Thursday, 2 December 2021

A fantastic result for Ottery St Mary

Aggregate Industries’ planning application to quarry Straitgate Farm was yesterday refused by the Development Management Committee at Devon County Council. 

A recording of the proceedings can be found here, and the minutes here.

The proposal for refusal was put forward on the grounds of: 

a) the great weight afforded by the NPPF to the protection of heritage assets irrespective of the degree of harm, 
b) the unacceptable impact on human health relating to private water supplies, 
c) the unresolved road safety issues relating to the cattle crossing and children’s bus stop, 
d) the lack of evidence of protected species due to failure to provide up-to-date surveys, 
e) the lack of a surface water management plan, still not produced after all this time,
f) the loss of mature trees and 1.5km of important hedges,
and the impact on climate change. 

The proposal for refusal was carried by 5 votes to 0, with 3 abstentions. 

Following this, the recommendation for the in-tandem application for haulage 23 miles to Hillhead was rapidly re-written, from a recommendation of approval to one of refusal on sustainability grounds. This revised recommendation was then put to a vote and passed unanimously. 

An enormous thank you to everyone involved over the years, including Cllrs Jess Bailey and Roger Giles, and Claire Wright, and to all those who have worked so hard behind the scenes. 

Special thanks as well to the professionals who have helped us along the way, particularly: 

Professor Rick Brassington 
Dr Helen Rutter 
Charlie Hopkins 
Tim Taylor – Khift Ltd 
Richard Moules – Landmark Chambers 

We can highly recommend them all. 

Yesterday was a very good day; a victory for local democracy.

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Aggregate Industries’ quarry plan for Straitgate Farm REFUSED

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Simon Jupp MP ‘unable to support this application’

DCC planning officers couldn't even get the name right

Devon County Council's planning officers have had more than six years to get things right.

The report recommending approval of Aggregate Industries' scheme to quarry Straitgate Farm starts: 
1.1 The application is for the development of a new sand and gravel quarry... at Stairgate Farm. 
The officer’s report contains a multitude of material errors, inconsistencies and misleading statements, and a list has now been sent to Devon County Council to circulate to the Planning Committee before tomorrow’s decision. 

More importantly, a Pre-Action Protocol Letter for Judicial Review has also been sent to the Council. 

In response, the Council has now issued three pages of hastily revised conditions.

The Development Management Committee meeting to decide Straitgate's fate will be held tomorrow, 1 December at 2.15pm. 

The meeting will be livestreamed – the link can be found here.

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

DCC officers recommend approval of AI’s application to quarry Straitgate Farm

Today, however, it should come as no surprise to readers – who will have long smelt the direction of travel, long sensed the approaching stitch-up – that Devon County Council planning officers are recommending councillors approve Aggregate Industries’ controversial and flawed scheme to quarry Straitgate Farm and decimate its best and most versatile agricultural land.

But as we said, this should come as no surprise. The writing was on the wall back in 2012, when selecting sites for inclusion in the Minerals Plan the Minerals Officer rejected nine others in a sham site appraisal exercise in favour of Straitgate, a site with a claimed 3.6 million tonnes, and the only site owned by Aggregate Industries. Even the Environment Agency recognised "some of the excluded sites may be preferable in environmental terms." 

The writing was still on the wall in 2017, when – with the recoverable resource now barely 1 million tonnes – it was made abundantly clear that Devon County Council’s job was to deliver Straitgate for the Swiss-owned multinational cement conglomerate. We posted: 
Aggregate Industries’ quest to quarry Straitgate Farm has been a long-running and sorry saga. Anyone hoping that its latest planning application would be decided on its merits – weighing up the multitude of conflicting issues – will be disappointed. 
Since 2017, there has been nothing but problems. Devon County Council has however favoured Aggregate Industries with 13 extensions of time for determination. In return, the company has been unwilling to supply information on various fundamental parts of the application, not only on the impact on the A30 and B3174 from the dairy cows that would need to cross Ottery’s main road 4x daily between replacement pasture and milking parlour, but also on the crucial issue of surface water management. The latter was, according to Devon County Council: important in terms of the likely significant impacts of the proposal the MPA would wish to ensure that a SWM scheme can be designed to meet all of the requirements identified in advance of the determination of this application. 
This "so important" issue has now been left to resolve post determination – beyond the eyes of public scrutiny – which not only makes a mockery of the last 6 years and the process of Environmental Impact Assessment, but is, according to legal advice we have received, unlawful. Recent case law says: 
...a planning authority cannot rely on conditions and undertakings as a surrogate for the EIA process. It cannot conclude that a development is unlikely to have significant effects on the environment simply because all such effects are likely to be eliminated by measures that will be carried out by the developer pursuant to conditions and/or undertakings. 
Obviously, the planning officer’s report will now be scrutinised. As we know, planning committee reports are 'a fertile ground for judicial review challenges'. An earlier FOI request revealed that the case officer has already admitted privately that: 
Councillors will vote on the application at the DMC meeting on Wednesday 1 December.

Those dependent on the site for their drinking water will hope that councillors do the right thing.

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Determination date set – finally

After more than 6 years, Devon County Council is now sufficiently confident to put Aggregate Industries' disastrous planning application for Straitgate Farm and parallel application for haulage all the way to Hillhead, before the planning committee on 1 December 2021, at 2.15pm.

Agenda papers are expected to be published on 23 November, and will be available here.

Monday, 15 November 2021

‘pH of water supplies could fall to 5 or less’ – so what remedy in Straitgate’s S106?

The Environment Agency is supposed to know about water.

In June 2020, the Environment Agency advised Devon County Council, in an email now released through an FOI request, that Professor Brassington: 
…asserts that quarrying would cause the pH to exceed the Drinking Water Standard, but a Drinking Water Standard for pH does not actually exist. 
However, the Environment Agency was wrong. 

In a letter last week to the Council, Professor Brassington wrote
At the moment the acidity of the water (measured by its pH) is low around 6.5 pH units. The EA state that there are no regulations regarding the pH of drinking water, however they are wrong. The Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations 2016 for England in Schedule 2 Indicator parameters states on line 7 that the Hydrogen ion should lie between 9.5 (maximum) and 6.5 (minimum) as measured as a pH value at the consumers’ taps...
Reducing the travel time will mean that less carbonate materials are dissolved and so the pH will fall. I intuitively feel that it could get to pH 5 or even less. the pH scale is logarithmic the difference between pH 6.5 and pH 5 is fifteen-fold 
It is my view that Devon County Council should not grant permission for this proposal as it will result in severe problems to private water supplies that will become too acidic to drink. 
Here are The Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations 2016 and The Private Water Supplies (England) Regulations 2016 which do indeed state – just as Prof Brassington said – that tap water should have a pH between 6.5 and 9.5:

How embarrassing that the Environment Agency of all people should not know this. How much else do they claim to know, but don’t? After all, the Environment Agency has been taken in by Aggregate Industries' assertion that groundwater speeds through the unsaturated zone in a matter of days, when peer-reviewed scientific papers say it takes years.

Devon County Council has previously said it would be "guided by the views of the Environment Agency who retain professionals qualified in this technical field." 

Where does this leave the Council, who has put such faith in the technical competence of the Environment Agency? 

Where does this leave the Council, knowing Aggregate Industries’ proposal to quarry Straitgate Farm would cause private water supplies to become too acidic to drink, for more than 100 people, for businesses, and for Grade I listed Cadhay?

Where does this leave the Council, when the S106 Draft Heads of Terms – the only such document so far seen by stakeholders, with little more than two weeks before determination – provides no remedy should pH breach unacceptable levels?

The Environment Agency's proposed conditions, 31 January 2020, say: 
In its water quality provisions, the S106 agreement shall include pH.
The draft S106 Heads of Terms shared with stakeholders references pH only once: 
The content of an annual monitoring report that will include: f)  A review of water quality data, including pH levels;
But being contained in a monitoring report, which may or may not be delivered years late, is one thing. Doing anything about it is a completely different matter.

DCC Highways offers no objection – but answers nothing

Devon County Highways, as the Local Highways Authority, the LHA, has taken 4 years to produce a response to Aggregate Industries’ planning application to quarry Straitgate Farm. It needn’t have bothered. It answers nothing.

…in order to assess the potential highway safety impacts the MPA needs to have reliable information on existing and potential agricultural crossings of the Exeter Road and, in particular how this would be controlled in the future in the interests of highway safety.
Reliable information on the impact of agricultural crossings has not been provided. EDDC objected

I’d be really grateful if you could take onboard the comments from East Devon DC in your response – especially as AI still seem to be leaving the real impact of the quarry/cattle crossing/farm viability to us to consider with no real evidence that they wont be causing problems down the line – except their say-so. 
Does the LHA answer this? No. 

The case officer also wrote: 
The other (late) issue I have been presented with is the tree officer saying that the road access sections don’t include the trees he was concerned about and he still isn’t convinced that the gravel path won’t impact on the third party tree. Given that AI will need our agreement to do any works in the highway verge I’m assuming that the control would be with us and we wouldn’t permit any construction that could impact on that tree or they will probably sue us? So we do have the control? I just need you to confirm that and I will go back to AI and tell them that (and explain in my report). 
Does the LHA answer this? No. 

The case officer also wrote: 
The SAG are chasing about why we didn’t think the Vectos access through Little Straitgate was a less damaging alternative (in terms of hedgerow/tree loss). My recollection was that it was in the wrong place in terms of highway safety but if there’s any chance of clarifying that in your final response it would help me to deal with that point?
Does the LHA answer this? No. 

In 2018, Vectos transport consultants put forward an alternative site access to Devon County Council. As it turns out, this alternative had already been considered behind the scenes by Aggregate Industries. Vectos said the alternative site access:
...would remove many of the local concerns and provide comparative advantages, which include… Improved safety for children waiting for school buses at Birdcage Lane/Toadpit Lane junction… Removal of threat of injunction and legal action against Council from the neighbouring landowner whose property would be damaged… [whilst] Visibility for right-turning quarry traffic exiting at this widened junction would not be significantly different to the visibility at the Exeter Road/Birdcage Lane junction.
Aggregate Industries has failed to include a comparison of environmental effects for this alternative in its Environmental Statement. Planning guidance says:  
...where alternatives have been considered, paragraph 2 of Schedule 4 [of The Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations] requires the applicant to include in their Environmental Statement a description of the reasonable alternatives studied (for example in terms of development design, technology, location, size and scale) and an indication of the main reasons for selecting the chosen option, including a comparison of the environmental effects. Paragraph: 041 Reference ID: 4-041-20170728 
So, how could Devon County Council, without a "comparison of the environmental effects", lawfully conclude that the development would be acceptable?

The LHA's response is remiss in other areas too. On traffic surveys, the LHA reports: 
...the LHA does not dispute the number of vehicle movements as described in the TA.
The LHA ignores the fact that the traffic counts are now more than 3 years old. 

On cumulative impact of permitted development, the LHA reports:
The LHA agrees with the number of sites and residential units, plus care home that have been evaluated in the TA.
This ignores all the development that has occurred since 2018.

On collision data, the LHA reports:
The LHA agrees with the collision data put forward in the TA and does not disagree with its conclusions.  
This is despite the collision data only covering up to 2016, and only covering a short stretch of the road – conveniently ignoring a recorded fatality. The LHA's conclusion is also surprising, because although Aggregate Industries’ Transport Assessment claims: 
No collisions involving HGV’s have occurred within the three year period and none have been attributed to excessive speed.
the case officer – knowing there have been accidents on the B3174, including HGVs, many reported on this blog – asked the LHA to:

Thursday, 11 November 2021

DCC moves to climate-focused road repairs – so there’s even less need for Straitgate

However, with 23 miles separating the proposed quarry face and processing plant, any sand and gravel extracted from Straitgate Farm would have higher amounts of embodied carbon, even before processing and onward distribution is taken into account. 

Each as-dug load would require a 46-mile round trip. Each as-dug load would contain 20% silt, a waste product. In total, some 2.5 million miles of HGV haulage would be required, with effectively 500,000 miles of that for waste. 

It's lunacy. No other UK aggregates operator hauls as-dug material 23 miles for processing. No other UK aggregates operator produces sand and gravel that would have such a high carbon footprint.

This week, Devon County Council announced "an absolute game-changer":
Devon is leading the way on new approach to carbon-reduction in highway maintenance 
We are adopting a pioneering new, climate-focused approach to road maintenance that is winning plaudits nationally. 

We’re reviewing our road maintenance procedures – the materials we use, how they’re produced, how they’re used, how they’re applied, the labour required, the time it takes, how long they last, everything – to assess the carbon impact of the work we do. 

Councillor Stuart Hughes, Cabinet Member responsible for highway maintenance, said: 

"In the past, we’ve looked at road maintenance from the point of view of cost and quality. Those factors – the cost to fix something and the performance of the products – have determined how we got the job done. 

"But now we’ve got a third, and arguably most important factor – carbon impact – that is determining a new approach to road maintenance. 

"Now we’re thinking about the materials we use, and how high in carbon their production is; waste, and whether there’s a lot of waste; sustainability, and how long that repair will last. 

"It’s putting carbon-reduction at the heart of our design, alongside performance and cost." 
Councillor Andrea Davis, Cabinet Member charged with responsibility for climate change response, said: 
"The ramifications are enormous. It’s an absolute game-changer that we will not go back from. 
"We have made a public commitment that this council will be net-zero carbon by 2030, and a lot of our carbon output is from the responsibilities we have as a highway authority."
What does this mean? Road contractors will now need to show the carbon footprint of material used for Devon County Council work.

And how long will it be before the disclosure of embodied carbon is required for other markets? 

Today, at COP26, more than 100 organisations led by the UK Green Building Council are due to publish a Net Zero Whole Life Carbon Roadmap for the nation’s built environment. One of the recommendations:
Introduce the regulation of embodied carbon for new buildings and major refurbishments
The World Green Building Council has also issued "a bold new vision" that: 
By 2030, all new buildings, infrastructure and renovations will have at least 40% less embodied carbon
Could the sand and gravel resource at Straitgate become a high-embodied-carbon stranded asset?

AI marking out Straitgate’s proposed site access to show DMC councillors next week

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Professor sends lecture videos to EA et al.

Aggregate Industries, its water consultants Wood, the Environment Agency and Devon County Council can’t or won’t get their heads around the nature of groundwater flow through the unsaturated zone – the vadose zone, the zone that Aggregate Industries wants to remove at Straitgate Farm, the zone so important for surrounding private water supplies. This is despite countless warnings from Professor Brassington, a renowned authority on the subject. 

Aggregate Industries' consultants have claimed "recharge reaches the water table in the BSPB through unsaturated thicknesses of between approximately 3 and 10 m within between 1 and 3 days". Professor Brassington says groundwater flow through the unsaturated zone takes years, and the removal of it will in time make drinking water sources too acidic. 

In an effort to overcome this apparent lack of understanding, Professor Brassington has sent the above bodies links to a series of online mini-lectures by Professor John Selker of Oregon State University, who, Professor Brassington writes: 
...covers the flow through the vadose zone very clearly and clarifies this bit of the hydrological cycle that is often missed by hydrogeologists in our training. 

‘Greenwashing – the new climate denial’

Whilst "the world is on track for disastrous levels of global heating far in excess of the limits in the Paris climate agreement", here are the latest announcements from the parent of Aggregate Industries: 

Clearly the greenwashing from Holcim has reached new levels, because for the world’s largest cement company – mining finite resources, destroying biodiversity, emitting millions of tonnes of CO2, contributing to climate change and hardship for millions of people – to claim "Sustainability is at the core of what we do" is simply asking people to suspend all rational thought. Lest we forget, Concrete is the most destructive material on Earth.

And the insanity continues. Did you know "The words innovation and sustainability mean the same thing"? No, neither did we. If you thought innovation was related to new ideas, and that sustainability was about meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs, Holcim wants you to think again. Not content with greenwashing, the multinational cement giant now wants to redefine the English language.

But don’t despair. Thank goodness Aggregate Industries – a company that has given up reporting its CO2 emissions – is playing its part for COP26:

It's hard to believe, given its multi-million-mile haulage plans for Straitgate, but Aggregate Industries claims to have net-zero ambitions. 

Here’s net zero explained:

A Sydney man has set an ambitious target to phase out his alcohol consumption within the next 29 years, as part of an impressive plan to improve his health.
The program will see Greg Taylor, 73, continue to drink as normal for the foreseeable future, before reducing consumption in 2049 when he turns 101. He has assured friends it will not affect his drinking plans in the short or medium term. 
Taylor said it was important not to rush the switch to non-alcoholic beverages. “It’s not realistic to transition to zero alcohol overnight. This requires a steady, phased approach where nothing changes for at least two decades,” he said, adding that he may need to make additional investments in beer consumption in the short term, to make sure no night out is worse off. 
Taylor will also be able to bring forward drinking credits earned from the days he hasn’t drunk over the past forty years, meaning the actual end date for consumption may actually be 2060. 
To assist with the transition, Taylor has bought a second beer fridge which he describes as the ‘capture and storage’ method.

EA labelled ‘irresponsible’ after appealing landmark human rights ruling

If you thought the Environment Agency existed "to create better places for people and wildlife, and support sustainable development", think again. After allowing the sewage scandal, now this: 

Lawyers have accused the Environment Agency of 'wasting time and taxpayers money' after the regulator lodged an appeal against a High Court ruling, which found that it had failed to protect the life of a five-year-old child in its regulation of the Walleys Quarry landfill in Newcastle-under-Lyme. 

During the original hearing in September, Dr Ian Sinha from Alder Hey hospital said that unless Mathew Richards, who was born with bronchopulmonary dysplasia, had access to clean air his lungs will not recover and continued exposure to Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) emissions from the landfill site will mean that Mathew's life expectancy will inevitably be shortened.” 

The High Court ruled that the agency needed to do more to protect the local population as early as possible and that all measures must be “taken to reduce off-site odours as early as possible so that the WHO half hour guideline (5ppb) [five parts per billion] is met, addressing the undesirable current effects on people’s well-being and the symptoms they are experiencing”. 

It also said that from January 2022 off-site H2S should be reduced to below the US Environmental Protection Agency reference concentration of 1ppb. 

However, the EA was granted permission to appeal the ruling at the end of October. In its grounds for appeal, the EA argues that the judge presiding on the case “erred in deciding that judicial intervention was either justified or appropriate”. 

The EA argued that as the specialist statutory regulator, it was for itself and “not for the court, to evaluate and to determine the further action needed in order to restore gas emission levels at and in the locality of Walleys Quarry to acceptable levels and within an acceptable timescale”. 

The EA also argued that it was not found to have breached or to be breaching “positive obligation and [that there was] therefore neither a justification nor a requirement for a remedy”.  

Matthew Richard’s solicitor Rebekah Carrier, of Hopkin Murray Beskine, told ENDS that it was “astonishing” that the EA “had made extensive submissions to the Court of Appeal without even mentioning the fact that the pollution from the site is shortening Mathew’s life”.  

“Rather than waste time and public money on an academic appeal the EA should be putting their efforts into making the area safe.” 

Carrier said her legal team would “be drawing the Court of Appeal’s attention to the irresponsible failure of the EA to even mention the risk to Mathew’s health in its submissions to the court and asking the Court of Appeal to give the appeal the short shrift it deserves”.  

The Court of Appeal hearing is expected to take place before Christmas.

Monday, 8 November 2021

Is Aggregate Industries so short of money?

According to email correspondence, released through an FOI request, Aggregate Industries told Devon County Council in March 2020: 
...we are currently awaiting CAPEX approval before we can formally instruct Wood (Amec) to update the composite Maximum Winter Water Table Grid the EA requires to include the high groundwater level recorded at the site in 1990 and similarly, this is the case with one or two other issues. 
WTF. Really?? How much does it cost to update a few groundwater contours on a plan?  

It wasn’t until July 2020 that Aggregate Industries could happily report back to the Council: 
I have just had the 'green light' from the business to restart progress on the Straitgate application with the release of capital monies to complete the outstanding information. 
Goodness. Is Aggregate Industries so short of money? 

Or has the irrational pursuit of Straitgate Farm's sand and gravel devoured so much capital that strict spending limits are now in place? 

Or is the company not so bothered with Straitgate now, knowing the resource amounts to only 5% of what was originally thought possible?  

Or has the penny dropped that mineral extraction at Straitgate is never going to be profitable – not with a 46-mile round trip for processing the as-dug material, before any onward distribution, not with the current price of diesel and the shortage of HGV drivers? 

Let’s hope, if the worst happens, there’s enough money left in the kitty to actually restore the site!

Holcim at COP26

No wonder climate activists are worried that COP26 is a big PR stunt, when even cement polluters turn up to greenwash their gargantuan emissions.

If we are honest? Are there times then when Holcim – parent of Aggregate Industries – is not honest??

Cement is responsible for 8% of global CO2 emissions. Thank goodness that growing demand now presents an opportunity for the world’s biggest cement producer "to change how we do things". In case Holcim has forgotten, the first COP was held 26 years ago.

But when Holcim talks about looking at transportation, don’t hold your breath. If 23 miles separating proposed quarry and processing plant in Devon doesn’t make the company think twice, what will?

Thursday, 4 November 2021

DCC has ‘no real evidence’ cattle crossing won’t cause problems

Aggregate Industries’ planning application to quarry Straitgate Farm has been beset by delays over the years – in part because of the cattle crossing issue: the 150 or so dairy cows that would need to cross the B3174 up to 4x daily to access alternative pasture if quarrying were to proceed, with literally who-knows-what impact on the functioning of the main road into and out of Ottery St Mary, and on the A30.

The issue was raised more than 4 years ago. In 2017, Devon County Council wanted the company "to assess the implications of the farmer moving cattle across the B3174 as a result of the proposal". This June, East Devon District Council objected, saying Aggregate Industries' transport assessment:
...offers no detailed explanation for the conclusion that "there will not be a need to intensify livestock crossings". It also fails to explain how the applicant could prevent the farmer crossing livestock over the B3174 in the event that the mitigation measures prove unsatisfactory. In the seemingly likely event that a need arises for increased crossings of the B3174, neither the existing crossing arrangements nor the approved arrangements are considered suitable given the speed of traffic, the advance visibility and the fact that delays to traffic on this road would adversely affect a large number of businesses, schools and people in Ottery St Mary, as well as the emergency services.
What progress has been achieved in the last 4 years by the great minds at Aggregate Industries & Co? Following an FOI request, we now know. According to an email on 12 August 2021 from the case officer to Devon County Highways officers: 
AI still seem to be leaving the real impact of the quarry/cattle crossing/farm viability to us to consider with no real evidence that they won't be causing problems down the line – except their say-so.
This obviously represents a problem. The Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations say: 
The aim of Environmental Impact Assessment is to protect the environment by ensuring that a local planning authority when deciding whether to grant planning permission for a project, which is likely to have significant effects on the environment, does so in the full knowledge of the likely significant effects, and takes this into account in the decision making process. Paragraph: 002 Reference ID: 4-002-20140306 
...movements across all modes of transport that would result from the development and in the vicinity of the site; [and] an assessment of the likely associated environmental impacts of transport related to the development. Paragraph: 015 Reference ID: 42-015-20140306 
Policy M22 of the Devon Minerals Plan says
Mineral development will be permitted where it can be demonstrated, where appropriate through a Transport Assessment or Statement, that it would not have a significant effect on: (a) road safety; or (b) the capacity and functionality of the transportation network for all users.
So, how – "with no real evidence that [AI] won’t be causing problems", not least on the functioning of the B3174 and the A30 – could Devon County Council lawfully conclude that the development would be acceptable? Answers on a postcard.

Thursday, 28 October 2021

EA now accepts stream flows would change – with unlawful implications

The Environment Agency now accepts – in its "statement for the planning committee" of 13 August 2021, released after an FOI request – that changes to the unsaturated zone from Aggregate Industries' scheme to quarry Straitgate Farm would affect stream flows: 
In our view, the main risk of any increase in unsaturated zone flow rates resulting from the reduction in unsaturated zone thickness would be to the headwaters of the streams whose catchments are partly in the proposed quarry area (Pitt Copse Stream, Birdcage Stream, Straitgate Spring, Cadhay Spring, Cadhay Wood Stream, Straitgate Farm Spring, Cadhay Bog Stream)… 

Never mind, says the Environment Agency: 
...the arguments on headwaters presented above relate only to the timing of recharge. 
If the proposed quarry increases runoff and reduces groundwater recharge, then the flows of both the Cadhay Wood Stream and the Cadhay Bog Stream will reduce as well as the various springs that flow into these woodlands. This will have a detrimental impact on the viability of the ecosystems that is expected to be permanent.
Wood describe the fact that removal of most of the unsaturated zone will result in flashier groundwater baseflows to the springs…. The streams that flow from the springs also support local habitats especially Cadhay Wood and Cadhay Bog.
This has implications for downstream riparian owners, who have legal rights under common law
A riparian owner is anyone who owns a property where there is a watercourse within or adjacent to the boundaries of their property and a watercourse includes a river, stream or ditch.  
In recognising the change in stream flows – whether "only to the timing of recharge" or otherwise – the Environment Agency is endorsing a scheme that imposes unlawful changes upon downstream riparian owners, riparian owners who have the legal right to receive a flow of water in its natural state, without undue interference in quality or quantity. 

The Environment Agency helpfully sets out the rights of riparian owners
Water should flow onto or under your land in its natural quantity and quality. This means that water should not be taken out of a watercourse if it could lead to a lack of water for those who need it downstream. 
This is based on case law, Chasemore v Richards [1859] 7 HL 349 29 LJ Ex 81. 
He has the right to have it come to him in its natural state, in flow, quantity, and quality, and to go from him without obstruction; 
It would obviously be unlawful for Devon County Council to permit any scheme knowing that by doing so would result in unlawful impacts to third parties.

Tuesday, 26 October 2021

‘You can grow concrete’

AI introduces new ‘MWWT +1m criteria’ to comfort LLFA

It would appear that Aggregate Industries has given up 1 metre of resource in its plans to quarry Straitgate Farm – according to emails sent by the company to persuade Devon County Council's Flood Risk Management Team in its capacity as Lead Local Flood Authority to withdraw its objection. 

Following an FOI request, and the release of a number of redacted emails, we can now see the reasons behind the LLFA's volte-face.  

On 19 July 2021, Aggregate Industries told the LLFA: 
The objection you have received shows a fundamental misunderstanding of our scheme, one of the reasons why we are monitoring the MWWT is to inform the depth of extraction so that a minimum of 1m unsaturated zone is maintained over the MWWT.


On 28 July, the LLFA confirmed their understanding: 
My query is that if the MWWT keeps getting higher (closer to the ground) will there be enough depth (the report says 1.45 m) to accommodate the required volume for infiltration? Bearing in mind no excavation within 1 m of the MWWT and the fact that in some places the BSPB is as thin as 3 m (although I’m not sure where these places are).


On 18 August, Aggregate Industries told the LLFA: 
Regarding depth of void excavation for runoff storage above unworked material to protect MWWT:… Effectively, the eastern downslope edge of the extraction void for phases 1 and 2 will be shifted upslope, on account of the MWWT +1m criteria limiting the ability to extract from the downslope-most edge of these phases.” 
One hour later, the LLFA wrote: 
I am happy with the response. Essentially they are shifting the void upslope to account for the MWWT and 1 m stand off to ensure there is sufficient depth/capacity for the runoff which is reassuring.
With reference to the "void", on 30 June Aggregate Industries explained
The void created by mineral extraction acts as the infiltration basin so there is not a single cross section as this will change as extraction progresses... 

On 7 September, the LLFA withdrew its objection

Of course, "a minimum of 1m unsaturated zone... maintained over the MWWT" is brilliant news; we have been campaigning for material to be left unquarried above the maximum water table for years

The MWWT will ultimately form the base of the workable deposit, and any variation will impact the potential resource.
we have suggested that Devon County Council ask for the resource to be recalculated taking the new "MWWT +1m criteria" into account. 

Or is all this just another big misunderstanding?

Has Aggregate Industries misunderstood its own scheme again?

Has Aggregate Industries – either intentionally or unintentionally – misled the LLFA officer?

Friday, 22 October 2021

Tackling climate emergency should be ‘top priority’ for planning system

The RTPI and the TCPA believe that climate change should be the top priority for planning across the UK. This is simply because the impacts of flooding, overheating and other consequences of climate change stand in the way of everything else we want to achieve in terms of the creation of vibrant communities and a sustainable and just society. We are particularly concerned that the damaging outcomes of climate change continue to have the most severe impacts on the most vulnerable and those least able to respond.
The new guidance warns: 
Climate change is the greatest challenge facing our society. Every decision we take must count towards securing our long-term survival. The science of climate change is now well understood, and we know that we must limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels if we are to avoid catastrophic climate impacts. A recent report from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) made clear that drastic action to reduce carbon emissions is needed now if we are to have any hope of achieving that target. But we know that severe climate impacts are already locked in even if we do limit the temperature rise to 1.5°C. These impacts require urgent re-design of our communities to make them safe and liveable for future generations. We have to face up to this challenge now if human society is to have any chance of a long-term future. 
Indeed. What must planners do?

Clearly, this has not happened with the planners at Devon County Council. 

If they were seeking development options resulting in the biggest carbon reductions, they would not still be working tirelessly behind the scenes trying to make Aggregate Industries' scheme to quarry Straitgate Farm hang together; they would not still be entertaining Aggregate Industries' 2.5 million mile haulage scheme if climate change were their top priority

Neither, are they taking climate change seriously when thinking about future risks, because when it comes to the important matter of flooding a worst case scenario has not been applied


Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Letter to DCC questions – as we all do – AI’s credibility and Council’s priorities

If, in the course of nearly seven years, an international company with quarrying interests is unable to produce a cogent planning application for a quarry, then it is reasonable to conclude that there is something seriously wrong with the application or the applicant or both. No reasonable observer, taking into account the lengthy correspondence between the Planning Authority, Aggregate Industries (AI) and those of us questioning the application's credibility, could conclude otherwise. Questions on climate change, sustainability, quarrying methods, hydrological sensitivity, road safety (and more) remain inadequately addressed, or not addressed at all. The serial postponements and delays, alongside inaccurate, misleading and sometimes downright wrong information in AI's submissions mark it unacceptable to any credible planning assessment. 

There is a question too about the role that DCC has played in this process, which has been to indulge AI with seemingly unlimited time allowances while doing very little to support the Devon environment and those resident in it, which are its primary responsibility. It would be facile to point out to members where their interests should be focussed, they will know that well enough, but at the moment it is impossible to discover any sense that the planning authority has a role beyond finding a way, against all reason, to approve an application which should not be approved, and rubber stamp the avarice of a foreign company with no interest whatever in Devon beyond what it can extract from it. There will no doubt be pressure from AI to approve, regardless of the final condition of their ramshackle application, but Council Tax payers expect their environment to be protected, and the planning process to proceed fairly. That must surely be the Council’s overriding priority. 

I do, therefore (for the fourth or fifth time) urge the Authority to show some genuine concern for Devon and the people who live here and reject this dreadful application. Chris Wakefield

Sustainable aggregates

Over the years we have posted about secondary aggregates and recycled aggregates, both of which represent more sustainable alternatives to primary or virgin aggregates. 

Here's another example, this time from a Lanarkshire company that has recently launched a new range of low-carbon aggregate produced from incinerator bottom ash, together with recycled sand produced from street sweepings and gully waste:

Levenseat’s low carbon product offering is designed to help construction firms lower their building costs while also reducing their environmental impact by replacing virgin aggregate within concrete – for each tonne of recycled aggregate used, 29kg CO2 is saved from being emitted. In 2020 2.7 million tonnes of IBA was produced from Energy from Waste plants in the UK. 
Earlier this year, we posted about carbon-negative aggregates. This has now helped Jackson Civil Engineering secure an Environment Agency Flood & Coast 2021 Excellence Award. O.C.O’s aggregates sales and development manager said: 
Not only have we been able to show that carbon-negative aggregates have a role to play in sustainable construction and the road to carbon zero, but also, just as importantly, that they offer a credible alternative to using up our finite resources of traditional sand and gravel. 
I really feel the tide is beginning to change; people will have to start looking for alternatives and I think this award will open their eyes to the fact there is a manufactured product that can be used in various applications – such as asphalt and Type 1 concrete – which is both proven to work and is environmentally friendly.

‘High-carbon buildings morally indefensible, even racist’

University of Bath Professor of Zero Carbon Design David Coley wants materials usage to become a moral issue with a complete rethink over common design elements including high levels of glazing and excessive use of steel and concrete. He argued that architects, contractors, planners and construction clients must consider building projects from a moral standpoint based on their lifetime carbon impact in a new essay titled Are buildings evil? Rethinking responsibility in the construction industry

It says buildings should be seen as “harmful emitters” and that given a disproportionate amount of this harm, in the form of rising sea levels and temperatures will fall on the non-white population of the global south, designing and constructing energy-intensive buildings “fuels global climate injustice and is therefore morally offensive, and potentially a form of unconscious institutional racism.” 
Professor Coley said: 
“We urgently need to rethink our approach to construction and adopt zero-energy practices. The largest proportion of our carbon emissions come from our buildings, not industry or transport, as is often assumed. 

“We know how to build, and have built, some exemplary low-energy buildings, so our failure to adopt them as the norm can be viewed as deliberate. 

“We need the public to demand zero-energy buildings, developers to set zero-energy briefs and architects to draw zero-energy buildings – and all because they find anything else unacceptable, even repulsive.” 

Monday, 18 October 2021

‘Newspaper closures open door to corporate crime’

When local newspapers shutter, some businesses evidently treat the lack of press coverage as permission to act badly and end up committing more illegal violations, including pollution, workplace safety infractions, and financial fraud, according to Heese’s research. 
According to Professor Heese:
If you can do whatever you want and no one is looking, you’re more likely or more willing to engage in fraud. If the local media doesn’t make a fuss, you can pay the penalty to regulators without it affecting your reputation.
For his research, Professor Heese relied on Violation Tracker, "the first wide-ranging database on corporate misconduct" which traces violations and penalties from 44 federal regulatory agencies. 

Here's the Violation Tracker entry for LafargeHolcim – the parent company of Aggregate Industries. Penalties since 2000 in the US alone total $281,993,283 at the time of writing. 

Other violations around the world can be found here.

Fortunately in East Devon, the local press continues to survive. A search of the Sidmouth Herald archive shows the newspaper has followed the Straitgate debacle since 2011.

South West aggregate trends

The latest Aggregate minerals survey for England and Wales, comparing sales of primary aggregates between 2014 and 2019, was published in August.

The South West was the second largest source of land-won primary aggregates (28.2 Mt, 21%). Sales of primary aggregate increased 13% in the region between 2014 and 2019 (25.4 to 28.8 Mt). 

However, whilst sales of crushed rock aggregate increased by 18% (21.4 Mt to 25.3 Mt), sales of land-won sand and gravel in the South West decreased by 12% (3.3 Mt to 2.9 Mt), the largest fall in England. Over the same period, sales of sand and gravel in England decreased by 4% (52.4 to 50.5 Mt).

Sales of sand and gravel in the South West have fallen 60% since 1973.

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

DCC defers judgement on AI’s Straitgate planning application YET AGAIN

Aggregate Industries’ planning application to quarry Straitgate will not now be determined in October. The company has failed to meet yet another agreed extension, the 13th such extension since 2017. 

On 23 September 2021, the case officer wrote: 
I have agreed an extension of time until the end of November although I hope to take it to Committee in October.
Less than 3 weeks have passed since then, but the goalposts appear to have been moved for Aggregate Industries yet again. Clearly, after all these years, the company is still struggling to join the dots, still struggling to provide the necessary information, and the Council seems prepared to give the cement giant all the time in the world to do so, at considerable cost to local people and businesses blighted and unable to move on from the overhanging threat of development. 

There is increasing and justified concern within the community about the length of time being taken to determine this application and the delays in providing requested information.  

This application has now been with the County Council for nearly three years [six years since the initial application] and the uncertainty for the local community is a situation that the County Council as Mineral Planning Authority can no longer accept by continuing to request further delays in the determination due to a lack of the information we have been asking Aggregate Industries to provide.  

I must advise you that any extension of the determination date will now be limited to a reasonable period of time for you to do this work. The County Council will not be requesting a further extension of time beyond the end of this year and if the information is not provided in sufficient time for a determination at the meeting on 27th January, then it is my advice that the County Council is likely to proceed to determine the application as it stands and in the absence of the clarification we have requested on a number of important points. 
That was 2020. Three extensions have been agreed since then, and no doubt Aggregate Industries will now be looking for another. 

It is unclear, however – 12 months on from that letter, with 12 extra months granted to Aggregate Industries and 12 extra months of blight for the community – why Devon County Council, who is under a duty to act fairly, did not feel in a position "to determine the application as it stands". One can only guess. 

Monday, 11 October 2021

Who’s to say this couldn’t happen at Straitgate?

...the mineral has been variable in quantity and quality and the amount remaining may be considerably less than estimated.

Market demand has also fluctuated due to the Covid-19 pandemic and issues with the quality of the mineral in certain places has resulted in the site not being worked in accordance with the phasing plans and has taken longer to extract. 

Too small grain size and thick pockets of clay along with no sand in areas has added to the situation. 

Production has also been delayed due to flooding and phases could not be followed which has also impacted upon the phased restoration

the sand and gravel reserves were found to be significantly shallower than anticipated 
Quarrying for sand and gravel is an uncertain business. At least, the benefit is uncertain; the harm to the landscape would not be.