Friday, 23 March 2018

Three years on and yet more delays

... again.

Aggregate Industries first submitted a planning application to quarry Straitgate Farm back in June 2015. Almost three years on there are still delays.

Doesn’t that speak volumes about the merits of wrecking an East Devon Farm and hauling its spoils 23 miles away for processing?

It was only in January of this year that AI told DCC it was:
But, as we said at the time, it was just wishful thinking. Only last month the EA was still requesting information from AI on groundwater - an important subject for more than 100 people who rely on the site for their drinking water.

AI’s confidence in meeting timetables is obviously no better than its confidence in being able to define the maximum water table - the proposed depth of any extraction - and thereby not harm those drinking water supplies. Whilst AI's water consultants boasted that:
Monitoring over the exceptionally wet winters of 2013 and 2014 allow this surface to be defined with confidence
we now find that borehole readings in the unexceptional winter of 2018 puts the base of any quarry at Straitgate 1M BELOW WATER.

So much for confidence.

Of course, you might understand if it had been just one delay, but it hasn’t. Just in the last few months we’ve posted: More delays to come, AI’s application for Straitgate Farm lurches from one delay to another, and AI requests deferral.

Many question why, three years on, Devon’s planning authority continues to entertain all these delays, when "for the overall credibility of the planning system, extensions of time should really be the exception".

The Devon Minerals Plan was also delayed by years, as DCC waited for AI to demonstrate that Straitgate Farm was deliverable for sand and gravel extraction. In fact, six years ago this month a drop-in event staged by DCC to promote Straitgate was "besieged by 300 people" telling the council it was making a mistake. Those voices were and still are ignored.

Which is ironic, because this week DCC Minerals explained - in its newly endorsed Statement of Community Involvement - why it's important to involve communities in the planning process:
1.4.1 Involvement is important not only to inform individuals and stakeholders of the planning process but also to allow them to inform it, resulting in better plans and application decisions. Effective community involvement also has other benefits including:
  • creating greater ‘public ownership’ of planning and sense of local democracy; 

  • allowing individuals and bodies to contribute to the community; 

  • informing the County Council of local priorities; 

  • increasing the communication and trust between the County Council and the people 
of Devon; and 

  • giving a better understanding of the way in which Devon County Council works for 
Devon’s future. 

Perhaps if those 300 people had been listened to at the beginning of the plan-making process, Devon’s future wouldn’t now be staring at a proposal in East Devon to transport sand and gravel 2.5 million miles back and forth to Mid Devon where there are already 4 million tonnes of permitted reserves, and the community wouldn't now be faced with a proposal that stumbles from one delay to the next.

But hey, what do the public know?

Who knows what the archaeology will throw up?

Derbyshire County Council is set to retract approval to quarry 2.2 million tonnes of sand and gravel near Willington due to the discovery of a 5,000-year-old 'cursus', reports the Burton Mail.

Who knows what could be found at Straitgate Farm? Twelve months ago we wrote This is what’s at stake. In 2014, archaeological investigations found extensive evidence of open settlements on the site from the Iron Age and Roman period. The Results of the Archaeological Trench Evaluation point to:
12-15 further roundhouses in total might be anticipated... Three pieces of Romano-British period tile from overlying deposits and two holed slates from the large ditch in Trenches 22 and 56 may indicate a ‘Romanised’ building is present in the vicinity... new evidence for Romano-British settlement was identified, dated from the artefacts recovered to the 2nd to 3rd centuries AD, including a substantial linear ditch of 30m length, c. 5m width and over 2.2m depth.

No development shall take place until the applicant has secured the implementation of a programme of archaeological work in accordance with a written scheme of investigation which has been submitted by the applicant and approved by the Planning Authority... broadly complying with the scope of mitigation as set out on the plan titled “Proposed Archaeological Mitigation” and dated December 2014 but would include the area to the east of Straitgate Farm.

‘Hundreds died or suffered serious injuries on East Devon roads over 5 year period’

More than 300 people either lost their life or suffered a serious injury after a crash on East Devon roads between 2012 and 2016, figures have revealed.
The area had the second highest number of crashes which result in casualties when compared to anywhere else in the county.

‘Exposure to larger air particles linked to increased risk of asthma in children’

Why are people worried about the health implications of living next to a quarry? A new report from The Johns Hopkins University gives a clue:
Researchers report statistical evidence that children exposed to airborne coarse particulate matter — a mix of dust, sand and non-exhaust tailpipe emissions, such as tire rubber — are more likely to develop asthma and need emergency room or hospital treatment for it than unexposed children.

“AI completes restoration of Exeter Quarry”

Those who have been following developments at Venn Ottery Quarry over the years will no doubt be interested to read Aggregate Industries’ latest press release.

Photo: Aggregate Industries

‘Councils failing to explain why they have taken planning decisions…

... could face challenges, following recent court rulings’, according to an article in Planning Resource:
... some experts believe a series of court judgments over the past 12 months is effectively reinstating the requirement for councils to justify permissions or face the risk of their decisions being quashed.
… reasons could even be required where committees follow planners’ recommendations but the officers’ report itself doesn’t include sufficient justification.
"Local authorities will likely react defensively. In the current climate, it looks very risky for committees not to promote a statement of reasons with approvals, unless an application is completely devoid of objection"

‘Court of Appeal overturns green belt quarry extension approval’

A planning approval for the extension of a quarry in the North Yorkshire green belt has been overturned at the Court of Appeal, after a judge ruled that planners had misinterpreted green belt policy with regards to the scheme's visual impact.
At the Appeal Court, Lord Justice Lindblom, said a senior council officer had "misunderstood" national planning policies on the preservation of the green belt and given "defective" advice to the council's planning committee.
Lord Justice Lindblom said he had been left with the "troubling impression" that national policy had been misunderstood and misapplied. 
The officer had erred in concluding that, because the development would not involve construction of new buildings, the openness of the green belt would not be harmed. 
The visual impact of the scheme was as important as its "spatial" effects and the officer had failed to consider what the impact of the proposals would be "in the eyes of the viewer". 
The quarry extension would result in a "permanent change to the character of the landscape" and "long distance views would be cut off" by earth bunds put in place and trees planted to screen the site.

‘UK government failing rural communities and natural environment’

... the body responsible for conserving the natural environment and promoting public access to the land, Natural England (NE), has been "hollowed out" and is now largely ineffective… [and] has "insufficient regard for landscapes", when offering planning guidance.
In addition, it says the requirement for public authorities to "have regard" to biodiversity when exercising their functions is ineffective.
The extinction rate of species is now thought to be about 1,000 times higher than before humans dominated the planet, which may be even faster than the losses after a giant meteorite wiped out the dinosaurs 65m years ago. 
Billions of individual populations have been lost all over the planet, with the number of animals living on Earth having plunged by half since 1970. Abandoning the normally sober tone of scientific papers, researchers call the massive loss of wildlife a “biological annihilation” representing a “frightening assault on the foundations of human civilisation”.
Could the loss of biodiversity be a greater threat to humanity than climate change?
Yes – nothing on Earth is experiencing more dramatic change at the hands of human activity. Changes to the climate are reversible, even if that takes centuries or millennia. But once species become extinct, particularly those unknown to science, there’s no going back.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Could a shortage of HGV drivers undermine the viability of AI’s plans?

Profit margins are slim in the sand and gravel business. Haulage costs are significant; "the OFT considered that it is economical to transport aggregates around 30 miles" 4.15.

Any material dug from Straitgate Farm would entail a 46 mile round-trip for processing, before any onward haulage to its final destination; 46 miles extra to a normal sand and gravel quarry operation where the material is processed on site.

The bad news for Aggregate Industries is that haulage costs are on the increase because of a national shortage of drivers. The RHA says:
The UK haulage industry is currently facing a shortage of between 45,000 and 50,000 HGV drivers and we as an industry need to face this challenge head-on

Companies are plainly worried. Even AI. The same company whose plans for Straitgate would involve some 105,000 truck movements is even touting driverless trucks as one answer:
“It is therefore vital that we embrace the driverless truck concept and the positive impact it could bring. Although it is still very much in the embryonic stage, it could play a crucial role, if utilised correctly and safely, in ensuring we have the resource required to keep up with an escalating level of demand.”
We’re obviously not going to see driverless trucks hauling sand and gravel along narrow Devon B roads any time soon; many think the commercial rollout of driverless trucks is 'decades away'. Human drivers would be needed for the operation AI proposes at Straitgate - an operation the company says would last 10-12 years.

And who knows what the haulage landscape will look like in 5 years time, let alone 12? Will deliveries of sand and gravel then be competing for the same drivers that put food on our supermarket shelves?

MPA bemoans proposed changes to NPPF

The Mineral Planning Association warns that proposed changes to the NPPF, announced by Theresa May on 5 March and now subject of a government consultation, do nothing to benefit their members. According to the MPA:
The changes now being proposed will considerably weaken policy supporting minerals. In contrast, the weight given to environmental designations has been strengthened, with no transparent evidence provided to justify the changes.
There was however "Good news for ancient woodland", says The Woodland Trust. Proposed changes to the NPPF means that:
development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats (such as ancient woodland) should be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons. 173(c)
The planning advice for veteran trees remains that:
Where development would involve the loss of individual aged or veteran trees that lie outside ancient woodland, it should be refused unless the need for, and benefits of, development in that location would clearly outweigh the loss;
The consultation draft text for the NPPF can be found here.

UK construction output in biggest fall since 2012

... reports the Office for National Statistics.

Devon MP calls on PM to ensure our children benefit from better air quality

Tiverton and Honiton MP Neil Parish has called for a member of Cabinet to help ensure “our children and grandchildren” have good air quality.
Aggregate Industries plainly couldn't care about all that. Its plans to haul material from Straitgate some 2.5 million miles for processing would mean '31 tonnes of NOx air pollution and 4,463 tonnes of CO2'.

LafargeHolcim continues to suffer backlash over behaviour in Syria

Lafarge’s involvement in Syria has been the subject of a number of previous posts.

The New York Times has published an extended article about the company that now owns Aggregate Industries and Straitgate Farm; about how six months after the Lafarge Holcim tie up was announced, Lafarge workers in Syria were left to fend for themselves with the approach of ISIS:
“What I want to know,” Mr. Mohamad said of Lafarge in an interview, “is why did they leave us there to face our deaths?”
“The factory was the only thing they cared about,” Mr. Mohamad said. “But Lafarge should be a lesson for Western companies in foreign countries: They should treat people working for them like human beings.”

Monday, 5 March 2018

Revised junction plan put forward by Group eliminates pedestrian & HGV conflict

Whilst the Group maintains its objection to mineral development at Straitgate Farm, we are not averse to pointing out improvements in the proposals - where improvements can be seen; Aggregate Industries adopted a suggestion we proposed last year to modify the extraction boundary and reduce hedgerow loss by 500m.

The current site access plan can also be improved. That much is obvious. If the person who first put it together was subsequently found to have fabricated traffic numbers, then how much faith can local people have in his design?

AI's proposed access onto the B3174 Exeter Road for up to 200 HGVs a day centres on Birdcage Lane, the narrow lane on the right of the Street View above, much used by dog-walkers, joggers, ramblers and cyclists. The plans have been the subject of much concern and complaint - click site access label to see how much - particularly with regard to the potential impact on pedestrians and school children, particularly knowing that so many pedestrians are killed or injured in collisions with HGVs.

Many representations and objections have been made to DCC on this matter, including from solicitors Foot Anstey and the highways consultants Vectos. The proposal would also damage third party property. Solicitors warned DCC that:
any development which may cause such damage [to Tree H] will be resisted through available legal means, which may include an application for an injunction and/or an action for damages. Any such action would be brought against both the applicant and the Council (in its capacity as the local highways authority), and may also include a private prosecution for criminal damage.
The original design has since been passed to another set of consultants. It has been through a number of revisions - the latest revision of which has the inclusion of a narrow gravel path. AI proposed this path to be gravel in an effort to protect itself and the Council from the legal action above, but Vectos explained why such a path could not be implemented nor protect the tree. Solicitors warned DCC again:
In relation to the proposed drawing provided by the applicant, it is clear that it creates even more problems.
With each new attempt to address a problem, the applicant merely creates new ones, demonstrating that the scheme is inherently poorly conceived.
Despite this, DCC Highways appeared content with the gravel path proposal, and maintained in correspondence with a county councillor:
There are plenty of historical locations in Devon where a gravelled surfaces [sic] adjacent to the road are used and are safe for pedestrians.
When asked to provide examples of these locations, DCC Highways answered:
The Ex Estuary Trail [sic] and the Tarka Trail has areas where there is rolled stone finish to the surface.
It’s not clear if either of these locations have gravelled surfaces adjacent to the road - but hey, if Birdcage Lane could be viewed in the same light as the Exe Estuary and Tarka Trails, who cares? Local tourist businesses would surely welcome the area becoming a magnet for ramblers, cyclists and the like!

Nevertheless, with all the inherent problems in the existing access scheme, a number of proposals have been made to the Group, including one to the west of Birdcage Lane (i.e. to the left of the lane in the Street View above), that was then put to Vectos for scrutiny. Highways consultants verified that the proposal was feasible, had the required visibility, and offered safety advantages over the existing plan. Specifically it would:

  • eliminate all interaction between HGVs and pedestrians (including school children)
  • make it easier for vehicles exiting Toadpit Lane onto the B3174 by avoiding conflict with HGVs
  • save three veteran oak trees and a length of ancient hedgerow
  • reduce the visual impact - including from the AONB - by retaining more site screening

Furthermore, the area would also be easier to restore post extraction, and remove any conflict with PROWs and third party farm gateways. As an aside, it would also protect DCC from any legal action in relation to Tree H, and even be cheaper for AI.

Vectos’s letter has been sent to DCC. It looks like a no-brainer.

Both DCC and AI would obviously be open to criticism - or worse - if this alternative were not properly considered, and a serious accident were to result from the current design and/or the failure to separate HGVs and pedestrians.

“An alarming heatwave in the sunless winter Arctic...”

Whilst the world tries to wrestle with the problems of climate change and reduce CO2, consider that...
Who’s the largest cement company in the world? LafargeHolcim of course, the same company that owns Aggregate Industries.

So we shouldn’t be surprised that AI couldn’t give a toss about the CO2 associated with its scheme to haul each load dug from Straitgate Farm a 46 mile round trip for processing - 2.5 million miles in all.

Neither should we be surprised that AI keeps pumping out greenwash like this:
But those same blizzards referred to above no doubt put paid to any such event; AI’s website once boasted this but now looks like this.

And of course, if AI really had any commitment to combating climate change its CO2 emissions would not look like this:

‘50 quarry lorries a day turning community into village from hell’

... reports a local paper in Ceredigion, Wales:
In June 2016 the Cambrian News reported that concerned residents had launched a petition against quarry plans which they feared would lead to harmful emissions and an increase in heavy vehicles. Now there are fresh claims that the firm’s lorries are damaging the local environment. “It’s turned into the village from hell”
What's proposed for Straitgate?
The maximum number of vehicle movements generated as a result of this proposal is 86 loads per day, or 172 movements per day. The traffic impact assessment has been conducted using a figure of 200 movements per day... 8.7
Why 200? Because, as posted in 2015, planning applications are one thing and reality something else:
AI’s planning application for Venn Ottery in 2010 talked about an average of 138 HGV movements a day over a 4 day week, yet, on the one random day we checked, it was 194.

MPA sets out plans to give something back to communities blighted by quarrying

The Mineral Products Association has set out proposals for a new Aggregates Levy Community Fund to be introduced in England in April 2020.

Local communities, who suffer the impacts of an industry dominated by a handful of multi-billion pound corporations, shouldn’t get excited:
The MPA proposal would see 8p per tonne - or 4% - of Aggregates Levy revenue being allocated to the new ALCF to fund local community projects and biodiversity and nature conservation projects. It would mean that an aggregates quarry selling 200,000 tonnes of aggregates per year would generate aggregates levy credits of £11,200 annually for community use...
The figure of 8p per tonne gives you an indication of how much the minerals industry cares about the communities it blights; it effectively rounds down to nothing. To put the number in context, look at LafargeHolcim’s 2017 Annual Report:
The new CEO (Jan Jenisch) started on September 1st 2017 and received a combined base salary plus variable compensation of CHF 1.7 million, share-based compensation of CHF 6.8 million, employer contributions to pension benefits of CHF 0.3 million. As a result, the new CEO’s total compensation amounted to CHF 8.8 million.
Around £7 million in 4 months; nice work if you can get it. Or if that figure doesn't do it, how about this:
Lafarge paid 13 million euros to armed groups to keep operating in Syria - rights group
LafargeHolcim is the parent company of Aggregate Industries.

LafargeHolcim writes off $4billion

The stock fell more than 7 percent after the strategy was revealed. Analysts said the new goals lacked ambition... The revamp would include a focus on fewer markets to concentrate on the United States, Latin America, India and Africa... The fourth-quarter charge pushed LafargeHolcim into a net loss of 3.12 billion Swiss francs in 2017. Without the charge, net profit fell 31 percent to 270 million francs.
LafargeHolcim is the parent company of Aggregate Industries.