Monday, 30 April 2018

AI’s Blackhill processing plant re-emerges at Hillhead, 23 miles away from Straitgate

Since posting in January Blackhill plant to be taken to Hillhead, reconstruction of Aggregate Industries' fixed processing plant - the one that used to blight Woodbury Common in the East Devon AONB and started to come down in December - is now underway at Hillhead near Uffculme.

It is this processing plant that is now intended for each 28.5 tonne load of as-dug sand and gravel from Straitgate Farm. It is this plant that now sits a staggering 23 miles away from Straitgate - a distance which obviously flies in the face of common sense and decency, flies in the face of all the greenwash from AI that "#Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do", and flies in the face of Objective 1 of the shiny new Devon Minerals Plan - which we're told is all about trying to:
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

AI is currently using mobile processing plant at Hillhead to process the 4 million tonnes of apparently "sand rich" reserves at nearby Houndaller. Even at 300k tonnes a year this reserve will last AI some 13 years or so. But judging by the piles of unprocessed pebbles still sitting stockpiled at Houndaller, the reserve is either not as sandy as we've been lead to believe (and therefore where’s the need for Straitgate?) or the mobile plant is obviously un-suited. On the latter, it wasn't so very long ago that AI said, in its application to quarry the Straitgate resource, that:
New mobile processing plant is to be installed in [Hillhead Quarry] and it is this plant which would be used to process the Straitgate minerals. 3.14
Since then, questions were raised by DCC and by us about the sustainability of processing Straitgate material with mobile plant, and AI has subsequently secured the capital investment necessary to move in the more appropriate fixed plant from Blackhill. In its Reg 22 response to the Straitgate application last year, AI expected that:
the plant will be installed and operational by mid-late 2018... when, subject to planning, mineral would begin to be imported from Straitgate Farm into Hillhead Quarry.
What else is available to AI when Houndaller runs out? AI’s Reg22 response again tells us:
Beyond this, the land 'West of Penslade Cross' which is a 'Preferred Area' in the adopted Devon Minerals Plan (2011-2033) provides a further allocation of mineral reserves of up to 8 million tonnes. If permitted, these additional mineral reserves would extend the life of Hillhead Quarry by a further 20 years, or so.
So you can see why AI would want to site the Blackhill plant at Hillhead. What will be harder for people to see is why the 1 million tonnes (or is it even less now?) of sand and gravel at Straitgate Farm - an uneconomic 23 miles away and less than 10% of what's next-door to Hillhead - is worth the candle?

Meanwhile, for those following events at Blackhill, the photo below shows what the plant area currently looks like. It was due to have been restored to nature by now, but is instead facing an unwelcome planning application from Clinton Devon Estates - as posted in Why does quarrying have such a bad name? Take a look at Blackhill and Objections mount for CDE’s planning application for Blackhill Quarry. Bear in mind, DCC has agreed an extended restoration timetable with AI:
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.

Friday, 27 April 2018

March rainfall will have put AI’s quarry plans even further under water

Groundwater levels from Straitgate Farm’s network of piezometers, which were read this week by Aggregate Industries’ water consultants, are back up to 2014 levels. This spells more problems for AI.

AI is now in its 6th year of groundwater monitoring at Straitgate. Long enough for AI’s water consultants, who started off as AMEC, and then Amec Foster Wheeler, to now be part of the Wood Group.

This extended monitoring programme is not of AI’s choosing. Both the company and its consultants have found the hydrogeology in and around Straitgate Farm much more complicated than initially expected. Monitoring started with just 6 piezometers, and now there are 18. This is all before the winning of any sand and gravel, and all before the monitoring that would have to continue for the lifetime of any quarry.

Anyway, even in this 6th year, AI still has problems.

It’s hardly surprising therefore that water levels around Straitgate have bounced back up to 2014 levels.

It was in 2014 that the maximum groundwater levels were recorded at 6 locations around Straitgate Farm. Consultants extrapolated these levels across nearly 60 acres to produce a guesstimate of a maximum winter water table (MWWT) and - because AI’s plan is to quarry dry, not to quarry below the MWWT - the proposed base to any quarry at Straitgate Farm; a proposed base that does not incorporate the typical 1m unquarried buffer above the MWWT to protect surrounding water supplies.

We say a guesstimate - because no-one knows whether we’ve yet seen the highest rainfall since monitoring started, in our increasingly changeable climate, and no-one knows the accuracy of AFW’s 60 acre prediction; the 1m buffer would ordinarily have allowed for such matters. AI has done away with this safety margin because, of course, it’s in the company’s interest to have the MWWT as low as possible, since it defines how much resource is recoverable and how much money it can make.

AFW has claimed that the current MWWT "builds in a conservatism" and has been "defined with confidence" - but to date AFW has refused to indicate how much conservatism or what that level of confidence is, in number terms, in +/- m terms. In February, the EA asked yet again:
We recommend that a description of tolerance levels is therefore requested again from the applicant to support the planning application and to provide clarity in advance of the Planning Committee.
It’s an important subject - when so many private drinking water supplies are at risk, when water to wetland habitats in ancient woodland is at risk, when water to a number of livestock farms is at risk, and when water to mediaeval fishponds at Grade I Cadhay is at risk.

AFW - now Wood - will analyse the borehole readings in due course.

The results may hold more interest than usual. In February, and even though AFW’s MWWT had supposedly been "defined with confidence", we posted that New borehole readings put base of planned quarry at Straitgate 1M BELOW WATER, specifically that PZ2017/02 was already at a level close to the modelled MWWT, and:
the MWWT at PZ2017/03 has been modelled ONE METRE BELOW current levels.

Since then "Devon had its fourth wettest March since 1910" and one of the boreholes read this week has risen 2.8m.

Elevated readings from these two piezometers have the capacity to significantly lift the guesstimated MWWT across a large portion of the proposed quarry, thereby again reducing the potential resource.

With modified boundaries and elevated floors, it’s about time AI told people how many tonnes it now expects for all this fuss; in other words, the ever decreasing benefit to weigh against the ever lengthening list of problems.

Hertford Bengeo quarry application rejected again by Hertfordshire County Council

An application for a 1.25 million tonne sand and gravel quarry on the outskirts of Hertford has been turned down again. The Planning Inspectorate will now make the final decision. Read more here:
Dr David Adam, an ecologist from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, spoke against the application, telling councillors that particles from the quarry travel far further than its limits and posed a significant health risk.
He said: "Crystalline silica particles are known carcinogens, for that reason they are very safely controlled as an environmental hazard by the Health and Safety Executive.
"They will put safety measures in place to make sure workers aren't exposed too much. These particles are known to be found within a few hundred metres. That would include the play ground and the playing field for Bengeo Primary School.
"You are asking people who have none of the benefits to take all of the risk."

‘New Exeter wonder invention to revolutionise building’

... reports DevonLive. Researchers from the University of Exeter have developed a technique that incorporates graphene into concrete.
The construction industry’s carbon footprint is a major concern with the world’s rapid move to a largely urban population. Already cement production accounts for around 7% of global carbon emissions.
Researchers from the University of Exeter developed a technique that uses nanoengineering technology to incorporate graphene into concrete.
"By including graphene we can reduce the amount of materials required to make concrete by around 50% leading to a significant reduction of carbon emissions."
Further details can be found in The Guardian: Graphene 'a game-changer' in making building with concrete greener. The University of Exeter research is contained in a paper entitled "Ultrahigh Performance nanoengineered Graphene-Concrete Composites for Multifunctional Applications".

Monday, 23 April 2018

The terrible human cost of LafargeHolcim’s operations

Five years ago we posted about Holcim and human rights. Since then Holcim has merged with Lafarge. LafargeHolcim is the world's largest cement producer. It is the parent company of Aggregate Industries, and the ultimate beneficiary of any quarrying at Straitgate Farm. Its operations impact lives - both outside the company and within it.

It is widely accepted that the cement industry is one of the world's most polluting - producing 5-8% of global greenhouse gas emissions; it is widely accepted that:
climate change is one of the greatest threats to human rights of our generation, posing a serious risk to the fundamental rights to life, health, food and an adequate standard of living of individuals and communities across the world.
If it were a country, LafargeHolcim would rank 42nd in terms of CO2 emissions; ahead of the Czech Republic and Belgium; nearly 3 times the emissions of Switzerland - the country where it is based. According to Mark Kenber, former CEO of Climate Group:
But the pollution from cement manufacture, and LafargeHolcim’s record on CO2 emissions, is well known. Less well known is the number of people who lose their life whilst working for the company.

LafargeHolcim makes a lot of claims about Health and Safety; how "Health & Safety is embedded in LafargeHolcim’s operations"; how "At LafargeHolcim, we believe that "if we’re good in safety, then we’re good in business""; how "Health & Safety is our overarching value":

But what is LafargeHolcim’s record on Health and Safety?

LafargeHolcim’s involvement in Syria has been the subject of a number of posts. Executives stand accused of financing terrorism and sacrificing the safety of workers. A number have been charged, including the company’s previous CEO. Another executive was charged recently with 'endangering lives'.

But it’s not just in Syria where lives have been endangered and lost. A staggering 201 people have lost their lives whilst working for LafargeHolcim over the past 3 years - 50 in 2015, 86 in 2016 and 65 in 2017- including direct employees, contractors and subcontractors.

Unions claim LafargeHolcim has "the worst health and safety performance in the industry". They had demanded action and a Global Framework Agreement. However, earlier this year:
We are outraged that LafargeHolcim has broken its word and refuses to meet its commitment to sign a GFA. A GFA would help to build positive industrial relations throughout the company and address some of the company’s most serious problems, including an excessive reliance on precarious work and the high number of workers killed at your operations every year.
If an airline had lost 201 lives in a plane crash it would be all over the news. Why isn’t this?

IndustriALL Global Union

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Determination date for AI’s Straitgate Farm planning application extended yet again

Aggregate Industries must have a Standing Order with DCC for planning application extensions.

Remember, the idea is to 'front-load' planning applications; to engage in discussions and work out what information is required prior to lodging a planning application - not, as in AI’s case, afterwards.

It’s not as though AI hasn't had the time; it bought the farm back in 1965, and has applied for planning permission twice before the latest application in March 2017. Last month we posted Three years on and yet more delays, and this week AI duly agreed yet another extension of the determination date:
... from 30th April 2018 to 1st August 2018
Will this be the last one? Who knows? AI is no doubt hoping to at least hit the DMC date of 25 July, but still has work to do. Last month, DCC said that information was still outstanding on ecology, hydrogeology and highways. On the latter, DCC has requested a new Transport Assessment to deal with, amongst other things, junction designs and cattle crossings:
We have advised the applicant that they should submit a revised TA rather than another amendment to ensure that the TA is clear and up to date.
Will AI bother to count the traffic this time, after the previous work of fiction? Again, who knows? The last traffic count on this stretch of the B3174 was commissioned by Highways England back in 2015, and excludes traffic from the extensive new housing that has subsequently been built in Ottery St Mary.

On hydrogeology, DCC and the EA are still awaiting information requested in February. Boreholes around the site will be read again towards the end of this month. Results may be interesting given that:
and given that a month or two earlier:

‘Cement companies must double emission cuts to deliver Paris Agreement’

Various news agencies picked up on the story; Forbes reported that:
Making cement is one of the most polluting activities on the planet when it comes to greenhouse gases and if companies do not reduce their emissions much more effectively in coming years, they are likely to face much tougher regulation
LafargeHolcim, parent company of Aggregate Industries, is the world's largest cement producer. AI is now a cement producer itself, and claims:

AI may have defined specific targets - but not enough to stop it wanting to put a massive 2.5 million HGV CO2-belching miles on Devon’s roads for its Straitgate Farm proposal alone; not enough to stop its record on emissions looking like this:

It wasn't so very long ago that we posted about the ‘Cement sector obstructing climate policy for windfall profits’.

Carbon Market Watch
More recently, it was reported:
Greenhouse gas emissions regulated by the EU's Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) have risen for the first time in seven years… Much of the emissions growth was driven by industrial manufacturers, particularly in the cement sector, which saw emissions jump 1.8 per cent to 799 million tonnes last year.
For a safe climate we need all governments to aim for cutting pollution to net zero levels by 2050.
Accountability is coming.

Output slides again in construction industry ‘underpinned by modern-day slavery’

According to the ONS, February 2018 saw another substantial fall in UK construction output the worst annual fall since 2013. Surveyors report that the housing market is no better, and issue the most downbeat outlook for five years.

It's not a pretty picture, and even less so knowing that UK charities recently reported that:
Modern-day slavery underpins Britain’s construction industry where tens of thousands of European migrants work in dangerous conditions without pay or a proper contract and suffer verbal abuse and beatings
The UK construction industry "is one of the sectors where modern slavery is most likely to be prevalent":
much of the construction industry is still in denial ... and has been lagging behind the food and apparel sectors (in addressing modern slavery)

It’s a problem that has not gone unnoticed by Aggregate Industries. AI’s Head of Sustainability commented:
A sustainable supply chain is critical to the success of our organisation as a whole. How can we be truly sustainable if the businesses that constitute our supply chain aren’t?

‘Mineral Planning - Current threats’

For any reader enthused by the exciting world of mineral planning - here’s the industry’s perspective:

Judicial Review is obviously seen as a threat by both operators and councils, and crops up a couple of times during the presentation.

The Mineral Products Association, in its 6th Annual Mineral Planning Survey Report 2017, also bemoans the time it takes to win planning consent, and reckons that "Typically, it takes between 5 to 15 years to convert sites from exploration into active operational sites."

If operators are anything like Aggregate Industries, we can see why. At Straitgate Farm, exploration started in the 1960s - and in 2018 the company is still asking for extensions of time.

Monday, 9 April 2018

HGVs kill disproportionate number of cyclists. AI tells children to #getonyourbike

London Cycling Campaign
HGVs kill cyclists. In London it was found that:
In the UK as a whole:
A report from the European Road Safety Observatory, which gathers evidence on road safety for the European Commission, revealed that of the 4021 fatalities involving HGVs on European roads in 2013, only 15% were the HGV occupants. Car occupants represented 48%, while 32% were pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists or moped riders. Across the EU, only 15% of HGV fatalities are on the motorway, with 58% on rural roads, and 26% in urban areas.
We’ve posted on HGVs and cyclists before. We’ve asked What’s AI doing to improve truck safety?

Some think the increase in HGV numbers is to blame for the sudden drop in cyclist numbers. In 2015, whilst lorry traffic increased by 3.7% - "the fastest year-on-year growth in lorry miles since the 1980s" - bicycle traffic was down 6.1% - "the first downward turn in cycling miles in almost a decade." A Senior Transport Lecturer at the University of Westminster warned:
To see an upturn again, we shouldn’t just be focusing on designing the roads differently, we should also be looking to design out the scary moments. If people feel constantly comfortable when they’re cycling, they’ll be more likely to want to get on their bikes.

One of the problems is blind spots. None of these cyclists can be seen by the lorry driver:

A team at Loughborough university found that vehicles used on construction sites had a “blind spot” almost three times larger than other types of lorries which had lower cabs and bigger windows.
It is not safe for HGVs with blind spots to share the roads with pedestrians and cyclists and priority must be given to the safety of vulnerable road users. Are we doing enough to reduce the risks that pedestrians and cyclists need to take during everyday commuting? Looking at the accident rates it is obvious that we are not!
Aggregate Industries' business is reliant on HGVs - with all their blind spots - carting material around the country. In January, the company warned "cycling safety issue needs to be fast-tracked… to reduce and prevent future accidents between cyclists and lorry drivers".

Less than three months later, however, this same company - with no doubt all the same HGV blind spots still on the roads - has launched a campaign to "to encourage school children to cycle".

What’s behind AI’s push for more youngsters to cycle, when many parents view roads as unsafe - particularly because of HGVs - with generally little or no suitable cycle provision? What makes AI, a purveyor of heavy building materials, qualified to hand out public health advice? You may well ask.

François Pétry, CEO of Aggregate Industries, says:
Cycling is a fun and easy way to keep fit and get outdoors. Using it as a mode of transport, such as cycling to school, also means you’re doing your bit to help the environment and cut down car journeys. That’s why we’re encouraging young people to ‘get on your bike’ and make cycling a part of their weekly routines and summer holiday activities.
Of course, AI’s a fine one to talk about "doing your bit to help the environment and cut down car journeys", as it pushes an application to put 2.5 million needless HGV miles on Devon’s roads.

But getting more young cyclists on the road is an admirable aim, especially if you can sell more "cycleway solutions":
A great example of this is the use of our innovative cycleway solutions, through our Charcon brand, which have been employed by numerous councils across the country as part of an investment in a segregation systems - in order to safely separate cyclists from key traffic blind spots
Getting more young cyclists on the road is an admirable aim - if it wasn’t for HGVs like this:

Or this:

UK construction suffers biggest drop in activity since Brexit vote

More bad news for the construction industry:

Looking ahead, it will continue to be a challenging market, as the uncertainty of Brexit causes a lack of confidence to invest here.


As a tailpiece to the post What’s Straitgate Farm worth to AI?, an article Building growth on aggregates by Breedon’s CEO appeared coincidentally a couple of days later; Breedon is a competitor to Aggregate Industries and has been buying up mineral reserves and resources across the country:
These carefully planned tactical investments in our aggregates business ensured that by the end of last year, Breedon had around 750Mt of reserves and resources at its disposal, enough to last well over 40 years at current rates of extraction.
To put a picture on some of those reserves, this is one of Breedon’s quarries - at Breedon on the Hill. For those interested in our historic landscape, and what we've done to it:
On top of the hill is The Bulwarks Iron Age hill fort, within which is Breedon's historic Church of England parish church.
In the words of Historic England, The Bulwarks is an:
Iron Age univallate hillfort built C2nd BC refortified prior to Roman conquest although stockaded enclosure may have preceded first phase. Surviving as earthwork largely mutilated by quarrying.

Monday, 2 April 2018

AI cuts down ‘compensation’ planting; so where does that leave protected species?

Four years ago, Aggregate Industries planted some trees around Straitgate Farm in an effort to compensate for the ancient hedgerows and veteran trees that would be lost if quarrying took place. The trees were meant to provide replacement habitat for protected dormice. This is what they look like now:

They had previously looked like this:

We said at the time that the planting was presumptuous and 20 years too late. The area set aside for planting was also woefully inadequate.

As it turned out, AI failed to consult Exeter Airport on the issue, and planted the majority of these trees in the wrong place. In 2015, Exeter Airport advised:
Any tree and hedge planting should be restricted to the far eastern side of the site and below the 135mAOD contour ensuring trees are not allowed to grow to a height that will cause OLS penetration issues in future years.
Tree management and planting should be carried out following the guidance in the attached EDAL tree planting plan to ensure no further penetrations of the Obstacle limitation surfaces.

As a result, AI’s Reg22 Ecology Response admitted:
6,000 m2 (0.6 ha) of advance woodland planting within the application boundary will be removed due to issues relating to Exeter Airport. 2.1.5
However, if you look at the above plan you will see that Exeter Airport advised AI to remove only the trees in the red circle, and control the height of the remainder. Perversely, AI has chopped down ALL the trees and shrubs in both the red AND the orange areas.

It’s a shambles. If we can’t trust AI to do a simple job like managing tree planting in the right place, how can we trust it to dig in the right place, or more specifically for the protection of people’s water supplies, dig to the right depth? We digress.

Last year DCC’s Reg22 Request said:
The MPA must ensure that the application provides sufficient compensatory habitat for loss of species rich / ecologically valuable hedges and associated species. As a dormouse licence is required from NE [Natural England] we need to be sure that the three Habitats Regulations tests will be met and that it is likely that NE will issue a licence. Please can the applicant provide information to evidence that the favourable conservation test will be met and that they believe that NE will issue a licence.
In relation to the Habitats Regulations tests, AI’s consultants argued that:
With regard to Test 3 consideration of dormouse has taken place since 2014 with supplementary planting of new woodland and hedgerows. These have developed significantly since being planted, with the latter already suitable for dormice. It is likely the woodland will take a couple of years before it too will suitable for this species.
Well, as of last week, the majority of the supplementary planting of 2014 has gone. So, where does that now leave protected species, Test 3* and the likelihood of Natural England issuing a dormouse licence?

No doubt all will be cunningly explained in due course. AI has recently been planting some saplings, below 135m AOD, in an effort to make up for what has been and would be lost, but it will again be many years before these develop into anything useful.

Remember, this is the same company that wants to establish itself as "true advocates of biodiversity":
Quite simply, biodiversity matters to us. As part of our overall Sustainability Policy we were clear about how we wish to manage our impact on nature. We stated that we would "manage our land holdings so that biodiversity is protected and enhanced, where practicable, throughout our operations and is considered in our site restoration schemes." Never has this been more true.

But if biodiversity mattered to AI, wouldn't it have come up with more than the derisory amount of established compensation planting so far offered for the loss of irreplaceable habitat for protected dormice and bats?

If biodiversity mattered to AI, why is Devon Wildlife Trust concerned that restoration proposals at Straitgate "will need many years to reach a state in which they can perform a meaningful part of the ecological network of this area"?

If biodiversity mattered to AI, why has the People's Trust for Endangered Species objected to the Straitgate application, reminding us that "Compensation planting... for losses of irreplaceable habitat should be at a ratio in the region of 30 – 1"?

Quite simply, AI talks big but has failed to deliver anything close to the required amount of compensation planting. Quite simply, AI has had years to get this planting in place. Quite simply, "if your actions do not prove the truth of your words, then your words are nothing more than lies" - as the famous saying goes.

* Natural England Guidance Note: "the action authorised will not be detrimental to the maintenance of the population of the species concerned at a favourable conservation status in their natural range"19.

What’s Straitgate Farm worth to AI?

It’s a question we get asked a lot. In the scheme of things, the resource does seem pathetically small in comparison with the amount of money the company appears willing to throw at it. The saleable sand and gravel resource claimed to be at Straitgate Farm is little over a million tonnes. Each as-dug tonne would necessitate the additional cost of being hauled 23 miles away for processing.

Over the years that Aggregate Industries has been messing about with Straitgate, Breedon - a competitor run by ex-AI people - has instead been buying up mineral reserves and resources. Some of the numbers give a clue as to what Straitgate Farm might be worth, at least in terms of its minerals.
2017 Acquisition of assets from Tarmac Holdings Limited... for a total consideration of £16.5 million... adding approximately 25 million tonnes to the Group's mineral reserves.
2017 Acquisition of Humberside Aggregates Limited... for a total consideration of £9.0 million... It has approximately 3.1 million tonnes of mineral reserves, with the potential to secure additional reserves in the future.
2016 Acquisition of the Sherburn Minerals Group... for a total consideration of up to £15.7 million... It has in excess of 21 million tonnes of mineral reserves and resources.
2014 Acquisition of Barr Quarries Ltd... for £20.8 million in cash... It has approximately 57 million tonnes of mineral reserves and resources.
2014 Acquisition of Huntsman's Quarries... for a cash consideration of £15 million... Naunton has planned mineral reserves of 4 million tonnes and potential further resources of 6 million tonnes.
2013 Acquisition of assets from Marshalls PLC... The final consideration will be up to £19.0 million... The Quarries will provide an additional 13 million tonnes of mineral reserves and resources to the Group and the potential for additional mineral prospects of 5 million tonnes.