Thursday, 21 December 2017

Merry Christmas

Nobody can believe - least of all us - how many years this has been going on. The name Straitgate Action Group was first coined by a local journalist back in 2001. Our social media efforts have been going on for some time too. This blog will soon be entering its 7th year. In that time, we’ve made 770 posts, seen readership numbers continue to grow, and collected some 4600 followers on Twitter.

And yet at Straitgate Farm things are still not settled.

Aggregate Industries' planning applications for Straitgate Farm have been mired in problems - not least the dairy cows; the ones that would need to cross the busy B3174 four times a day for replacement pasture as a direct result of the company's proposals. The issue of the cows has still not been resolved - the reason why we posted More delays to come; the reason why determination will now not be before 21 March 2018.

Could the cows get by without needing to cross the road? No. Take a look at this plan: nearly half the farm's pasture would be taken away by the ancillary areas, soil storage areas and the initial phase alone; Phase 1 soils would not even be restored until the final Phase 3 starts.

We hope we know a little more now than in 2012 when we first started posting. We hope that AI and DCC know a little more too.

In 2012, DCC authored a 133-page Southern Area Site Appraisal Report. It was an artificial desk-based affair to make AI’s Straitgate Farm look like the most appropriate site. It was a report that said "Birdcage Lane is very narrow and therefore inappropriate for access…". AI now proposes to use this lane for up to 200 HGVs a day.

But in all those 133 pages, there was no talk of cows. Who would have thought that these friendly animals that helpfully provide us with so much - brandy butter and double cream spring to mind - would now be causing so many problems? Not AI or DCC, that’s for sure.

And who would have thought that there's so much more to these friendly animals than meets the eye, that they could in fact have secret lives?

This book was first published some years ago, but is back in the bookshops again. Apparently, it "will change forever the way you see a field of ayrshires or friesians."

And on that basis, it would surely make a suitable gift for anyone overly interested in despoiling Straitgate Farm for non-agricultural purposes; as Alan Bennett says "it alters the way one looks at the world".

Failing that, and if these delays continue to drag on, this book might be needed instead:

But grown-ups shouldn't have all the fun, so, on the same subject, here's something for younger readers:
Why did the cows cross the road? To get to the udder side.
Why did the cows cross the road? To go to the moo-vies.
And because cow puns are moo-sic to the ears (although for many that's a moot point) here's a few more:
Why do cows have hooves instead of feet? Because they lactose.
How do you count cows? With a cowculator.
How can you tell if a cow is exceptional? It's outstanding in its field.
What do you get when you sit under a cow? A pat on the head.
What happens when you talk to a cow? It goes in one ear and out the udder.
What do you get if you cross an angry cow with an irate sheep? An animal that's in a baaaad mooood.
What did the mummy cow say to the baby cow? It’s pasture bedtime.
What's a cow's favourite day of the year? Moo Years Day.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all readers!

And whilst we’re on the subject... You have two cows

It’s the season to reflect on where we’ve come from, where we’re going to and the world we live in. What better way to help us understand the workings of the world - economically and politically - than by using two cows. It's a technique that’s been around some time to explain all manner of things. Here's just a few, courtesy of the world wide web:
Feudalism You have two cows. Your lord takes some of the milk.
Pure socialism You have two cows. The government takes them and puts them in a barn with everyone else's cows. You have to take care of all the cows. The government gives you as much milk as you need.
Bureaucratic socialism You have two cows. The government takes them and puts them in a barn with everyone else's cows. They are cared for by ex-chicken farmers. You have to take care of the chickens the government took from the chicken farmers. The government gives you as much milk and as many eggs as the regulations say you should need.
Pure communism You have two cows. Your neighbours help you take care of them, and you all share the milk.
Applied communism You have two cows. You have to take care of them, but the government takes all the milk.
Fascism You have two cows. The State takes both and sells you some milk.
Dictatorship You have two cows. The government takes both and shoots you.
Totalitarianism You have two cows. The government takes them and denies they ever existed. Milk is banned.
Anarchy You have two cows. Either you sell the milk at a fair price or your neighbours try to kill you and take the cows.
Environmentalism You have two cows. The government bans you from milking or killing them.
American democracy The government promises to give you two cows if you vote for it. After the election, the president is impeached for speculating in cow futures. The press dubs the affair "Cowgate".
Political correctness You are associated with (the concept of "ownership" is a symbol of the phallocentric, warmongering, intolerant past) two differently-aged (but no less valuable to society) bovines of non-specified gender.
Counterculture Wow, dude, there's like... these two cows, man. You have *got* to have some of this milk. I mean totally.
Therapyism You have two cows. One is a metaphor for your inner child. The other is the manifestation of anger toward a parental figure. You take one of the cows on walks through grassy fields by the gentle ocean waves. The other you beat with an anger bat.
Bureaucratism You have two cows. At first the government regulates what you can feed them and when you can milk them. Then it pays you not to milk them. After that it takes both, shoots one, milks the other and pours the milk down the drain. Then it requires you to fill out forms accounting for the missing cows.
Traditional capitalism You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull. Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows. You sell them and retire on the income.
Venture capitalism You have two cows. You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows. The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island Company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company. The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more.
American capitalism You have two cows. You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows. Later, you hire a consultant to analyse why the cow has died.
French capitalism You have two cows. You go on strike, organise a riot, and block the roads, because you want three cows.
Italian capitalism You have two cows, but you don’t know where they are. You decide to have lunch.
Russian capitalism You have two cows. You count them and learn that you have 5 cows. You count them again and learn that you have 42 cows. You count them again and learn that you have two cows. You stop counting cows and open another bottle of Vodka.
German capitalism You have two cows. You re-engineer them so they live for 100 years, eat once a month and milk themselves.
Japanese capitalism You have two cows. You redesign them so they are 1/10 the size of an ordinary cow, and produce the milk of 20 cows. You then create a clever cow cartoon image called cowkimon and market them worldwide.
Polish capitalism You have two horses. You forge a few documents - you now have two cows!
Swiss capitalism You have 5,000 cows. None of them belong to you. You charge the owners for storing them.
Chinese capitalism You have two cows. You have 300 people milking them. You claim that you have full employment and high bovine productivity. You arrest the newsman who reported the real situation.
Indian capitalism You have two cows. You worship them.
Iraqi capitalism Everyone thinks you have lots of cows. You tell them that you have none. Nobody believes you, so they bomb the crap out of you and invade your country. You still have no cows but at least you are now a Democracy.
Australian capitalism You have two cows. Business seems pretty good. You close the office and go for a few beers to celebrate.
New Zealand capitalism You have two cows. The one on the left looks very attractive.
Greek capitalism You have two cows borrowed from French and German banks. You eat both of them. The banks call to collect their milk, but you cannot deliver so you call the IMF. The IMF loans you two cows. You eat both of them.
There are many many more.

Here's how two cows can explain what's been going on at Straitgate Farm so far:

Aggregate Industries You have two cows *. In 1965 you buy a farm that reportedly has 33 cows. Two years pass. You lose 4 cows. You make a planning application for 29 cows. The application is refused. Thirty-four years pass. The Council keeps a Plan for cows. Your cows are already in its old Plan but the Council wants to make a new Plan. You tell the Council you can only find 14 cows. Three years later the Council removes your cows from its Plan. You protest. Six years pass. The Council wants to make another Plan. The Council puts out a call for cows in Devon. You tell the Council you can now only find 12 cows. The Council prefers your cows to other cows but suggests that in reality you have no more than 6 cows. You engage consultants to tell you and the Council how 6 cows could be removed from the farm. 5 years pass. You realise that 4 cows could never leave the farm. You make a planning application for two cows even though you already have planning permission for 7 cows nearby. Another year passes. You withdraw the planning application. You don’t own the gateway. The Council feels sorry for you and puts two cows in its new Plan. You feel confident this time. You make another planning application to remove two cows through another gateway. The two cows prove troublesome and don’t want to be removed. You are told that removing two cows would destroy habitat for protected species, put water supplies at risk, endanger road users and put thousands of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. You don’t care. You are told that if two cows are removed from the farm other cows would need to cross the road for replacement pasture. You wish you had never seen those two cows. You question the whole two cows business model, having spent so much on those two damn cows. You instruct lawyers to threaten the successful operations of a farmer with 150 cows!

* 1.2 million tonnes of sand and gravel

Blackhill plant starts to come down

We posted recently about the restoration of Blackhill Quarry on Woodbury Common, here and here. Restoration of the operating area was meant to be finished by the end of this year. With two weeks to go there are now signs that work has finally started on disassembling the plant.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Rockbeare update

Back in July we posted that:
Aggregate Industries has been operating its asphalt plant at Rockbeare without planning permission since 2014, and arguably for very much longer.
AI submitted a planning application DCC/3867/2016 in May 2016 to retain this plant, despite the fact that production of the aggregate feedstock is no longer carried out at Rockbeare, or anywhere nearby for that matter, and would instead need to be hauled in from at least 23 miles away.

Should we be surprised? This is the company whose plan for Straitgate entails a 2.5 million mile haulage scheme, but whose new website crows:
Of course, in the interests of sustainability and as the NPPF tells us, development should be "in locations and ways which reduce greenhouse gas emissions".

DCC now says it "should be in a position to determine the application before Christmas, but if not then early in the new year."

The asphalt plant site was meant to be "restored... in the interests of visual amenity". If the application is approved this would obviously not happen.

What would the cost to AI be of not restoring the site back to nature as originally intended? A meagre £10,410. At least, that’s what AI’s consultants have proposed. The money would be payable to DCC to be spent on biodiversity projects elsewhere:
The current criteria which we use are that if the funding relates to priority habitats / species then it should ideally be spent on creating / enhancing the same priority habitat / species as close as possible to the loss. If no projects come forward within a reasonable timeframe then the funding should be spent on creating / enhancing other priority habitats and species in Devon.
It’s an example of 'biodiversity offsetting', or as some have called it "a licence to trash nature". Any gain for an unspecified location in Devon would be Rockbeare’s loss.

Monday, 11 December 2017

LafargeHolcim’s former boss charged

It’s not just at a local level - where planning applications contain a catalogue of fiction - the question of integrity at LafargeHolcim, the company that owns Aggregate Industries, appears to go right to the top.

We posted again about LafargeHolcim and its involvement in Syria only last month, but matters have already moved on.

Earlier in the year, when it was announced that "LafargeHolcim CEO set to step down over Syria controversy", the FT reported Eric Olsen as saying:
French prosecutors would appear to have a different idea, and rather than bringing back serenity, Bloomberg reported last week "Former LafargeHolcim CEO Charged With Syria Terrorism Funding". According to the FT:
You might expect criminals in the sand trade, according to this article in the Independent:
as sand becomes big business, the sand trade has attracted criminals
You don’t expect them at the top of the world’s largest building materials manufacturer.


How many times have you been stuck in traffic between Junction 27 and Junction 29 of the M5? Probably more times than you care to remember. Only last Friday, the M5 was closed again for several hours.

Aggregate Industries’ plans for Straitgate Farm involve hauling as-dug sand and gravel between these two junctions: 105,000 truck movements over 10-12 years, up to 200 HGV journeys per day, to-ing and fro-ing to Uffculme and back, operating on an orchestrated campaign basis.

How well would AI’s plans work when there are queues, delays or closures on the M5?

How many times does this happen? Twitter gives us a clue.

Has AI really thought this through?

Ottery’s fictional matters has been poking fun at the town's traffic problems

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Greystone Quarry

Aggregate Industries couldn’t believe its luck, no doubt, when its planning application for a 10 million tonne quarry extension within the Tamar Valley AONB was approved by Cornwall Council in September. The application PA16/10746 had been validated the previous November. The approval extends the life of Greystone Quarry near Launceston to 2066 and requires the stopping up of a public highway.

A number of objections to the application had been received, including from the Tamar Valley AONB Management Team and from DCC. Natural England said:
The submitted documents may serve to underplay the impacts on the AONB. We therefore advise that you give full weight to the detailed comments that have been submitted by the Tamar Valley AONB Partnership.
The AONB straddles Cornwall and Devon. DCC reminded CC that:
Cornwall Council will be aware that there is a presumption against major development in AONBs unless “exceptional circumstances and...public interest” can be proven that would outweigh the adverse effects on the landscape and scenic qualities of the AONB.
Cornwall Council reckoned there were exceptional circumstances for the extension:
In summary, the development is considered to satisfactorily address the need to ensure that the development is in the public interest which therefore addresses the exceptional circumstances within the NPPF. 73
Read the Officer’s report recommending approval and decide for yourself - para 58 onwards - whether exceptional circumstances were demonstrated. According to the NPPF:
116. Planning permission should be refused for major developments in these designated areas except in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated they are in the public interest.
Being in the public interest does not in itself satisfy "exceptional circumstances"; there’s an "and" in 116 which, fortunately for AI, CC appears to have disregarded.

But AI must have been worried - especially after receiving a backlash over extending the life of Blackhill Quarry in the East Devon AONB. There was obviously a push to get anybody and everybody linked to the quarry to send letters of support; here’s just a handful - see if you can spot any similarities.

Objectors had voiced their concerns at the planning meeting:
“The opposers to the application far outweigh the supporters. It’s loss of a medieval landscape.” Adding that residents’ water quality ‘could be severely compromised’ if plans went ahead, he said the application ‘would be a crime against the environment’.
Those concerns, including the ones from DCC, fell on deaf ears - with 9 votes in favour and 4 against.

... if high polished stone value (PSV) mineral is not extracted from Straitgate Farm then it will need to be imported from elsewhere.
The alternative supply of high PSV aggregate for the Westleigh and Rockbeare asphalt plants would come from the applicant’s operation at Greystone Quarry in Launceston, Cornwall. Greystone Quarry is 70 miles from the Westleigh Quarry asphalt plant and 55.6 miles from the asphalt plant at Rockbeare.
That’s the same Rockbeare asphalt plant that’s been operating without permission since 2014, but as we said in our response to Straitgate's Reg22, this alternative supply:
obviously ignores the 4 million tonnes of permitted BSPB reserves and stockpiled pebbles already at Houndaller [and] in any case, the majority of the Straitgate resource would not end up in the high PSV market. This market is relatively small. Any increased “comparative importation distances” for this product would be dwarfed by the haulage plan to get Straitgate material to Hillhead.
Anyway, whilst AI popped the champagne corks at Greystone, the company must have surely wondered why on earth it hasn't yet won permission to quarry Straitgate Farm - a farm that is not within an AONB - a planning application that was first submitted back in 2015.

It can’t be for a lack of help from DCC. The Minerals Officer has been championing the site since before 2012, discarding a number of other sites for the Minerals Plan that even the Environment Agency highlighted had less constraints. In fact, it’s interesting to read DCC’s objection to Greystone:
… once restored, the proposal would permanently modify the distinctive natural topography of the valley slopes and remove long established fields, hedgerows, trees and a rural lane that make a positive contribution to the scenic quality of views from Devon. During operations, there would also be significant adverse visual and noise impacts of quarrying activity and movement of heavy plant, potentially using using reversing beepers, in between each stage, to create the associated spoil heaps and artificial bunds. Such impacts would clearly not conserve and enhance the quality of the scenery nor the rural tranquillity experienced within the valley.
It is not agreed that the proposed large quarry void, waterbody, bunds and planting would be an improvement on the existing landscape of fields, hedges and rural lanes, the pattern of which is distinctive and positively contributing to the scenery of the area.
You have to wonder why these comments by DCC aren't equally applicable to Straitgate Farm - a farm overlooked by an AONB.

“40% of sand and gravels applications “failed’’ in 2016”

according to a survey by the MPA:
The Mineral Products Association has published their sixth Annual Mineral Planning Survey (AMPS 2017) which covers the period to the end of 2016. It is based upon data for the whole of Great Britain provided in confidence by MPA members.

The survey tells us that:
There has been a decrease in submissions for sand and gravel in 2016 (13 sites) compared to 2015 (20 sites), the majority being for extensions at existing operations.
5 applications for new sand and gravel sites were submitted in 2016, compared to 4 in 2015.
As with the two previous years no appeal decisions were identified by MPA members in 2016. It would still appear that where a refusal recommendation seems inevitable, the most likely outcome would be the withdrawal of the application.
Approvals for sand and gravel reduced to 6 during 2016 compared to 14 during 2015. There were 2 refusals in 2016, the first since 2012, and 2 further applications were withdrawn.
The withdrawn applications were not identified, but long suffering readers of this blog will know that Aggregate Industries withdrew two planning applications in 2016: the one for Straitgate that proposed to use someone else’s land for which the company claimed it had the rights but didn’t - and the one for Blackhill that proposed to extend the life of a mineral processing plant, but couldn’t demonstrate the necessary "exceptional circumstances" as to why it should continue to wreck Woodbury Common in the East Devon AONB.

The MPA worries about withdrawn applications:
Withdrawals can represent a significant waste of time, effort and resource both for industry and local authorities, and this issue will be monitored in coming AMPS reports to determine whether this is the beginning of a more worrying trend.
Of course, this ignores the significant waste of time, effort and resource also faced by local people. In the case of Straitgate and Blackhill - where AI had failed to do its homework first - scores of objections were effectively ripped up by DCC, and local people were told they would need to make new responses to the subsequent revised applications, which the company claimed would be "essentially the same".

The MPA also worries that withdrawn applications distort things:
More significantly, the number of applications that are withdrawn have the potential to distort the overall determination rate that is being observed and reported. If refusals are added to withdrawals, 40% of sand and gravels applications “failed’’ in 2016.
But the industry can console itself because, and for those who espouse the importance of Mineral Plans:
Over the past 10 years, 48% of new permissions issued were for sites that had not been allocated in mineral plans. In 2016 the figure was 44%.