Monday, 29 January 2018

Objections mount for CDE’s planning application for Blackhill Quarry

Aggregate Industries’ permission to process material at Blackhill Quarry on Woodbury Common came to an end in 2016, and the plant is now in the process of being taken down to be re-erected at Hillhead Quarry near Uffculme.

It was widely hoped that this area at Blackhill would be restored, but landowner Clinton Devon Estates made an outline planning application late last year for 35,000 sq ft of industrial units - referred to in the post Why does quarrying have such a bad name? Take a look at Blackhill

Objections to this application in the East Devon AONB are mounting up, and the issue has been covered in the local press:
DCC raised no objection to the proposal, but interestingly the Devon Stone Federation did:
This planning application has been drawn to my attention by the Minerals Officer of Devon County Council… Devon Stone Federation objects on the basis that the proposal would sterilise an important underlying mineral.
Sterilisation is a rather bizarre reason - given that the mineral operator is now moving away from the site and dismantling its plant, and given that modification orders to restrict further mineral extraction were served back in 1999 when the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths were designated nature conservation areas of European importance.

But hey, an objection is an objection and should be welcomed, particularly considering what had been intended for this area.

The plan agreed with DCC states that for the processing area, Area 12:
It is anticipated that an alternative use for Area 12 will be sought by the landowner, perhaps a recreational or leisure use which will benefit from the existing hardstanding, office building and workshop to alleviate pressure on the SSSI. It is acknowledged that a planning permission for an alternative use will need to be sought from the Local Planning Authority. Should planning permission not be forthcoming then the office building and workshop will be demolished and removed from site. In addition, the existing hardstanding would be dug up and recycled for potential use on estate roads. The area will then be restored in line with the site restoration principals as agreed by the Quarry Restoration Group at the time. 

Only a select few - landowners, mineral companies, county councils or the like - would have imagined that plans for "a recreational or leisure use… to alleviate pressure on the SSSI" could mean an industrial estate. Objections to planning application 17/3022/MOUT can still be made here.

CEMEX turns 50 disused quarries into wildlife habitats

Whilst plans are afoot to renege upon the restoration promises at Aggregate Industries' Blackhill Quarry, CEMEX in conjunction with the RSPB has some better news:
A conservation project to turn 50 quarries into nature reserves by 2020 has been completed two years early and is already saving endangered species, like the turtle dove.
In 2010 the RSPB and CEMEX set an ambitious goal of restoring 1,000 hectares of land over a decade and in less than eight years we have met that target.
Working in partnership with CEMEX we have shown how land can be transformed from being an active quarry into a vibrant home for wildlife and we hope that our experience inspires others to play their part in restoring nature.

AI pins hopes on AI

Earlier this month we posted about artificial intelligence, how "AI has been all over the news recently".

Imagine our surprise when just a few days later Aggregate Industries launched its "2018 Innovation Strategy, with key focusses including robotics and artificial intelligence amongst others."


Monday, 15 January 2018

AI delays yet again

Aggregate Industries just can’t get its act together at Straitgate Farm.

In November, we warned that there were More delays to come and last week AI duly agreed with DCC "to an extension of the determination date from 31st January 2018 to 30th April 2018."

What’s the chance of AI’s planning application being determined by then? AI claims:
at present [10 January] we are confident of meeting your timetable for the April committee
But AI has no idea; it’s just wishful thinking. Ever since AI first applied to quarry Straitgate Farm in June 2015 there has been one delay after another. As things stand, AI’s scheme is still undeliverable - for the reasons previously outlined on this blog. No weight can therefore be assigned to AI’s latest claim.

How long is DCC going to keep entertaining this charade? Because:
- not, as in AI’s case, the norm.

Why does quarrying have such a bad name? Take a look at Blackhill

Quarrying is temporary, we’re told; land taken for quarrying will be restored back to nature or farmland, we’re told.

But how many times does that happen?

Look at what’s going on at nearby Blackhill Quarry. Surrounding communities have put up with quarrying for the best part of 80 years or more, with HGVs trundling back and forth through their villages, looking forward to the day when this industrial blot within the East Devon AONB might be restored.

Communities have fought tooth and nail to stop any further quarry development - including processing any material that might be won from Straitgate Farm.

But as soon as quarrying at Blackhill has finished, what do we find? Landowners Clinton Devon Estates submitting a planning application to EDDC just before Christmas for 35,000 sq ft of industrial units; AI’s traffic would be replaced by "around 134 two-way vehicular trips... across the day."

In the mind of the applicant, the prior industrial use has paved the way for more of the same:
The site currently benefits from an existing access road onto the B3180. As a result of the existing quarrying operations and also the adjacent industrial use, the access is able to accommodate HGV traffic. 2.4
Clinton Devon Estates makes reference to relevant planning policies in its documents, but conveniently overlooks point 116 of the NPPF which states:
Planning permission should be refused for major developments in these designated areas except in exceptional circumstances
Anybody who objects to the continued industrialisation of the AONB should make their feelings known to EDDC as soon as possible. The application can be accessed through this link, ref. 17/3022/MOUT.

EDIT 18.1.18: DCC as Mineral Planning Authority has now responded to the above application. You might have hoped that DCC would have objected, given that the site is within the AONB and adjacent to the SAC, given that AI’s plant area at Blackhill was "the subject of a legal agreement under s.106 of the Town and Country Planning Act which required the operator and landowners to implement a wider restoration and after care scheme...". But no. Legal agreement or otherwise, DCC says:
To clarify, Devon County Council as Mineral Planning Authority would not wish to raise any objection to the proposal so long as adequate compensatory habitat to replace the lost area of heathland is provided elsewhere and that this is secured by condition or legal agreement. In such a scenario it would not then be reasonable for the County Council to seek to enforce the provisions of the legal agreement insofar as they relate to this small parcel of land.

AI has been all over the news recently

In the past we’ve detailed the catalogue of fiction that AI has generated in relation to the planning application for Straitgate Farm.

We use the abbreviation AI hoping that readers know what we mean.

Perhaps we should be more careful. With so many stories about the creativity of AI one might easily think, at first glance at least, that these recent headlines were referring to Aggregate Industries rather than artificial intelligence.

“Safety must come first as dangerous lorry driving hits the headlines”

... proclaimed an Aggregate Industries' press release last month.

But if that is the case, that 'safety must come first', it rather begs the question - since AI has been unable to secure a Stage 2 Road Safety Audit for its proposed cattle crossing, which would be a direct result from its proposals: What's going to happen at Straitgate Farm?

But we digress. AI's press release quite rightly points out that "businesses must pay extra diligence to ensuring the safety credentials of their haulier providers."
Throughout the duration of 2017 there has been an influx of headlines around poor lorry driving which has led to structural damage of property and infrastructure, accidents and, most tragically of all, fatalities.
As part of an ongoing crackdown on bad driving etiquette by Highways England, last month (November 2017) saw one UK County conduct secret filming which worryingly captured a number of HGV drivers using their mobile phones, watching YouTube videos and even reading books behind the wheel.
Ben Young, Head of Road Logistics at Aggregate Industries, comments: “The increase in reported dangerous lorry driving in the news this year is shocking and it’s something that all businesses, whether operating their own fleet or using a transport provider, have a duty to address.
“At Aggregate Industries, for example, we operate a robust theory and practical testing process when recruiting a new haulier which includes requiring them to achieve a minimum of FORS Bronze accreditation - which is followed up with regular monitoring and maintenance as part of our safety programme.
So, how well is AI's safety programme going? Seemingly, not well enough:

‘Switching from HGVs to freight trains could cut air pollution by 10%’

... according to new research from the Campaign for Better Transport, which investigated lorry travel across four of Britain’s busiest freight routes.
Philippa Edmunds, manager of Freight on Rail – a partnership between the CBT, unions and the freight industry – said the government should use this research as a catalyst for future policies.
“This research shows that by upgrading the existing rail lines which run parallel to these motorway routes would allow large numbers of lorry loads to be transferred to rail, easing congestion, improving air quality and reducing road collisions,” she commented.
“In particular the effect on reducing particulates is very important because, whilst the latest euro VI engine technology reduces exhaust particulates, non-exhaust particulates pollution from HGV tyres and brakes remain a serious problem for which there is no current solution, especially for trucks which have large tyres.
“The government should use the findings of this research to feed into its future road and rail investment strategies and in particular to support continued investment in the strategic rail freight network.”
Meanwhile, the government is now considering a "pay-per-mile" scheme for lorries to cover the cost of damage to UK roads.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018


We all want to leave the world a better place for our children and grandchildren.
We all know what needs to be done.
We all know that carbon emissions must be reduced.
We all know that with the planet in the grip of climate change our actions are more urgent than ever.
We all know this because of headlines such as:
and images such as this:

My entire @Sea_Legacy team was pushing through their tears and emotions while documenting this dying polar bear. It’s a soul-crushing scene that still haunts me, but I know we need to share both the beautiful and the heartbreaking if we are going to break down the walls of apathy. This is what starvation looks like. The muscles atrophy. No energy. It’s a slow, painful death. When scientists say polar bears will be extinct in the next 100 years, I think of the global population of 25,000 bears dying in this manner. There is no band aid solution. There was no saving this individual bear. People think that we can put platforms in the ocean or we can feed the odd starving bear. The simple truth is this—if the Earth continues to warm, we will lose bears and entire polar ecosystems. This large male bear was not old, and he certainly died within hours or days of this moment. But there are solutions. We must reduce our carbon footprint, eat the right food, stop cutting down our forests, and begin putting the Earth—our home—first. Please join us at @sea_legacy as we search for and implement solutions for the oceans and the animals that rely on them—including us humans. Thank you your support in keeping my @sea_legacy team in the field. With @CristinaMittermeier #turningthetide with @Sea_Legacy #bethechange #nature #naturelovers This video is exclusively managed by Caters News. To license or use in a commercial player please contact or call +44 121 616 1100 / +1 646 380 1615”
A post shared by Paul Nicklen (@paulnicklen) on

We all know that certain people can have more impact on climate change than the rest of us.

Aggregate Industries says: "We are committed to tackling climate change".

DCC says: "We all contribute to climate change through our use of electricity, heat and vehicle fuels, and there are actions that we can all take – as individuals, as householders, at school and at work – to cut the emissions that contribute to climate change."

What legacy would AI management be leaving if they needlessly put 2.5 million HGV miles on our roads - with the associated CO2 and air pollution - from their Straitgate Farm proposal?

What legacy would DCC planners be leaving if they recommended this proposal?

Could these people look their children and grandchildren in the eye and say I did all I could?
Could these people hold their heads up high and say I was part of the solution?
Because with climate change, as that famous saying goes:
If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.

“We are committed to tackling climate change”

Remember that tweet from Aggregate Industries?

We all want to Reduce emissions! But how well is AI itself doing? We've posted on AI's record before; here, here and here. AI has recently released its carbon emission figures for 2016 in its Sustainability Report and on its new website; both report and website still trot out the same old claims:
At Aggregate Industries we’ll continue our mission to cut our net CO2 emissions of all products.
What this mission is, whether it’s actually going anywhere, or whether it’s any more than hopeful words on a page, is anybody’s guess. But if the graph below is AI’s idea of cutting emissions, we’d be better off without it:

A jump in process emissions may be explained away by AI taking on two cement plants, but look at transport emissions to see the result of the company's effort on climate change. On this front AI claims:

But wanting to reduce CO2 emissions is different from actually doing something about it. Is AI serious about climate change? In the past, AI has said:
2006: climate change… we have a clear message: it’s happening and we have to take action now.
2012: Controlling and reducing carbon emissions is central to a responsible environmental policy. At Aggregate Industries we have understood the impacts of our carbon emissions for some time…
In 2017, AI still claims:
But if that were true, why is AI currently proposing a 2.5 million mile haulage scheme between Straitgate Farm and Uffculme? If that were true, why does AI’s longer term record on CO2 emissions look like this?

François Petry, AI's CEO, says:
Looking ahead, we will continue to look for innovative ways for Aggregate Industries to contribute to solving some of the UK’s sustainability challenges, as we believe we are equipped to effect a real change
Fine words. But 10 years ago another AI CEO said much the same thing - and look what real change has been effected in the meantime. For AI, action on climate change is clearly a task for others.

AI's Sustainability Report says: "We would welcome your comments, suggestions and thoughts on this report by emailing". We would encourage any reader so inclined to do so, mentioning of course the multi-million mile CO2 belching scheme planned for this corner of Devon.

AI appoints new head of Aggregates division, again

In what appears like a game of musical chairs, it’s all change again at the top of Aggregate Industries.

Readers may remember that in July last year AI appointed Mike Pearce as managing director of its Aggregates division, only to see him move on to Breedon two months later. In October we posted "Goodness. Another AI director jumps ship".

Yesterday AI announced the appointment of Pablo Libreros as Mike Pearce’s replacement.

Mr Libreros joined AI last June from LafargeHolcim, as the company’s Director of Growth and Innovation, saying:
I'm looking forward to driving the business forward into a new chapter of growth and innovation in the UK.
Six months on, that new chapter is already over and Mr Libreros has now been charged with looking after the Aggregates division, the company’s PR machine claiming his experience:
...will be invaluable in ensuring that sustainability is at the core of the aggregates business and its processes.
If AI’s unsustainable 2.5 million mile plan for Straitgate Farm is any guide to the rest of the aggregates business, that’s a big ask.

Buckfastleigh dissolves its planning committee because ‘authorities don't listen’

Those who feel that their responses to planning applications in Devon - including the ones by Aggregate Industries for Straitgate Farm - are continually ignored, are not alone. Buckfastleigh Town Council feels the same way, and has now dissolved its planning committee 'because the authorities don't listen':
 “It has been made quite clear in recent years that the carefully considered and well-informed responses to planning applications to DNPA, TDC and DCC have been ignored by their planning authorities in reaching decisions. In fact BTC [Buckfastleigh Town Council] has recently lodged a formal complaint lodged with DCC about its inability to enforce planning legislation and its misconduct in issuing planning notices in the case of Whitecleave Quarry.”
“We feel that by maintaining a ‘Planning’ committee, which is clearly impotent, we are misleading the public and misdirecting any concerns they have. We believe it would likely have more impact if all the individual councillors and members of the public made their own representations to planning authorities (although evidence is limited that this has any effect either!) and we don’t want to be duped into inadvertently acting as fodder for those authorities going through the motions of carrying out statutory consultative procedures, unless our opinion is actually given some weight.

Planning corruption is ‘endemic’ in the UK ...

A former senior policy adviser to the prime minister, Rohan Silva, has claimed that planning corruption is “endemic” in councils across Britain. His comments follow last week’s revelations in The Sunday Times that a businessman with close ties to Labour had been secretly taped demanding a £2m bribe from property developers allegedly on behalf of the party’s politicians. Writing in News Review this weekend, Silva argues that the planning authorities have been given too much power to make decisions that could dramatically affect the value of properties and developments. He writes: “Given that the value of a property can increase by tens — or even hundreds — of millions of pounds depending on what the planners decide, the incentive for corruption among low-paid officials and councillors is overwhelming.” Silva adds: “The depressing truth is that corruption is endemic in Britain’s bureaucratic planning system. In every corner of the country, you can find stories of bribery, with local councillors and officials rigging the planning process for their own gain.
"Rohan Silva's article in the Sunday Times is typical of that form of lazy journalism that takes a relatively isolated incident, adds a heavy dose of innuendo and concludes, with no real justification or evidence, that 'corruption is endemic in Britain's planning system'. Quite simply it is not. Where it does occur it is, in my experience, dealt with vigorously, as Mr Silva would have discovered if he had bothered to find out the facts around the Alpha Square incident that triggered his article.... No system is perfect, because people are not perfect, but Britain's planning system takes its responsibilities and duties very seriously and pursues the highest levels of probity and integrity. Where there is evidence of corruption, my advice to those making such accusations has always been, "please go straight to the Police so that they can properly investigate it".

Blackhill plant to be taken to Hillhead

For those following developments at Blackhill Quarry - last posted about here - DCC has since advised:
The plant area is a specific restoration compartment and the applicant has submitted a revised scheme for restoration of the unfilled silt lagoon and a revised timetable for the removal of the plant to enable it to be moved to Hillhead Quarry without an intermediate storage solution.
The revised restoration scheme and the timetable for the removal of the plant has been agreed with the operator.
The timetable for removing the plant is as follows: Early December 2017 - Main Contractor to commence dismantling the sand processing towers, overhead yard gantry and all six conveyor structures connecting the main buildings; End December 2017 - the above components of the plant in addition to other structures comprising the main buildings, to be on the floor ready for transportation to Hillhead in January 2018; End March 2018 - all steel structures and main buildings to be on the floor or being reinstalled at Hillhead. End May 2018 - plant will be completely removed from site. June 2018 commence removal of all concrete bases and ancillary buildings. End 2018 site restoration.
DCC has agreed that moving the Blackhill processing plant to Hillhead is permitted development, subject to a number of conditions, one of which is that the:
The principal purpose of the processing plant is in connection with the winning and working of minerals at Hillhead Quarry

Monday, 1 January 2018

The solution is obvious

Far be it for this blog to suggest a way out, but it’s the season to be generous and one solution is clearly so obvious, and treads so lightly on the landscape, that it would be remiss of us to keep it to ourselves.

AI and the cows could work together. Similar partnerships thrive elsewhere:

There would be no noise or diesel fumes; no need to remove any hedgerows or trees; no need to disturb any protected species. It would bring high levels of employment to cow handlers and small bucket operators. Any winnings could be sold as a premium artisanal product, mined by hand in East Devon.

AI would surely be the talk of all its competitors.

Let it never be said that this blog isn’t proactively looking for the best solutions.

Happy New Year!