Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Has AI failed to grasp the severity of the Silverstone track debacle?

Twitter users have been speculating on the fallout at Aggregate Industries following the cancellation of the British Grand Prix MotoGP event at Silverstone on Sunday – as "a direct result" of the new track surface laid by the company earlier in the year – with comments like: "People should be losing their jobs over this!!" and "Oh to be a fly on the wall at @AggregateUK this fine day" etc.

You might have expected – if you were a fly on the wall – that all hands would have been on deck at the company’s Asphalt Division on the first morning back to work after the Silverstone fiasco – in an attempt to stem the company’s global PR disaster. But perhaps AI hasn’t quite grasped the severity of the situation – if this tweet, by the Business Manager at Aggregate Industries Express Asphalt (Midlands) no less, is anything to go by.

Not phased by the tidal wave of criticism and ridicule on Twitter, and with no words of apology to 122,000 MotoGP fans, or to riders injured after aquaplaning off the track, he found time during his frantic schedule to take to social media and tweet:

Which is surprising, when others are still tweeting things like this:

Monday, 27 August 2018

AI secures global publicity – in the world of motorsport

Aggregate Industries resurfaced the Silverstone circuit earlier in the year in a multi-million pound deal. The company was not shy of promoting the fact on social media:

But the crowing has backfired – big time.

In July, Lewis Hamilton slammed the new surface as "wasted money, which could've gone to much better use":

It's bumpier than the Nordschleife, which is 100 years old. It's rattling your freaking eyeballs out of your brain.
Apart from that it's fantastic but jeez, they need to hire someone better. I don't know how you could do such a bad job in layering the track.
But this weekend, publicity for AI got a whole lot worse.

Silverstone’s new asphalt was branded a 'disaster' by MotoGP riders after the opening day of the British Grand Prix. There was chaos as rider after rider came off in the rain during practice on Saturday, with the bumpy surface being blamed for water retention and aquaplaning. One rider suffered a badly broken leg. British MotoGP rider Cal Crutchlow – who apparently gave AI a πŸ‘ in the tweet above – told the Independent:
We’ve seen today that it’s worse than last year, even though the track’s been resurfaced... I have no idea why but there’s a lot of bumps on the track.
Other MotoGP riders were also "very critical about the new Silverstone tarmac".

Remedial work on the surface was undertaken overnight, but to no avail. The track couldn't handle the British weather, and on Sunday:

A record attendance of 122,000 fans, who had patiently waited hours for the race to start, were left disappointed and angry. According to the BBC – "British Grand Prix: MotoGP boss blames new Silverstone track for cancellation" – Silverstone's management will launch an investigation:
We will be reviewing all the data we have on the track and gathering more, and together with the contractor, Aggregate Industries, a full investigation will be carried out.
The Twittersphere played host to thousands of angry fans; angry at AI, and looking for refunds.

Meanwhile, jokers on Twitter thought AI should stick to driveways in future, or swimming pools. The company attracted a variety of memes; here's a small assortment for your enjoyment:

CDE’s planning application for Blackhill Quarry recommended for approval

Clinton Devon Estates' controversial planning application for 35,000 sq ft of industrial floor space at Blackhill Quarry in the East Devon AONB – in an area that was meant to be restored back to heathland – has been recommended by East Devon District Council officers for approval.

For those concerned at this continued industrialisation of Woodbury Common, the application will be determined on 4 September 2018 at 10am at EDDC Council Offices in Sidmouth.

EDDC planners reckon, in the officer’s report, that:
The existing quarry site is served by a dedicated access from the B3180 that allows vehicles to enter and leave via different carriageways that are adjacent to each other, this arrangement would continue for the proposal. When it was operating the aggregate industries trip generation produced around 320 heavy goods vehicle movements per day (160 inbound and 160 outbound) together with vehicle movements for Blackhill Engineering, the proposals would produce around 134 vehicle movements (117 inbound and 117 outbound), being a mixture of cars and heavy goods vehicles, thus resulting in a reduced number of vehicle movements to and from the site. On this basis the proposal would accord with Policy TC7 of the EDDC Local Plan and the guidance contained in Paragraph 109 of the revised NPPF as the residual cumulative impacts on the road network would not be severe.
But whether it's an indication of the care EDDC has taken in assessing this application, or whether the figures presented by CDE have caused confusion, readers will see that "(117 inbound and 117 outbound)" does not equate to "134 vehicle movements".

More importantly, however, the proposal would represent major development in an AONB. On this, the new NPPF is clear:
172. Great weight should be given to conserving and enhancing landscape and scenic beauty in National Parks, the Broads and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which have the highest status of protection in relation to these issues… Planning permission should be refused for major development other than in exceptional circumstances, and where it can be demonstrated that the development is in the public interest.
EDDC obviously doesn’t care about great weight, or have any idea what exceptional means. It says:
It is considered that an exceptional circumstances case can be made given the economic benefits from the expansion of the business on the local economy and through the support that the business will be able to give to the construction of one of the country’s largest construction sites at Hinkley Point C. In addition, there are not considered to be any wider effects on the environment, particularly given the mitigation proposed, and officers are satisfied that there are no alternative site or viable ways of providing an expansion to the business outside of the AONB.
However, it defies belief that there are no alternative commercial facilities nearby, with the city of Exeter, for example, on Blackhill Engineering’s doorstep.

It goes without saying that this sort of thing is obviously the motivation for Aggregate Industries at Straitgate Farm too. It can’t be interested in the inconsequential amount of sand and gravel on offer (23 miles away from its processing plant) or on restoring the defiled site back to farmland. Flogging off the site afterwards for industrial development, on the other hand, makes far more sense.

The future for sand and gravel production

If flatlining sales figures, planning difficulties and rising energy costs are anything to go by, the business outlook for UK sand and gravel production is not spectacular.

Elsewhere in the world there are other problems, with looming shortages of sand – Germany being the latest country to declare problems:
Germany desperately needs more sand for industry. But a lack of planning foresight, the politics around mining sites and the needs of coastal communities are making the search ever grittier.
Experts are even talking about reaching "peak sand".

In recognition of these difficulties, and the need to move towards a circular economy, more and more construction waste is thankfully being recycled. Only last week, the UK's largest recycling plant for construction and demolition waste opened in West Lothian, which promises to turn 400,000 tonnes of construction, demolition and excavation waste per year into sand and gravel.

The new facility supports the Scottish government’s circular economy strategy ‘Making Things Last’, which aims to secure 70% recycling of construction and demolition waste by 2020.
"This new plant should act as a game-changer for the construction industry, by saving money for our customers and ensuring they can dispose of their construction and demolition waste in a cost-effective and sustainable way."
Devon, meanwhile, is not short of sand and gravel resources. There is, in fact, no current need for any new greenfield sand and gravel quarry sites.

Devon's permitted sand and gravel reserves at the end of 2017 stood at over 6 million tonnes, which provides a landbank of 12 years.

Two thirds of this reserve sits at Hillhead near Uffculme – the new location of AI’s sand and gravel processing plant. The Devon Minerals Plan than runs until 2033 has allocated another 8 million tonnes of sand and gravel resource next door to this plant. In total, that’s enough material for the next 27 years at the current rate of demand.

But Aggregate Industries is not content with that. It wants the resource at Straitgate Farm too.

How much resource is at Straitgate? Somewhere less than a million tonnes, but neither AI nor DCC could tell you exactly, because up-to-date drawings and resource calculations – accommodating recent higher groundwater levels – will not be made available before determination, at least according to AI and the Environment Agency.

AI claims "Sustainability is at the heart of our business", but in reality the company wants to squander the resource at Straitgate in the most unsustainable fashion – embedding 58 climate-unfriendly miles for each processed load prior to onward distribution – preventing the next generation from having any opportunity to benefit from the material in a more sustainable and environmentally conscious manner.

It’s crazy. But that’s the world of Minerals Planning in Devon for you.

Responding to public feedback on quarry plans: compare and contrast

Aggregate Industries has now had a couple of rounds of public exhibitions and consultations regarding its plans for a quarry at Straitgate Farm.

How much difference has feedback from the public made to AI's plans? Zilch. AI's ears were closed; they were just tick-box exercises. Section 7 of the Supporting Statement gives you the company's view.

Elsewhere, members of the minerals industry have been talking amongst themselves. On the subject of Community involvement:
The conference concluded with Dr Hazel Gibson from the University of Plymouth who explained her research into understanding public perceptions of controversial geosciences.
She warned that early community involvement was key to avoiding the potential for the debate to become negative and confrontational very quickly.
Is Hills Quarry Products' document below an example of what Dr Gibson meant, when she spoke about early community involvement?

Consider "You spoke, we listened...", regarding a quarry proposal in Oxfordshire, in comparison with AI's efforts at Straitgate Farm and the lack of any meaningful modifications following public consultation. Go to the last page of the document to see "What changed as a result of pre-planning consultation?" If it's all true, then it puts AI to shame.

Friday, 17 August 2018

What’s the chance that AI would stop digging when it gets to the water table?

To be fair, it’s not just Aggregate Industries that breaches planning conditions – the whole industry is at it.

Quarrying has a bad name – it is the most unpopular form of development… twice as many people would be prepared to support fracking in their area rather than a quarry. It's hardly surprising when quarry companies flout planning conditions.

Just last week, the Environment Agency attended with police to issue a stop notice at a quarry in Hertfordshire that was operating more than 3x the number of HGV movements permitted. Elsewhere, other companies breach conditions for mud on the road or operating trucks without sheeting.

At Straitgate Farm, AI is wanting permission to dig down to the water table – without leaving the typical 1m unquarried buffer to protect surrounding private water supplies.

This would be subject to a planning condition. But what’s the chance that AI would stop digging when it gets to the water table?

Here are some examples of how much notice the industry takes of planning conditions and water tables:
County councillor for the area, Steven Bridgett, said: “The head of planning has been contacted about this numerous times and her department has failed to act. These residents have had no basic water supply for in excess of 13 months. A county council spokesman said the site was being investigated. He added: “The investigations identified that planning conditions were not being met and parts of the quarry had been excavated below permitted levels. Formal enforcement action was subsequently taken by the council.”
Had the council taken its enforcement responsibility seriously, the breach of the water table would not have arisen, he said. The breach, with possible consequences of polluted water leaching off the lands into water courses and either affecting other private land owners, the public water supply or the natural environment, was “of serious consequence”. Quarrying has now ceased, KQL has surrendered the license and left the property which, the judge said, includes two very deep lakes dug by KQL “with no regard to the planning permission”.
The first notice claimed that the sand was being extracted at a depth below that specified in the planning permission. This meant that it breached the level of the water table and allowed freestanding pools of water to be formed within parts of the site. The second notice stated that the mineral was being mined outside of the defined area covered by the permission and the council alleged that this involved an area of approximately two hectares.
Galway City Council informed councillors late last week that it has initiated legal proceedings against Lackagh Quarries over a breach in the water table at its Coolough/Ballindooley site.A report circulated to councillors by the local authority late last week said that the company had quarried to a depth of 2.48m (10ft) below the 15-metre Ordnum Datum levels approved in the planning conditions.
The DoE say the quarry owners breached their planning permission and may have damaged the lake's water supply.
Development was not considered to be compliant with the condition at the time of the site monitoring visit… It would appear that mineral extraction has progressed below the winter water table.
Evidently you can’t trust mineral operators. On groundwater, AI's Sustainability Report 2013 claimed:

But locally, at Blackhill, AI failed to comply with a S106 agreement for water monitoring – for years.

So why should people trust AI with planning conditions? Or the Council to enforce them for that matter?

EA: “Prevention is far better than cure!”

Water has been very much in the news this summer. Devon's Burrator Reservoir, which serves Plymouth, fell to 41% capacity in July, against 85% at the same time the year before.

Image: Alex Hillman

Meanwhile, Aggregate Industries' consultants visited East Devon again this week to upload groundwater data from Straitgate Farm's array of piezometers. Despite the heatwave and extended dry spell, the level of groundwater in at least one of the boreholes was significantly higher than last August.

"Groundwater is an important strategic resource", according to the Environment Agency:
Compared to surface water, groundwater is often relatively well protected from pollution by the overlying layers of soil and rock. Water passing through these layers is naturally filtered and many pollutants are degraded during the slow passage to the water table. This helps to maintain the relatively good quality of groundwater. This is important both for water-dependent flora and fauna, and for the use of groundwater as a source of drinking water.
At Straitgate, AI wants to remove all the "overlying layers of soil and rock" above the maximum winter water table, leaving groundwater vulnerable to pollution.

The EA warns:
If human activities do pollute groundwater, it is very difficult to return it to its original condition. Processes that take days or weeks in surface water systems may take decades to centuries in groundwater. This is because of the relatively slow rates of groundwater flow and the reduced microbiological activity below the soil zone (due to the general lack of oxygen and nutrients).

Protecting groundwater is essential. The subsurface environment is inaccessible and complex. Groundwater pollution can be very difficult to detect and may not become evident until a water supply or spring is affected. Pollutants may take months or years to migrate from the source to a receptor or to a point where they can be detected.

We must all work together to reduce the risk and therefore the occurrence of groundwater contamination. Trying to clean up groundwater is technically difficult and attempting to do so may even make matters worse... Prevention is far better than cure!
Many local people therefore wonder why the EA is not showing more concern over AI's unorthodox and unproven seasonal working scheme; a scheme that the EA initially believed left a 1m unquarried safety margin, but in reality – after months of obfuscation from AI – was shown to leave no material above the maximum water table, and therefore no safety margin.

‘UK Government buried fracking pollution warning’

A UK government report concluding that shale gas extraction increases air pollution was left unpublished for three years and only released four days after ministers approved fracking in Lancashire, it has emerged.
Professor Paul Monks, chairman of the [Air Quality Expert Group], said: "The thing that surprised me was you think the main sources of air pollution are going to be coming from the actual process of fracking, but it is as much all the industry – diesel generators, lorries running up and down roads, and all the stuff used to support it. If you have any industrial process at a local level you are going to get an impact on air quality." It is estimated the UK could eventually have 12,500 fracking wells.
Two doctors have used an open letter to question Energy Minister Claire Perry's ethics and ask whether local people were being "used as guinea pigs".

When an East Devon minerals site loses the benefit of restoration

Earlier this month we posted that Aggregate Industries’ planning application to retain its asphalt plant at Rockbeare – the plant operating without permission since 2014 – had finally been approved.

This area has now lost the benefit of being restored back to woodland, as had previously been agreed, and AI will pay £10k to DCC, to "provide for compensatory work in a location yet to be determined" on "appropriate biodiversity project(s)... sought by the County Ecologist"; it’s an example of biodiversity offsetting, or as some would argue "a licence to trash nature".

DCC now has funding for woodland planting, "ideally in the Newton Abbot / Bovey area."

LafargeHolcim is in trouble again, this time in Indonesia

The parent company of Aggregate Industries is no stranger to controversy. We’ve posted that LafargeHolcim has "a long history of environmental violations"; we’ve posted about the terrible human cost of LafargeHolcim’s operations; we’ve posted that Lafarge has been charged with 'complicity in crimes against humanity'.

The latest incident to befall LafargeHolcim has left a beach in Indonesia covered in coal:
Because the company failed to respond immediately, the coal has polluted the beach and damaged the coral.
This has badly affected the livelihoods of the fishermen and locals who depend on tourism.

Because accidents will happen; we've posted about this before:
If quarrying took place at Straitgate, we would be entrusting the wellbeing of Cadhay's mediaeval fishponds and ancient woodland – irreplaceable assets – into the hands of a profit-hungry multinational. If that doesn't scare people, then they are not thinking hard enough.
This is a photograph of Cadhay's mediaeval fishponds:

UK sand and gravel sales still at recession levels

Ten years on from the financial turmoil of 2008 and the start of the ensuing recession, and despite house-building swallowing irreplaceable amounts of farmland, sales of sand and gravel have still not recovered – according to the MPA.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Is this heading for an almighty stitch-up?

What is a quarry planning application, if it is not about knowing the area and depth of the proposed hole – so that environmental impacts can be properly assessed, so that the available resource is known, so that councillors can make an informed decision BEFORE they cast their vote?

Nonetheless, put yourself in Aggregate Industries’ shoes. You’ve been trying to design a workable quarry at Straitgate Farm since 2012 – trying to overcome a multitude of water constraints (vis-Γ -vis private water users, flooding, airport safeguarding, wetland habitats in ancient woodland, listed mediaeval fishponds), producing numerous revisions, all the time monitoring groundwater levels to determine and confirm the depth of extraction – and then in 2018 you get results you don’t like. Results that blow a hole in your consultants’ predictions. Results that necessitate the extraction area to be reduced and the extraction depth to be raised. Results that necessitate infiltration areas to be moved. Results that lead to a reduction in the available resource and the overall benefit of the application.

You face a dilemma. Do you revise your plans, so that councillors and the public can see exactly what is intended, or do you do some deal behind-closed-doors to agree to sort out all those messy details post-determination, out of the eyes of public scrutiny; the messy details that you haven’t been able to resolve in the previous six years?

Yep, you’ve guessed it. As of last month it appears that AI is taking the latter route.

Despite recent groundwater levels that put AI’s quarry plans for Straitgate Farm underwater, last month AI confirmed that it will not be submitting revised plans "following discussion with the EA and DCC". The Environment Agency also confirmed that the agency does not intend to ask for revised plans prior to determination - only "immediately before operation of the quarry begins".

What does DCC say about the matter?
I have asked AI and the EA to discuss the groundwater situation and if the final working “grid” which the EA has asked them for affects the working area then amended plans will be required.
And even though the EA confirmed in June:
The large circle cut out of the quarry area in the 1967 plan is in the area where groundwater levels are close to the ground surface. Therefore, working in part of this area may not be possible in any case
and even though the EA confirmed last month:
If the maximum water level in any of the piezometers exceeds the height of the MWWT grid then the MWWT grid shall be updated using that data
and even though groundwater levels have indeed already exceeded the Maximum Winter Water Table in 4 piezometers, DCC still maintains:
As this issue is currently being discussed between AI and the EA, the County Council would not wish to commit to anything until its resolved. If the final methodology affects the mining area then amended plans would be required but if not (and this is what the EA and AI are currently discussing) then there would be no requirement for additional plans.
Can readers smell the direction of travel?

With AI’s quarry plans up to 2.8m underwater, local people and other readers will no doubt find it simply staggering that DCC cannot already confirm that AI will be asked to amend their plans BEFORE determination – as a matter of course – knowing that groundwater levels have been recorded above the proposed base of the quarry at five different locations; knowing that groundwater levels have been recorded above the base of the proposed infiltration areas in four locations - as little as 0.5m below the ground surface - thereby negating their primary purpose of preventing flooding; knowing that the current plans could result in permanent ponding, contrary to the conditions recommended by Exeter Airport; knowing that the current plans contravene the Minerals Plan, which states that any working must be above the water table.

It is utterly ridiculous that this sort of thing – a fundamental part of any quarry design – should not be resolved BEFORE determination, when the drinking water supplies of more than 100 people are at stake. It would obviously leave DCC wide open to all sorts of challenges, with such important environmental matters not properly considered and not on the table BEFORE determination.

You have to ask, what has all the groundwater monitoring been for, if not to inform the planning application BEFORE determination? You have to also ask, having already waited years, what is the harm in having revised plans BEFORE determination? What is it that AI, the EA and DCC are so worried about? That any revised plans will make the Straitgate Farm proposition look even more nonsensical?

Domino effect ‘could make global warming unstoppable’

As heat waves and wildfires grip the northern hemisphere – California wildfire declared 'largest in state's history' being the latest in a string of alarming headlines – consider this report, that warns of feedback loops from melting ice, warming seas, shifting currents and dying forests amplifying one another and pushing the Earth into a "hothouse" state:
An international team of scientists has published a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that even if the carbon emission reductions called for in the Paris Agreement are met, there is a risk of Earth entering what the scientists call “Hothouse Earth” conditions.
A “Hothouse Earth” climate will in the long term stabilize at a global average of 4-5°C higher than pre-industrial temperatures with sea level 10-60 m higher than today, the paper says.
The authors conclude it is now urgent to greatly accelerate the transition towards an emission-free world economy.

The UK is "woefully unprepared" for deadly heatwaves with nearly 700 more deaths than average recorded in England and Wales during the 15-day peak of the heatwave in June and July this year.

Aggregate Industries and Devon County Council need to pull their heads out of the sand, if they think it's acceptable – in the face of all this – for material from Straitgate Farm to be processed 23 miles away from where it would be quarried. It’s not the time for business-as-usual. It’s not the time for multi-million-mile CO2-intensive haulage schemes carting as-dug sand and gravel across Devon.

EA ‘committed to £9m River Otter anti-flood scheme’

The Environment Agency says it is "completely committed" to a £9m scheme to help restore the River Otter and to help avoid a "catastrophic breach" of failing 200-year-old sea defences in Budleigh Salterton.
The Lower Otter Restoration Project is investigating the possibility of restoring the estuary to a more natural state and reducing the impact of climate change while creating new habitats for wildlife and improving water quality.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Fancy that: AI’s missing S106 water monitoring reports turn up days after last post

On 21 June, we posted Would the S106 water monitoring plan for Straitgate be as successful as Blackhill’s? pointing to the fact that Aggregate Industries had not complied with the Section 106 agreement for hydrological monitoring at its nearby Blackhill Quarry – these being the relevant sections from the 2017 and 2016 monitoring reports:

A new monitoring report for Blackhill, dated 31 July 2018, is now on DCC's website. On the S106:

So the story now appears even worse than before, with apparently "No report on File since 2011"; the Section 106 conditioned that AI was meant to submit hydrological reports annually.

Reports have now turned up at DCC – just days after our post. Fancy that. No coincidence whatsoever.

But what good are hydrological reports years out of date? When any damage has already been done? When any remedial action may no longer be possible? AI has proposed a Section 106 for private water supplies that rely on groundwater from Straitgate Farm. But what use would that be, if AI doesn't comply with Section 106 agreements? As we posted before:
If AI can't be bothered to fulfil its Blackhill obligations, what hope is there for Straitgate? What hope for people who lose their drinking water supplies? What hope for people whose supplies become contaminated? What hope for timely action, when the last three hydrological monitoring reports for Blackhill have either been submitted late or not at all, when surface flows haven't been measured since 2011?
And it's not the first time AI has had problems with Section 106 agreements. In 2016 we posted:
Reports that were meant to be with the Minerals Planning Authority in 2013 still seem to be outstanding - despite annual reminders and the threat of enforcement action.

Blackhill Quarry restoration ongoing

Those following the restoration of Blackhill Quarry on Woodbury Common, part of the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths in the East Devon AONB, may be interested to read DCC’s latest monitoring report. According to the report:
Most of the materials stockpiled were sold by the end of 2017. There are some 17.5 thousand tonnes of 40mm rounds remaining which will be used in site restoration. 1.4
It is expected that all the earthworks will have been completed by the end of the summer as the dry weather has been very helpful in enabling works to be carried out efficiently. 1.7
The grazing is still carried out by a small herd of ponies owned by AI. There are ongoing issues with trespass around Seagull Pond [below] in particular. 1.8

Thorn Tree Plantation (shown below) was the last area to be quarried. We’ve previously questioned how well the restoration was progressing, and indeed – after nearly 10 years of trying to establish heathland – all is not well, according to the report:
Thorn Tree plantation is being managed by grazing but CDE is concerned about the amount of birch seedlings within the compartment. It was agreed at the site visit that these should be pulled, the site sprayed and once it was safe for grazing, the herd of cattle on Budleigh common could use this as a part of their grazing regime subject to cattle management/ movement requirements being met.

Something to bear in mind, when AI claims it can magically restore Straitgate Farm back to the best and most versatile agricultural land.

Restoration is also progressing in Area 6 (Silt Lagoon L3 - top photo), despite AI once claiming this could only be restored with the silt generated from Straitgate:
In the absence of this development [at Straitgate] the existing lagoon will remain as a deep, steep sided, angular lagoon, which is incongruous within the wider landscape setting of the AONB and Pebblebed Heaths.
Contrary to that fabrication, the report makes clear that:
This area is currently undergoing significant earthworks to achieve the revised restoration profile approved in December 2017… AI currently expect that these works will be completed by the end of summer 2018 and the site will be in aftercare by the next monitoring visit. There are sufficient topsoils stored along the top of the site to enable a thin spread of soils across this compartment.
The processing plant has now been completely removed from Area 12 (shown below), which we referred to in Why does quarrying have such a bad name? Take a look at Blackhill and is subject to a planning application by CDE:
The 2010 consent for retention of the plant, stockpiles and lagoons contains a specific condition that the area should be restored to heathland. The landowner is currently pursuing an alternative use for a part of this site with the District Council. Until this is resolved the MPA has agreed to postpone the final agreement on the whole area. Parts of the site are being restored and the plant has been removed and moved to Hillhead Quarry. The offices and weighbridge can be moved quickly and it is intended to store the weighbridge at Rockbeare and to retain the offices until such time as the concrete pad is removed.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

What’s the point of minerals plans?

Reflect on the fact that both Aggregate Industries and DCC fought tooth and nail to include Straitgate Farm in the Devon Minerals Plan. Sites were discarded that even the Environment Agency thought had less constraints. The DMP was delayed for years while DCC bent over backwards to allow AI to sort themselves out and prove that Straitgate’s sand and gravel was deliverable, and in the quantity promised; a quantity that was put forward as a "proven" 7.25 million saleable tonnes and has faded to a can't-be-bothered-to-prove less than a million.

Why less than a million? Because AI’s prediction for the maximum winter water table – the prediction that defines the base of any quarry and hence the available resource, the prediction that was "defined with confidence" and used to make ridiculous statements to the nearest cm – has already failed in dramatic fashion (detailed here, here, here, here, here and here) and has been exceeded by water levels in a number of places – in one area by an astonishing 2.8m in the middle of summer!

Was all that trouble for the DMP for a relatively small amount of finished product – product that would need to be plundered from precious farmland; product that could only be processed 23 miles away; product that (excluding the 20% waste) would have effectively travelled 58 climate-unfriendly miles for each processed load before onward distribution – a good use of public funds? Of course not.

It makes you wonder if there's any point to minerals plans; particularly if those carefully constructed policies contained within stand for nothing either. This is one policy from the DMP:
Objective 1: Spatial Strategy
Within geological constraints, 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, supporting the development of its economy while conserving and enhancing the County’s key environmental assets.
It means nothing – with DCC entertaining AI’s 2.5 million mile plans for Straitgate Farm.

So why have minerals plans? Why not have a free-for-all? After all, the MPA says "Over the past 10 years, 48% of new permissions issued were for sites that had not been allocated in mineral plans".

Only this month, go-ahead was given in Nottinghamshire for a 59-hectare quarry extensionon an unallocated site. More farmland will be lost – this time ten arable fields and one pasture field – for 3.6 million tonnes of sand and gravel; we obviously couldn't care about food any more, despite warnings from the World Wildlife Foundation that "Humanity must produce more food in the next four decades than we have in the last 8,000 years".

No wonder locals didn’t waste time and effort on a legal challenge to Straitgate’s inclusion in the DMP. What difference would it have made anyway?

Seemingly, little stops these multinational mining giants from chewing up farmland in their ever-growing and unsustainable quest for minerals. How many quarry applications are turned down? The MPA tells us that "the average approval rate for sand gravel applications over the period 1999 to 2016 stands at 91%."

Does that indicate a level of perfection in the environmental information supplied? Not if Straitgate is anything to go by; its application, and the quality of the information contained within, has been shoddy – in places, no more than a catalogue of fiction.

Perhaps under-resourced planning departments no longer care, as long as boxes are ticked and conditions are set. That's set, not met. It's another matter enforcing those conditions – as AI's repeated non-compliance of a S106 hydrological monitoring condition at Blackhill so aptly demonstrates.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Humans have used a year’s worth of the Earth’s resources in just seven months

It’s Earth Overshoot Day.

Humanity is currently using nature 1.7x faster than our planet’s ecosystems can regenerate. According to Mathis Wackernagel, chief executive and co-founder of Global Footprint Network:
Our economies are running a Ponzi scheme with our planet.
We are using the Earth’s future resources to operate in the present and digging ourselves deeper into ecological debt.
Of course, minerals can't be regenerated.

“Britain hotter and wetter than any time over past 100 years”

With Aggregate Industries’ hydrological model for Straitgate Farm – the one that relies on groundwater levels falling during summer months to allow it to quarry down to the maximum winter water table in some flimsy effort to maintain a buffer between extraction and water – already in tatters, consider this report: State of the UK Climate 2017, released yesterday:
UK summers have been notably wetter over the most recent decade, with a 20% increase in rainfall compared to 1961-1990.

What does AI have to say about this sort of driving – anything?

Remember that press release from Aggregate Industries last year?
At Aggregate Industries, for example, we operate a robust theory and practical testing process when recruiting a new haulier… etc etc

You would have hoped – when someone takes the trouble of alerting AI of dangerous driving, through social media or otherwise – it would prompt some sort of reply, along the lines: Thank you for alerting us to this appalling behaviour. We take these matters very seriously and will warn the driver to make sure this never happens again.

But AI has not, at the time of writing, responded to this tweet. Is it not troubled by such behaviour – the same behaviour that caused the Newbury A34 tragedy in 2016 and others?

Lafarge to insure more homes around new quarry... in America

Aggregate Industries’ US cousins appear to have a different way of dealing with the neighbours. In news from Buffalo, Lafarge North America – in recognition of the fact that that a new quarry does not always bring flowers, rainbows and happiness to local residents – has pledged to underwrite some of the impacts from its quarry at Lockport in Niagara County:
Lafarge North America has agreed to include about 30 more homes in a protection zone around its new stone quarry on Hinman Road in Lockport, expected to open next year.
Lafarge have agreed to expand the zone in which the company will compensate homeowners for losses caused by blasting or other quarry operations, or for falling home prices.
The protection zone, originally a 1,000-foot radius around the quarry, now covers all homes on Hinman and Murphy roads, and on the east side of Campbell Boulevard between Hinman and Murphy... the company pledged to maintain a $500,000 fund to cover losses incurred by residents.