period, as the fixed and mobile plant will be exactly the same, operating on a similar basis (at worst). 3.3.4
DCC prepared a lengthy Statement of Case to support the objection of its aggregate friends. However, the appellants argued that DCC: 

fails to recognise that there are already residential properties to the east of the industrial site; namely Hill Park Farmhouse and Hill Park House, which are some 45 m and 35 m, respectively, from the eastern boundary of the industrial site, and only 75 m and 65 m, respectively, from the production building associated with the Concrete Products Factory and Aggregate Bagging Area. The Proposed Development is approximately 100 m from the building associated with the Concrete Products Factory and Aggregate Bagging Area, which is the main source of noise, as established earlier in this Statement, with the area immediately adjacent to Proposed Development being used solely for the storage of manufactured products. 3.3.6
As such, the Concrete Products Factory and Aggregate Bagging Area are already constrained by properties to the east (Hill Park Farmhouse and Hill Park House), which are at least 25 m closer to the noise generating elements of the industrial site, than the property forming the subject of this appeal.3.3.7
It made no difference. Up against two councils and an aggregates company, the appeal was dismissed.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Of course, tractors use Birdcage Lane too

Picture for a moment how up to 200 HGVs a day would fit into this scene on Birdcage Lane - Aggregate Industries’ proposed site access to Straitgate Farm.

The field entrance on the right is the one belonging to a third party - the field entrance that AI wants to incorporate into its new junction plans.

Whilst this scene obviously doesn’t happen every day on Birdcage Lane - and what AI is proposing would - it was enough to cause a few problems on the B3174.

But Birdcage Lane serves a valuable purpose for agricultural access; people are happy with that - it’s how food gets to our table.

How objective can Mineral Planners be - if they are trained by the industry?

Minerals Planning is about making sure a county has an adequate and steady supply of minerals available - via minerals plans, monitoring mineral use and determining minerals planning applications.

Mineral Planners obviously need to work with the industry - as well as other stakeholders: the public, landowners, and others - to make sure the required minerals are delivered in the best and most sustainable way, whilst managing potentially conflicting plans for land use. They should be objective and impartial. They should not be in bed with the minerals industry.

The minerals industry would of course prefer it if they were, and through the Institute of Quarrying, and Quarry Products Association Northern Ireland, offer various training courses "to better inform mineral planners about resource planning", and no doubt while they're at it, help shape their thinking to be more in-tune to the minerals industry too. As one Regional Director sees it:
I’m a firm believer that if regulators and planners are making critical decisions about the industry, they should be part of it.
Which says it all. But lest we forget, councils are in place for everyone, not just cement multinationals.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Blackhill Quarry restoration

There haven’t been many positives in all this business over the years, but seeing Blackhill Quarry on Woodbury Common in the East Devon AONB now being restored back to nature, removing 100s of HGVs each day from unsuitable roads, is certainly one of them.

Blackhill has been quarried since the early 1930s. Aggregate Industries had desperately wanted to continue using the site, but, when it recently applied to import and process material from Straitgate Farm, it could neither demonstrate the ‘exceptional circumstances’ demanded by the NPPF for major development in an AONB, nor that nitrate-rich material from farmland would not harm habitats on the Pebblebed Heaths.

However, it was almost 20 years ago that the wheels of Blackhill's closure were first set in motion - as we posted in If mobile processing plant can do it all, was the Blackhill extension secured on a lie?:
Modification orders were served on AI to restrict quarrying at Blackhill Quarry in 1999, following the SPA and SAC European nature conservation designations on Woodbury Common; £6 million pounds was paid out in compensation as a result. Nevertheless, AI went on to secure permission to quarry an extension to the site in 2002, and later to process material from Venn Ottery until 2016.
Readers may remember that AI’s first planning application for Straitgate not only claimed that if Blackhill was not used for processing it "would severely restrict the output and product range", but also that Blackhill could not be restored without the silt generated from Straitgate:
In the absence of this development the existing lagoon will remain as a deep, steep sided, angular lagoon, which is incongruous within the wider landscape setting of the AONB and Pebblebed Heaths. 4.1
The claim was of course nonsense, as we argued at the time.

AI claimed much the same thing again for its application some months later to import material from Hillhead into Blackhill:
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 and the permitted restoration not being able to be completed.
Again, nonsense; as we argued at the time.

And to prove as much, there are now new signs up at Blackhill:

So, fancy that. Despite AI’s earlier protestations, restoration "as required by the approved restoration scheme… to allow the site to blend into the wider landscape" is possible after all - even when "no material will be imported into the site". It’s another example of how very little of AI’s planning applications can be taken at face value.

Of course, if no material is now to be "taken off site", you may wonder what will happen to the thousands of tonnes of processed material in these stockpiles.

With AI knowing that these areas had to be restored by the end of this year, it’s surprising that these stockpiles are still in place - when the company apparently sells upwards of 300,000 tonnes of sand and gravel in Devon a year. Now it looks like extraction, haulage and processing of this material was wasted, and it will go back into the ground, requiring some other resource to be dug up to replace it.

As for the processing plant, we posted in July that there was still no sign of Blackhill plant coming down, and that is still the case. This area must also be restored by the end of the year.

Another accident on the B3174

The dangers of the B3174 Exeter Road - the road Aggregate Industries is proposing to use for up to 200 HGVs a day for the next 12 years - were again evident this morning when a car collided with an electricity pole near Straitgate Farm. The road is expected to be closed for most of the day.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Goodness. Another AI director jumps ship

Readers may remember that AI lost its CEO in 2015. The company also lost its HR director in 2016.

This week yet another director has quit, this time AI’s head of cement and concrete products.

Is something wrong at AI? If once is an accident, twice careless, and three times a pattern (to bastardise quotes from Oscar Wilde and Ian Fleming) the loss of four senior directors in relatively quick succession would surely indicate that something’s not right.

And it’s not just the top brass. The Regional Director who had been overseeing the Straitgate project ever since we’ve been involved was replaced last year. At the same time, the Estates Manager responsible for Straitgate also moved to pastures new.

And it’s not just AI. At parent company LafargeHolcim, the CEO left earlier this year after the controversy in Syria. And this week it was announced that the FD would be leaving too.

Plainly it’s not all happiness at this multinational cement giant.

Monday, 9 October 2017

EA requests further information

Following the Environment Agency’s response last month, our subsequent meeting, and another report from Amec, the EA has now requested further information from Aggregate Industries in relation to its planning application for Straitgate Farm.

Monday, 2 October 2017

‘Ministers who fail to cut greenhouse gas emissions should face legal action…’

The government knows very well what needs to be done - but it isn't doing it.
If it takes legal action to force ministers to behave properly, then so be it - I'll support it.
But why stop there?

Councils know very well what needs to be done; some enshrine it in their Minerals Plan:
Devon Minerals Plan Objective 1: …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…
But why stop there?

It’s clear that aggregate companies and their directors know very well what needs to be done. Some sign up to glossy climate initiatives to "Make freight transport climate compatible" telling the whole world and his dog that they will be "avoiding journeys where possible".

If Aggregate Industries’ multi-million mile plan for Straitgate Farm is anything to go by, it’s all hot air.

So, what will force councils and aggregate companies to behave properly? Because as Prof. King says:
If scientists are telling us our current course of emissions potentially takes us to catastrophe, then to stick to the current course is irrational.
The best available science tells us the risks of crossing tipping points rise very sharply between 1.5 and 2C. And that means the UK cutting emissions to zero.
But in actual fact, carbon emitters know they are in the sights of climate litigants; LafargeHolcim, AI's parent, has identified litigation as "an emerging phenomenon in some jurisdictions", and one of its three main risks from climate change. 

And why shouldn’t they all be worried about litigation? The writing's been on the wall for over 100 years. 

Number of people killed on Devon & Cornwall's roads rises sharply

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Birdcage Lane hosts Devon Classic Rally 2017

This tiny lane - the lane that Aggregate Industries wants to wreck in its quest to claw an ever decreasing amount of sand and gravel from Straitgate Farm - was chosen to form part of this year’s Devon Classic Rally. Cars included Bentleys, Lagondas, Aston Martins and Jaguars.

It’s another example of how Birdcage Lane provides recreational amenity.

And whether for walking, horse riding, jogging or cycling, it is this valuable amenity that AI’s plans for up to 200 HGVs a day would steal from people - both local to East Devon and beyond.