Friday, 30 August 2019

AI submits another planning application to work aggregates in Devon

Aggregate Industries has a number of operations digging up Devon’s mineral resources. This table is from Devon County Council’s most recent Local Aggregate Assessment, for the period 2008-2017:


Although AI has since moved from Blackhill, the company is currently working 4 millions tonnes of sand and gravel at Hillhead – the location to which it would transport any winnings from Straitgate for processing. When that runs out, there’s another 8 million tonnes next to Hillhead that’s been allocated in the Devon Minerals Plan.

Twelve million tonnes goes some way, when AI’s requirement for sand and gravel is in the region of 300,000 tonnes per annum. It’s enough to last it to 2050 and beyond, in fact, enough to last significantly longer if we continue to reduce our dependence on virgin, irreplaceable, unsustainable materials, and use recycled and secondary aggregates instead.

With 30 years' supply next to its newly-reconstructed processing plant, why is AI bothered with Straitgate – a sand and gravel resource with somewhere less than a million tonnes, sitting 23 miles away? It’s a good question, with no rational answer. Apart from 1967, AI first submitted its application for Straitgate back in 2015, and much of the supporting documentation is now older than that. The company still has significant hurdles to surmount and it’s now over two years since any supplementary information was submitted for comment.

Unlike its troubles with Straitgate Farm, AI doesn’t appear to have had any problems securing permissions elsewhere for mineral extraction serving the county in the recent past.

Last year, despite numerous concerns from local residents, particularly about dust, AI won permission for another 600k tonnes at Westleigh, a quarry that produces around 850k tonnes per annum with permission to run to 2046.

The year before that, despite numerous concerns about an AONB and closing a public highway, AI won permission from Cornwall Council for a 10 million tonne quarry extension to 2066 at Greystone, a quarry within the Tamar Valley AONB on the Devon border that produces 300k tonnes per annum.

Whilst AI considers what to do about Straitgate – and given those 30 years of supply elsewhere there’s plainly no need – the company has submitted another planning application in Devon to extract aggregates, 4 million tonnes of secondary aggregates near Plymouth.

In comparison with wrecking an East Devon farm, this application is to work waste material from china clay tips. We have posted about this waste material before, how hundreds of millions of tonnes scar the Devon and Cornwall landscape, how one operator assured us that with so much of this material there was 'no need for any more new quarries'.

This photo, showing the production of secondary aggregates from china clay waste at Lee Moor, is taken from the Devon Minerals Plan.


In recent years, whilst sales of sand and gravel have flatlined, sales of secondary aggregates have increased – as this chart from DCC's LAA shows:


Planning application DCC/4146/2019 seeks to continue to work secondary aggregates at Lee Moor, near Shaugh Prior on the outskirts of Plymouth. The site is not far from Drakelands – the tin and tungsten mine at Hemerdon that also sits as an unrestored scar on the Devon landscape after the operator went into administration last year.

AI wants to deepen the extraction area of Tip T1 from 256m AOD to 228m AOD, to realise 4 million tonnes and "secure the future of the site until 2049/50":
Current sales average 220,000 tonnes a year (130,000 extracted from T1 and 90,000 imported from elsewhere on the Lee Moor complex) and this will continue. 3.6
Based on the current sales the site has an average of 40 to 45 HGVs a day 3.12
Dartmoor National Park is some 600m to the east of the site. The village of Wotter is some 340m to the west. AI claims:
The site has operated in this manner since permission was granted in 2009 with no unacceptable impacts on the environment or local communities and it is proposed that the future operations will continue in the same manner. 1.3
Locals would beg to differ, as AI’s very own document makes clear:
A short presentation was given to Shaugh Prior Parish Council on the 3rd July 2019 where the main concerns raised were recent dust impacts on Wotter and HGV traffic. 1.11
In respect of the recent dust issues at Wotter this was due to some recent very strong east winds and the companies operating on the Lee Moor site had responded by providing additional water bowsers. AIUK are also in the process of installing a new dust suppression system on their haul road. Comments on traffic related to speed of vehicles and the use of the Cadover Bridge Road to Yelverton. All HGV drivers using the application site receive an induction on the approved routes for HGVs, of which this is one, and drivers have been reminded to drive with care and attention to other road users. 1.14
South Hams District Council would beg to differ too. Its Environmental Health Response objects "on the grounds of inadequate information and potential unacceptable impacts on neighbouring amenity", after:
complaints that have occurred over the years regarding dust in the vicinity of the site
AI’s working of secondary aggregates is certainly a more sustainable source of minerals, but clearly the company is up to its old tricks again, trying to discount the impacts on local people.

Tarmac's new surface at Silverstone “close to perfect”

Since we posted AI’s “racing circuit experts” relegated to 20 tonnes of track repairs at Goodwood, the MotoGP has taken place at Silverstone.

As readers will know – and all the fun and games can be relived here for any who don't – Silverstone had to be resurfaced this year, following the mayhem and misery that ensued last year when the track was resurfaced by Aggregate Industries.

Riders were complimentary about Tarmac's new surface:



The aggregates press has already been making hay – Bayston Hill takes the chequered flag and MotoGP riders praise Silverstone track surface:
Silverstone's new surface staged yet another weekend of high-octane action with the 2019 GoPro British Grand Prix MotoGP event witnessing incredible racing, huge crowds and lap records smashed in every class.
It was immediately clear riders were happy with the bespoke track surface laid by new contractors Tarmac, and lap times were fast from the first free-practice session on Friday morning.
Reigning MotoGP champion Marc Marquez said: ‘As soon as I went out, I felt like it was another track. I enjoyed riding it a lot more and, I think, so did everyone else. Last year we complained, but this year we have to say congratulations to the circuit because they did a great job.’
Silverstone’s managing director, Stuart Pringle, was quoted as saying:
The success of this weekend’s MotoGP racing, the incredible lap times, the atmosphere, and the great racing are testament to the incredible hard work by the Silverstone team.
The work we have done on the new track surface has allowed us to rebuild trust with the fans. We know they endured the most miserable of days last year, but we have demonstrated today, Silverstone is back to being a world-class track.
This sudden interest in motor sport by the aggregates press is in stark contrast to last year, when the same writers remained completely silent in the face of the chaos and disaster that followed Aggregate Industries' new asphalt.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

British ambassador glad-handing with international cement moguls

glad-handing [noun, informal] being very friendly to people you have not met before, as a way of trying to get an advantage
Boris Johnson’s government will have issued a variety of edicts calling on officials to bang the drum for Britain as we stare into the Brexit abyss. Britain’s ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein looks to have answered the call and has been pressing the flesh with European cement moguls:


Of course, LafargeHolcim has not been "active in the UK since 1858."

Holcim was only founded in 1912. Lafarge, founded in 1833, actually worked for the other side during WWII and "built the Atlantic wall under Petain and Hitler". The article Trump border wall shines spotlight on French-Swiss cement maker's murky past quotes Jérôme Prieur, the author of "The Atlantic Wall – A Monument to Collaboration":
Two of its factories produced cement for the Nazis: one in occupied territory, near Angoulême [in the west of France]. The other was in unoccupied territory, near Ardèche [a region in the southwest]. Paradoxically, it was the factory in the free zone [before it was invaded by Nazi forces in November 1942] that showed the most zeal for the German war effort.
The war wasn’t a down period for the company. Lafarge, which was already a major cement producer, maintained its status thanks to its economic collaboration with the Germans.
Anyway, "forgive and forget", as Basil Fawlty once famously said.

Aggregate Industries – which may indeed be able to trace its routes in the UK back to 1858 – became part of Holcim in 2005 and LafargeHolcim in 2015.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Flooding and landslides in Kerala


Quarrying changes landscapes – sometimes with devastating consequences.

Last year, we posted about how 'Uncontrolled sand mining led to Kerala floods' which claimed hundreds of lives.

Exactly 12 months after Kerala witnessed its worst flood in a century in August 2018, where 433 people were killed, the state has been hit by another natural calamity that has claimed more than a hundred lives so far.
This time, most of the destruction was due to landslides – and quarrying in the region "played a major role". One environmentalist said:
The government did not learn a lesson from last year’s flood. Now, the once-in-a-century phenomenon happened twice within a span of a year. The government should stop the mining mafia from exploiting the environmentally sensitive areas
The finger is being pointed to the dilution of environmental regulations; "25 out of the 31 locations which experienced landslides came under the Ecologically Sensitive Zones".
...since the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government came to power in Kerala in 2016, it has severely diluted environmental regulations for mining and quarrying... It further reduced the minimum permissible distance limit from 100 metres to 50 metres from residential buildings...

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

AI’s “racing circuit experts” relegated to 20 tonnes of track repairs at Goodwood

This coming weekend, Silverstone hosts the MotoGP. Since last year’s debacle – when Aggregate Industries resurfaced the track in a multi-million pound deal, when it subsequently suffered a PR nightmare after riders aquaplaned off its new asphalt at 150mph and sustained serious injuries, when races had to be cancelled, when the company attempted to gag a motorsport journalist – the track has been resurfaced, this time by Tarmac. We've already posted far too many times about this subject.

Plainly, the Silverstone job proved too much for Aggregate Industries' "racing circuit experts". Since then, they have been relegated to laying 20 tonnes of asphalt for track repairs at Goodwood – as this recent bit of back-slapping PR tells:


The expert teams worked around the clock to supply and lay 20 tonnes of the 10mm asphalt, which was used to resurface a patch on the track ready for the event.
Aggregate Industries obviously has some catching up to do in the motorsport department, and will no doubt cling to anything to claw its way back. With regard to those 20 tonnes (one truck-load or two?), someone at Goodwood said:
We will definitely bear Supreme in mind when resurfacing is required in future.
Which was charitable, although is bearing in mind a bit like don’t call us, we’ll call you?

Viridor – fires, secondary aggregates, and 160,000 road miles cut pa

Viridor, part of Pennon Group the owner of South West Water, has been in the news recently. Viridor burns our rubbish. And not only that.




Viridor lists ten of these "Energy Recovery Facilities" on its website – including Exeter. According to Inside Croydon there have been 14 fires at Viridor plants since 2015, five in 2019 alone:
This outbreak of dangerous and costly fires – especially costly for Viridor’s insurers – has seen the company become increasingly dependent on a "fourth emergency service", their PR consultants, who are regularly being called out to act as their reputational firefighters.
The independent councillor of the ward where one of these fires took place told Inside Croydon:
In my view, Viridor are a menace to local communities and the environment.
Viridor are becoming a major burden on the nation’s fire brigades. They need reporting to the Health and Safety Executive.

Whatever the merits, or not, of energy-from-waste – "critics argue that incinerators destroy valuable resources and they may reduce incentives for recycling" – the waste material from such incinerators – incinerator bottom ash, IBA – can be used to produce secondary aggregates, an alternative to quarried material. Residues from the flue stacks can also be used in the production of aggregates.

After its various fires, two last month, Viridor’s PR machine was obviously keen to point to some better news, and this month turned its attention to the South West – where the company has set out plans to cut annual road miles by more than 160,000, by moving IBA by rail from Cardiff to Avonmouth, where it will be turned into secondary aggregates. According to Viridor:
It is part of Viridor’s commitment to seeing waste as a resource and not rubbish, identifying a purpose for all materials.
Aggregate Industries also has eyes on a resource – a primary, virgin, unsustainable, irreplaceable sand and gravel resource at Straitgate Farm. Unlike Viridor, however, it plans to add 100,000s of road miles each year – some 2.4 million in total. Climate emergency? Not at Aggregate Industries.

Aggregate Industries wants to quarry this resource "at a rate between 120,000 tonnes and 180,000 tonnes per annum" – destroying an East Devon farm in its wake; risking groundwater supplies to 100 people, farms, listed buildings and ancient woodland; ripping out ancient hedgerows, habitat for dormice and bats. Each 29 tonne as-dug load of sand and gravel would necessitate HGVs making a round trip of some 46 miles, for processing at a site that has 4 million tonnes of permitted sand and gravel reserves already being worked. Madness indeed.

Assuming 150,000 tonnes pa, Aggregate Industries would put an additional 240,000 HGV miles on the South West’s roads each year; this, of course, being the company which claims "#sustainability is at the heart of everything we do 🙌".

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Charcon has visions of Thailand

Charcon is part of Aggregate Industries. We've previously posted If AI’s record is an example of corporate action on climate change, we’re all screwed.

Nevertheless, Charcon tweets photos of solar panels and wind turbines, says "we’ll continue our mission to cut our net CO2 emissions", and points to aggregate.com/sustainability/our-performance.


There you will find this table, and yes, a clear indication of exactly how committed – or not – Aggregate Industries is in its "mission to cut net CO2 emissions... [and] tackling climate change" – or rather, global heating as Prof Richard Betts a key climate scientist at the UK Met Office warns.


Whether Charcon gives a toss about climate change or global heating we will never know. Its factories produce concrete products for the UK "hard landscaping" market. The photograph Charcon uses in its tweet above bears no relation to its activities – neither to one of its sites, nor to any of its products. In fact, it's not even remotely close. The greenwash pushed out by Charcon – to show it cares, even if it doesn't, to show it's doing something about CO2 emissions, even if it isn't – is a stock photo of a scene in Thailand, also shown here. A photo, in fact, showing not what Charcon is doing, but what others are doing in "the race of our lives and for our lives."

UN links LafargeHolcim with atrocities against Rohingya in Myanmar

With executives currently facing "charges of financing terrorism and crimes against humanity" in Syria, LafargeHolcim has become linked to another human rights issue: the atrocities by Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, against the Rohingya people in 2017.



The military abuses against the Rohingya people "undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law". As this article tells:
The violence, which the UN described as ethnic cleansing and possible genocide, included the killing of thousands of people, the rape of women and children and the razing of villages. More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled across the border to Bangladesh.
It is thought that more than 24,000 Rohingya people have been killed. The UNHCR says:
The Rohingya are a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. The latest exodus began on 25 August 2017, when violence broke out in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, driving more than 742,000 to seek refuge in Bangladesh. Most arrived in the first three months of the crisis. An estimated 12,000 reached Bangladesh during the first half of 2018. The vast majority reaching Bangladesh are women and children, and more than 40 per cent are under age 12. Many others are elderly people requiring additional aid and protection. They have nothing and need everything.
In the article UN links firms to Rohingya abuse, The Australian newspaper reports:
A new UN report has outed dozens of international and Myanmar companies with business links to the Myanmarese military, as well as states still selling arms to the country, which risked enabling further "gross ­violations of human rights".
Panel chairman Marzuki Darusman said their research had uncovered an "indisputable link" between the Tatmadaw’s vast business activities and its "committing of atrocities".
"What has enabled the ­Tatmadaw to commit these crimes is in fact their business ­relations and activities"
The UN report, by the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, lists LafargeHolcim as having commercial ties to construction companies controlled by the Myanmar military, the Tatmadaw.
The Mission concluded that many of these violations amounted to crimes against humanity and included murder; imprisonment; enforced disappearance; torture; rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence; persecution and enslavement.
The Mission named senior generals of the Tatmadaw who should be investigated and prosecuted for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The Mission was able to identify 15 foreign companies that have joint ventures with Tatmadaw conglomerates… For example, the Mission has documented a commercial partnership between Thilawa Cement and Building Materials Ltd. and Sinminn Cement, a MEHL subsidiary. Thilawa Cement and Building Materials Ltd., according to corporate filings, is listed as being owned by Lafarge, which since 2015 merged into LafargeHolcim, a French-Swiss company and the world’s largest cement manufacturer. According to corporate records, Thilawa Cement and Building Materials Ltd., and SinMinn Cement, the MEHL subsidiary, share board leadership.
The Mission finds that any foreign business activity involving the Tatmadaw and its conglomerates MEHL and MEC poses a high risk of contributing to, or being linked to, violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. At a minimum, these foreign companies are contributing to supporting the Tatmadaw’s financial capacity.

The UN report calls for a boycott of Myanmar companies with military links. According to one report, LafargeHolcim "ceased operations in the country in 2018."

EA: “We all have a role to play protecting our precious groundwater”


Professor Brassington, in a response relating to Aggregate Industries' planning application to quarry Straitgate Farm, made the comment:
In my opinion the proposal that removes most of the unsaturated zone in an aquifer that is fragile is too risky and presents too much of a hazard to the water supplies of a large number of people in addition to those supplies for Cadhay House and its mediaeval fishponds and ancient woodlands.
The EA has a slogan that they work to create better places for people and wildlife and support sustainable development. In my view both the local environment and the local people will suffer, and the proposals are not environmentally sustainable.
The Professor of Hydrogeology, who has more than 50 years of professional experience in the subject, is "totally opposed to the idea of this quarrying being allowed to go ahead." He recognises that:
The groundwater resources that lie beneath the area around the proposed Straitgate Farm site are fundamental to the lives of more than 100 people in their homes and to the local businesses that they run.
Thankfully, at last, the EA now wants AI to address the Professor’s water concerns. And you would hope so too, for goodness sake. Let's repeat the Environment Agency's raison d'être:
It's our job to look after your environment and create better places for people and wildlife.
It's not the EA's job to make life easier for international cement conglomerates, to rubber stamp unorthodox working schemes which fly in the face of a multitude of issues, not least of which, as Prof Brassington points out:
..the computer model derived MWWT surface [the ‘maximum winter water table’, the base of any quarry] is unlikely to provide an accurate representation of the real maximum groundwater levels.
The EA is the statutory body responsible for the protection and management of groundwater resources. An EA source protection zone covers part of Straitgate. The EA's Groundwater & Contaminated Land teams tweet about "our precious groundwater resources" – as above and below, for example:


Friday, 9 August 2019

How will LafargeHolcim cut its CO2 emissions...

...if all it ever does is sell more and more cement? Is it time for a cement tax?


Unprecedented efforts to install renewable power capacity have only translated into meeting 2 per cent of global energy demand, meaning the world’s overwhelming reliance on fossil fuels shows no sign of abating.
UN secretary-general António Guterres says:
Preventing irreversible climate disruption is the race of our lives. We need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent by 2030.
Can we rely on the cement industry to act in the interests of humanity, and stop contributing towards this existential crisis? Not if LafargeHolcim – the world’s largest cement company – is anything to go by.

At the Paris COP21 climate conference in December 2015, 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally-binding global climate deal. LafargeHolcim was there:


What has since happened to LafargeHolcim's CO2 emissions?

2016 – 115,000,000 tonnes CO2

2017 – 118,000,000 tonnes CO2

2018 – 121,000,000 tonnes* CO2

LafargeHolcim's carbon footprint is equivalent to over 14 million homes or 31 coal-fired power plants; more than the entire Czech Republic – itself Europe's fifth biggest CO2 polluter. Whatever progress the company makes, in reducing CO2 per tonne of cement produced, is dwarfed by selling more cement; in 2018, a 1% reduction in CO2/tonne was outweighed by selling 3.5% more cement. We’ve posted how LafargeHolcim has a way with numbers – CO2 emission numbers. LafargeHolcim has just reported a strong first half of the year, again boosted by "higher cement volumes".

Aggregate Industries, part of LafargeHolcim, now emits nearly 1.3 million tonnes of CO2 each year, more than 5x the amount it emitted in 1999. We posted about the CO2 emissions that AI ‘forgot’ in 2016.

Cement has an inherently high carbon footprint. Nearly a tonne of CO2 is released for every tonne of cement produced. The Mineral Products Association fact sheet on embodied CO2e of UK cement puts the average cement emissions at 849kgCO2e/tonne for MPA Cement Member Companies (which includes Lafarge Cement UK – now part of AI).

Radical action is needed. What can be done?

Cement is too cheap. Its price does not reflect its environmental cost. Even the grey cement barons of Zurich acknowledge as much. LafargeHolcim's chairman says:
Consider a 25kg bag of general purpose cement at B&Q, currently retailing at £4.02. With 21.2kg of embodied CO2 (using the figure above) that's 19p per kgCO2e. The price of cement would need to more than double to match the carbon cost of diesel – which at say 128.9p/litre, with 2.9kg CO2/litre well to wheel, works out at 44p per kgCO2e.

There have been previous calls to tax cement – see Concrete is tipping us into climate catastrophe. It's payback time:
A specific cement tax would fit well into the growing clamour for a simple revenue-neutral global carbon tax. These have been proposed and adopted on a limited basis for over 20 years, but the cement industry has strongly lobbied against them in Europe, the US, Canada and elsewhere.
A high global cement tax, the theory goes, would concentrate industry’s minds and massively reduce demand for carbon-intensive cement.
LafargeHolcim’s chairman, is apparently "erstaunlich umweltbewusst" – according to this article at least. He says – as he must say – that LafargeHolcim's top priority is to reduce CO2 emissions:
But you wonder how "amazingly environmentally conscious" Mr Hess really is. He is against the "Responsible Business Initiative", an initiative that "wants multinationals to respect human rights and the environment in their activities abroad", calling it a "gigantische Absurdität".
Under the Responsible Business Initiative, companies will be legally obliged to incorporate respect for human rights and the environment in all their business activities. This mandatory due diligence will also be applied to Swiss based companies’ activities abroad… In order to ensure that all companies carry out their due diligence obligations, Swiss based firms will be liable for human rights abuses and environmental violations caused abroad by companies under their control. This provision will enable victims of human rights violations and environmental damage to seek redress in Switzerland.
He was also asked, and relying on Google Translate, "Do your children participate in the climate strikes and are you sympathetic to the young people who take to the streets?":
I reject any form of violence. My children are not participating in any demonstrations. But the topic is discussed with us. I am enormously worried about the devastation of the oceans with plastic. I would like to collect all plastic from the oceans and use it in our cement kilns.
Of course, we all reject violence, but the climate strikes and Extinction Rebellion protests have been notable for how exceptionally peaceful they have been. And we'd all like to clear the oceans of plastic, but is LafargeHolcim about to embark on such a venture? Of course not, but that doesn’t stop the company pumping out this greenwash:


Unfortunately, burning plastic to fire cement kilns still emits CO2 – and goodness know what other pollutants too. We obviously need to move quickly to cleaner more sustainable building materials. LafargeHolcim will need to do more than greenwash its businesses – or hide behind a few flowers – or they themselves risk extinction.


As the Guardian article concludes:
The cement industry has transformed the world and enriched both itself and mankind. But it now threatens to tip the environment into uncontrolled warming. It’s now payback time and the industry must respond urgently to the problem it has helped to create.




* Net CEM CO2 emissions. Total gross direct CO2 emissions 135Mt. Total indirect CO2 emissions 30Mt. Source: LafargeHolcim Sustainability Report 2018

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Unite urges workers to join silica register

Workers exposed to silica dust are being urged to register their exposure with a new database "to assist with potential future legal action."
The online silica register has been set up by the Unite union to support future legal cases if those registered experience long-term health problems as a result of silica exposure.
The register is not limited to construction workers. Industries where workers are potentially exposed to silica also include mining, quarrying and stonemasonry, as well as foundries, potteries, ceramics, glass manufacturing and industries using silica flour.
Unite national health and safety advisor Bud Hudspith said:
The Unite silica register is an important step to help members provide evidence for possible future claims. Silica exposure can have long-term serious health consequences for workers, but simple measures can prevent the health of workers being damaged.
Unfortunately many employers remain willing to play fast and loose with the health of their workers. Unite’s primary aim is to ensure employers prevent silicosis and lung cancer through the removal or strict control of silica dust.




Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Another UK mining project in trouble


After the disaster last year, when the Australian mining outfit and owner of the Drakelands tungsten and tin mine in Hemerdon near Plymouth, Wolf Minerals, ceased trading and appointed administrators – losing £100 million and leaving a scarred landscape in need of restoration in its wake – now another UK mining project is in trouble.

Sirius Minerals has suspended a $500m (£410m) fundraising due to "current market conditions" – effectively putting financing for its massive polyhalite mine on hold.
The company, which is building a £2.5bn mine and Teesside processing plant, says it has enough cash to keep building at its current pace until September.
Yesterday, the FT was already predicting that Sirius Minerals would have to pay a high price for such funding "more than 13 per cent"; as one portfolio manager said "a high-risk project finance deal masquerading as a high-yield bond":
London-listed Sirius needs to raise $500m from the debt market so that it can unlock a $2.5bn revolving credit facility (RCF) being provided by JPMorgan and complete development of the Woodsmith mine, one of the largest civil construction projects in the UK.
As the FT reported last year – when the miner needed a further $400m to $600m in financing after being "armed with a better understanding of local geology":
Woodsmith is the largest mine to be built in the UK for a generation. The project involves sinking two 1.5km shafts below a national park on the North York Moors to access a massive deposit of polyhalite.
Many groups and campaigners had objected to such an intrusive proposal in a National Park:
An open letter signed by 29 different groups, including the Caravan Club, the RSPB and the Campaign for National Parks, was sent to the national park authority, whose own internal report stated that the economic benefits of the mine did not outweigh the environmental damage it would cause.
As one investment website now puts it:
...in reality, Sirius is at last coming face to face with an unpalatable truth. Because it’s so big, at least in terms of UK mining projects, half of London’s mining investment community have become beholden to it in terms of fees or the hope of future fees.
That’s given the company a distorted vision of its own prospects for success, not to mention leading a fair few investors astray too.
But just look at the company’s share price over the past year or so. The shares have lost more than a third of their value in the past year. They were down more than 31% today at the open. The market knows what’s what.
Whether it’s “current” or not.
Sirius Minerals looks like joining the long list of mining companies that over-promise and under-deliver.

Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky... [however] There is little light at the end of the tunnel for Sirius investors. The stock has dropped 70 per cent during the past year. If the financing fails, Sirius could always seek a deep-pocketed investor such as Australian mining tycoon Gina Rinehart. But that might wipe out ordinary shareholders. Sirius has begun to resemble another astronomical phenomenon more than a star: a black hole.

AI director overseeing Straitgate debacle left the company in June

What’s the matter at Aggregate Industries at the moment? Why are so many directors leaving?

It was only last month that we posted, Crikey, yet another change at the top of Aggregate Industries’ aggregates division, that the head of AI’s Aggregate Division had left the company – with no news of a replacement:
Barely 12 months into his role, Pablo Libreros – appointed as "new managing director to lead aggregates business into the future" – is off already.
Now it transpires that the South West Regional Director for this division, Tom Longland, has left too.

It was Tom Longland who was touted as one of the company’s "Success Stories" – p.11 of this report:
In 2015, Tom attended Holcim’s Senior Leadership Programme at IMD Business School in Switzerland – an experience he believes every manager or future leader should attend.
It was Tom Longland who has been overseeing the Straitgate project since October 2016.

It was Tom Longland who replaced Laurie Quinn, the previous regional director for AI’s aggregates division in the South West. Mr Quinn was another big fan of quarrying Straitgate Farm, and is also no longer with the company.

Perhaps it's the curse of Straitgate? Over the years we have posted about a number of the key players who have exited stage left; earlier this year, we posted Gosh, another person behind the Straitgate project moves on.

Could the last person to leave the Straitgate show please turn the lights out?

Thursday, 1 August 2019

EA wants AI to address Professor’s water concerns

In an apparent change of tack – and rather than just defending an unorthodox scheme put forward by Aggregate Industries to extract as much material as possible from a hydrologically sensitive area – the Environment Agency now thinks it would be "prudent" that DCC asks AI to address the concerns in Professor Brassington’s report and subsequent letter.


Prof Brassington’s most recent letter concluded:
I would point out that I remain totally opposed to the idea of this quarrying being allowed to go ahead... In my opinion the proposal that removes most of the unsaturated zone in an aquifer that is fragile is too risky and presents too much of a hazard to the water supplies of a large number of people in addition to those supplies for Cadhay House and its mediaeval fishponds and ancient woodlands.
The EA has now responded to Prof Brassington’s letter, saying:
We consider that it would now be prudent for Devon County Council to engage with the applicant and their consultants to give them an opportunity to respond to the matters raised in Professor Brassington’s original report, our letter of 21 June 2019 and Professor Brassington’s subsequent letter. We will be happy to then review the consultants’ response.
We will recommend to Devon County Council that the following points in particular are considered:
  • Implications of the 1976/77 and 2000/2001 Salston stream flow for maximum groundwater levels at the site.
  • The rate of infiltration through the unsaturated zone (our interest in this relates to unsaturated zone storage and reduced baseflow in dry periods)
With respect to the first point, the base flow of the Salston stream is an indicator of groundwater levels at Straitgate. Prof Brassington is concerned that:
...the computer model derived MWWT surface [the ‘maximum winter water table’, the base of any quarry] is unlikely to provide an accurate representation of the real maximum groundwater levels.
AI’s consultants had previously argued:
The flow data for Salston are presented in Fig 3.6 which shows the total flow together with the baseflow component of flow calculated using the CEH prescribed 5 day minimum turning point method (Low Flow Studies Report, IoH 1980)… It is clear that very high baseflow occurred in the winter months of 2012/13 and 2013/14 – reflecting high BSPB spring flows (and therefore high groundwater levels). The only previous periods characterised by similarly high baseflow were the winter periods of 2000/01 and 1976/77. 3.3.17
Based on long-term trends, groundwater levels measured at the Site piezometers during the recent winter months of 2013 to 2014 are likely to reflect the highest groundwater levels that may occur at Straitgate. 4.2.10
However, Prof Brassington points to the higher base flows recorded in 2000/01 and 1976/77 and says:
The only conclusion that can be drawn from this hydrograph is that the groundwater levels on the Straitgate Farm site would have been at a higher elevation than those in 2013/14 during the winters of 1976/77 and 2000/01.

Plainly, this is another setback for AI.

Consider how long the company has been drilling and monitoring boreholes at Straitgate. Consider how very long its consultants have been churning out expensive water report after expensive water report – in an effort to square the hydrological circle at Straitgate.

We recently posted about one of those reports from 2013, where Consultants misled EA in key report to back Straitgate’s inclusion in Minerals Plan. In 2017, we posted about how Amec’s water report has been whitewashed.

If AI had originally proposed to leave at least one metre of unquarried material above the maximum water table to safeguard groundwater – like every other quarry operator where drinking water sources are at risk – it would not, in all probability, still be in this mess. But the company, greedy for the last 1m of resource, instead proposed a zero metre safeguard. Now, having analysed the data, Prof Brassington maintains that – if quarrying were to be permitted against his advice – "a 3 m unquarried buffer should be left above the maximum water table to minimize the negative impacts that I have outlined".

Historic England gives assurance that “importance of Cadhay” will be recognised

Historic England has given assurance that it will "absolutely recognise and value the importance of Cadhay and its immediate surrounds", in relation to Aggregate Industries' application to quarry Straitgate Farm and the impact it would have on Cadhay’s drinking water supplies and listed mediaeval fishponds.

Professor Brassington – an expert in hydrogeology – has looked at the effect AI’s scheme would have on local groundwater sources and has concluded that 'ANY quarrying at Straitgate would cause problems'. In correspondence with the Environment Agency, Prof Brassington has warned:
In my opinion the proposal that removes most of the unsaturated zone in an aquifer that is fragile is too risky and presents too much of a hazard to the water supplies of a large number of people in addition to those supplies for Cadhay House and its mediaeval fishponds and ancient woodlands.
Following his report, Devon Gardens Trust has objected, and now Historic England has weighed in:
The fish ponds clearly form an important element to the setting of the grade I listed house and are a key feature within the grade II registered park and garden...
...we are continuing to liaise with officers at the Local Authority to understand how we can best advise on the application, bearing in mind our area of expertise and our role and remit within this process.
We understand from the Local Authority that there is continued disagreement between the experts involved with the case as to the potential impact of the proposals on the hydrology of the area. As such, the Council is seeking further work to be undertaken by the applicants in order to gain a better understanding of the hydrological impact, and we understand they have requested that this includes an assessment of the potential impact on Cadhay. This is likely to require further detailed discussions with the Environment Agency... 
...we have agreed with the Local Authority that Historic England will be re-consulted on the submission of additional information to the Environmental Impact Assessment, of which any hydrology report will form a part. This will provide an opportunity for us to review the potential impact of the proposed scheme on the historic environment, specifically in relation to Cadhay and its surrounding estate...
...we absolutely recognise and value the importance of Cadhay and its immediate surrounds.

Natural England tells AI to make space for sand martins at Rockbeare


It concerned Aggregate Industries' application DCC/4132/2019, "to continue importation of inert soils and subsoil to allow for revised restoration contours at Marshbroadmoor including a revised restoration scheme at Rockbeare Quarry."

According to AI, "Biodiversity matters to us 🌍":


And indeed, through a wildlife focused #restoration scheme, AI might have been "well placed to make a positive contribution to UK #biodiversity" at Marshbroadmoor. Instead, AI planned to remove habitat for nesting sand martins currently resident at the site:
It is not considered safe or feasible to maintain or create a face suitable for nesting Sand Martins as part of the final restoration scheme.
We also note that Sand martins are recorded breeding on site but that post restoration the nest site will be lost. No compensation has been proposed for this loss and we would advise that consideration is given to revising the final site layout to accommodate the nest site or that consideration is given to providing alternative sites.
It won't have gone unnoticed – by AI or other developers – that changes to the NPPF announced last week will in future "require development to deliver 10% net gains for biodiversity".