Friday, 21 September 2018

MP Hugo Swire writes to EA boss over Straitgate issue

Sir Hugo Swire has written to Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, after concerns were raised that Aggregate Industries’ quarry plans for Straitgate Farm do not – and will not – reflect accurate groundwater information prior to determination.

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".
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.
Sir Hugo Swire has now written to the Chief Executive of the EA:
… These concerns relate to the extraction levels respective to the maximum water table on the site which are now causing considerable concern locally both in terms of possible flooding and contamination of water. It is my understanding that recent rainfall has revealed levels of higher groundwater… Surely what is needed is a robust and workable plan before any permission is given and a plan in which your organisation has an input sooner rather than later. For instance, it may be that the EA will take the view that no development of this site is desirable which would have more weight prior to a planning hearing than it would retrospectively.
It goes without saying that I would be happy to meet your local team to discuss this in greater detail, but I would like them to know that this is a situation that you are personally taking an interest.
Sir Hugo Swire also raised concerns about the haulage distances involved and the vehicle access to the proposed site. He has written to Cllr John Hart, Leader of DCC, pointing out that a safer access proposal has been put forward to DCC by Vectos, with the backing of local people, but that no response has yet been elicited, and that "road safety and the transport of children is causing me real concern" – the access point for AI’s 44-tonne HGVs is used as a school bus stop for pupils from King's and Colyton.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

BBC: ‘You don’t need a denier to balance climate debate… the referee has spoken’

Extreme weather disasters have been at the forefront of our news in 2018. Millions have been affected across the world. Such events are predicted to become more regular and more extreme.

In the UK, the BBC has, at last, woken up to climate change. No longer should we hear our public service broadcaster giving equal weight to climate change deniers, Lord Lawson et al, allowing misleading claims to go unchallenged.


The BBC has now issued formal guidance to its journalists on how to report climate change:
Man-made climate change exists: If the science proves it we should report it. The BBC accepts that the best science on the issue is the IPCC’s position... 
Be aware of ‘false balance’: As climate change is accepted as happening, you do not need a ‘denier’ to balance the debate. Although there are those who disagree with the IPCC’s position, very few of them now go so far as to deny that climate change is happening. To achieve impartiality, you do not need to include outright deniers of climate change in BBC coverage, in the same way you would not have someone denying that Manchester United won 2-0 last Saturday. The referee has spoken. 
The referee has spoken. But not last week. Not last year. The scientific community began reaching consensus in the 1980s, having first argued in the late 19th century that human emissions of greenhouse gases could change the climate. And it wasn’t just the scientific community; in the 1980s Shell and Exxon also predicted – privately – the consequences of CO2 emissions:
Shell’s assessment foresaw a one-meter sea-level rise, and noted that warming could also fuel disintegration of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, resulting in a worldwide rise in sea level of “five to six meters”... enough to inundate entire low-lying countries.
The referee has spoken. So why are companies like Aggregate Industries – which, judging by its record on CO2 emissions, is still seemingly in denial about actually having to do anything about climate change – still behaving as if it’s business as usual, still planning a multi-million mile CO2 intensive, climate-damaging, environmentally-selfish haulage scheme across Devon?

The referee has spoken. So why is DCC still entertaining this ludicrous scheme?

The referee has spoken. But clearly some people are still ignoring the score.

The referee has spoken. And millions are finding out what that means.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

‘If the cement industry were a country, it would be third largest emitter in the world’

'In 2015, the cement industry generated around 2.8 billion tonnes of CO2, equivalent to 8% of the global total – a greater share than any country other than China or the US', reports CarbonBrief:
... the cement industry will need to dramatically cut its emissions to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature goals... only limited progress has been made so far.
... older equipment puts [European producers] behind India and China on energy efficiency.
If LafargeHolcim were a country, it would rank 42nd in terms of CO2 emissions; ahead of the Czech Republic and Belgium; nearly 3 times the emissions of Switzerland – the country where it is based.

LafargeHolcim is the parent company of Aggregate Industries.

Everybody loves dormice


Cute, sleepy, nocturnal, largely arboreal, and a protected species, dormice numbers have declined by over 70% in two decadesin large part due to habitat fragmentation:
These tiny rodents spend most of their life among trees and can only travel small distances across open ground. As a result, the continued loss and damage of our native woodland and the hedgerows that once connected it has been disastrous.


There are dormice at Straitgate Farm. Aggregate Industries plans to grub up their habitat – some 1500m of ancient hedgerow up to 4m wide. Little suitable replacement habitat is yet in place.

But apparently even the aggregate companies – purveyors of habitat fragmentation – love dormice. No, really. Forget about pesky ecological surveys, development delays, mitigation and compensation – look at this from CEMEX. What better way to greenwash a twitter feed?

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Ottery St Mary Rural by-election hustings – how candidates tackled Straitgate issue


Hustings were held at West Hill Village Hall on 14 September. The issue of Straitgate was raised. Here’s how two candidates responded, as recorded by an attendee. The transcript speaks for itself:
Geoff Pratt (Independent) spoke first.
He was opposed to a Straitgate quarry on various grounds including increased flood risk, traffic and dust.
John Sheaves (Conservative)
I don’t know enough about it to give a view. Why would the quarry affect flooding? There was a big quarry at Foxenholes, West Hill for many years with many dirty dusty lorries. Things are better now. The Blackhill Quarry restoration has been masterful. My jury is out on this one. Quarrying techniques have improved dramatically. Exeter Road traffic is the issue; lorries going out of the top end is not an issue.
Tony Howard said Straitgate was a matter for DCC, not EDDC.
Margaret Hall (Chair) asked if any District Councillors wished to comment.
Cllr Roger Giles said that the matter would be determined by DCC, but that EDDC is a consultee and would give its views. Addressing the issue of flooding Roger Giles said that there had been terrible flooding in Thorne Farm Way, Ottery and at Salston, Cadhay and Coombelake on 30 October 2008 - coming up to the 10th anniversary - caused by 4 streams originating at Straitgate Farm. The fear was that quarrying at Straitgate would interfere with the water table and make future flooding more likely. Roger Giles was interrupted by Cllr Philip Skinner, who said he had come to hear the panel speak - not Roger Giles.
A member of the public asked about why the EDDC planning committee had approved an application for industrial expansion at Blackhill Quarry on the East Devon pebblebed heaths.
John Sheaves
I am not familiar with the situation. I have the utmost respect for the way the Clinton Estate manages their estate. It is exemplary.
A member of the public said the question was not about Clinton Estates it was about the EDDC DMC decision in the face of considerable public opposition.
John Sheaves
It’s difficult to be well informed about Straitgate because you cannot get access to the documentation.
Margaret Hall
It’s online.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Another AI quarry in Devon non-compliant with planning conditions


Now another AI quarry in Devon has the red seal of Non-Compliance. At Westleigh Quarry "a new access ramp [was] constructed contrary to approved plans", and contrary to conditions that stipulate:
No development shall be carried out other than in strict accordance with the approved plans... unless otherwise agreed in writing with the Mineral Planning Authority.


Readers can find DCC's site monitoring reports for quarries in Devon here.

Westleigh is currently the subject of planning application DCC/4007/2017 to vary the approved working scheme to extract an additional 600,000 tonnes. We've recently posted about the problems that Westleigh has brought to Burlescombe, here and here.

AI is obviously not in any rush to comply with these planning conditions, given that:
The condition was identified as requiring compliance (within 12 months) and listed as AMBER ‘work required’ on 1 August 2017.
And DCC is obviously in no rush to enforce these planning conditions, given that the Council now:
Requires Compliance by the following date 08/08/2019
Two years – for merely "amended working plans... to accurately reflect the circumstances across the site" where AI should be working in strict accordance with the plans – gives the reader another example of how much importance, how much urgency, both mineral operator and council attach to conditions.

It was the same with the neglect of AI's S106 obligations at Blackhill, where annual hydrological monitoring reports were submitted late or not at all:


So, what hope is there for Straitgate, and the aquifer AI wants to quarry into, when there's such disregard for planning conditions? What hope is there that people wouldn't lose their drinking water supplies, or that supplies wouldn't become contaminated?

And what hope is there for people who lose those supplies, if there's such disregard for timeliness and urgency? How long would it take – "in the opinion of the County Council, in consultation with the Environment Agency, on the balance of probability..." – for DCC to swing into action? How long would it take – "in the opinion of the County Council, in consultation with the Environment Agency..." – for AI to restore alternative supplies, temporary or permanent? How long would people be without water? Days? Weeks? Months? If AI were to be found guilty – "on the balance of probability" – the company promises action "forthwith". But does that mean 2 weeks, 2 months or, as above, 2 years? Does than mean before or after the consultants and lawyers have had their say? What's that promise worth without a number? What's that promise worth with such failings and lack of urgency elsewhere in the county?

Think it couldn't happen? Here are some examples of how much notice the minerals industry takes of planning conditions and water tables; in one case "residents [had] no basic water supply for in excess of 13 months".

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Large quarry operators have to stump up financial guarantees too

Last week, it was announced that an Edinburgh quarry could re-open, after CEMEX – "the second largest building materials company worldwide, only after LafargeHolcim" – agreed to pay a £250,000 bond to ensure the site is restored in 2050.

Readers may remember that the subject of financial guarantees has come up before, in relation to Aggregate Industries' attempts to quarry Straitgate Farm.

The applicant is requested to provide information on other sites either in their control or operated by another company where the proposed working technique is used successfully. Reason: The MPA will wish to consider whether the proposed working technique is a “novel approach” as set out in the NPPF Paragraph: 048 Reference ID: 27-048-20140306 in respect of the requirements for guarantees on the amelioration of impacts on local water supplies should there be any technical failure.
Paragraph 48 says a financial guarantee is justified:
where a novel approach or technique is to be used, but the minerals planning authority considers it is justifiable to give permission for the development...
It was a simple question, but neither AI – nor the architect of the scheme who is no longer with the company – could point to a single other site where the unorthodox scheme has been tried before.

The obvious conclusion is that AI’s scheme is indeed a "novel approach", and that a financial guarantee would therefore be justified for "the amelioration of impacts on local water supplies should there be any technical failure".

Monday, 10 September 2018

Another accident on the B3174 Exeter Road

The scene this morning on the B3174. Further evidence that this dangerous stretch of road is unsuitable for Aggregate Industries' plans for up to 200 HGV movements a day.


The incident happened just across the road from where this lorry came off in 2016. 

More drainage issues on AI’s asphalt at Silverstone

After the track problems at Silverstone at the end of August for the British Grand Prix MotoGP – with Aggregate Industries' newly laid asphalt failing to drain properly, causing bikes to aquaplane, riders to be injured, the race to be cancelled, and a PR nightmare (both before and after the company threatened a journalist with legal action) – this weekend saw the circuit host the British Superbike Championship. The event was run on a shorter track:
The decision to use the shorter National Circuit rather than the full Grand Prix circuit has been taken to put aside potential concerns following the unfortunate decision taken to cancel the GoPro British Grand Prix MotoGP™ races in last weekend’s wet weather.
But even before the race started there were problems:



Further confirmation, if any were needed, that all is not well with AI's newly resurfaced track.

But warnings had been on the cards for some time, not only from Lewis Hamilton, but also from Dunlop:
The week before the Grand Prix of the Motorcycling World Championship, Silverstone's 6 hours were held at Silverstone. During this car racing event, Dunlop has already warned Daily Sports Car of the existence of a problem: "In general there is less degradation, but in water conditions there is no real drain right now. The water stays on the surface."
If AI was not directly to blame for all this, then you might have thought that AI's "racing circuit experts" – the experts referred to in AI's tweet below – would have known, from the track gradient at least, that drainage might be an issue; you might have thought that AI's "racing circuit experts" would have known that standing water was neither good for cars nor bikes travelling at over 150 mph; you might have thought that AI's "racing circuit experts" would have at least made sure that the track was fit for purpose. And perhaps they did. Perhaps AI's "racing circuit experts" will manage to apportion the blame to another party entirely? Who knows?

What is clear is that this checkered episode may have some way to run yet.


EDIT 10.9.2018: The post AI catches more fallout from Silverstone track ‘disaster’... and gags a journalist has been updated to include further comment from Mat Oxley – the motorsport journalist threatened with legal action by AI – and a link to his article posted by Motor Sport Magazine today.

Another member of AI’s team set to move on

When this farce has been going on for as many years as it has, comings and goings in the personnel involved in helping Aggregate Industries in its effort to win planning permission to quarry Straitgate Farm are to be expected.

Indeed, over the time we've been following events, there have been quite a few changes; only last week, we posted that the principal architect of AI's working plans for Straitgate is no longer with the company.

Now, another player in the Straitgate saga is also set to move on. Some may remember Steve Davies – Area Operations Manager for the South West – from AI’s public exhibitions. His job appears to be up for grabs, according to this advertisement.

DCC pension fund has £107 million invested in fracking

... according to new data, and this article from DevonLive:
Devon County Council are among those in the UK that have invested £9 billion of their workers’ pensions into companies that frack, despite some fierce local opposition. 
Peter Scott, from Frack Free Totnes, said:
It’s shocking to see that Devon County Council are directly investing public money into the global fracking industry. Fracking threatens communities, destroys local landscapes, and fuels climate change across the globe. As this industry tries to get a foothold in the UK, it's crucial that our councils take a clear stand against fracking and divest from the companies responsible.
A DCC spokesman commented:
The Committee's primary duty is to seek to obtain the best financial return for its members, but the Committee does consider environmental and social issues in all of its investment decisions.
Friends of the Earth warned:
UK councils should know better than to invest in fracking companies. These companies are inflicting their fracking operations on communities around the world, and this can have significant impacts. Many UK councils have rightly opposed fracking in their own area – however it is shocking that they still support the global fracking industry. We should remember too that the climate change caused by fracking will affect us all, no matter where the fracking is conducted.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

If AI had wanted to contain its Silverstone PR nightmare – it’s not working

We posted a few days ago that Aggregate Industries has taken legal action against journalist Mat Oxley following his take on the Silverstone track debacle.

How qualified is Mat Oxley to comment? According to the Silverstone web site last month:
Mat Oxley is one of the most experienced, trusted and respected journalists in the MotoGP paddock. A former Motor Cycle News (MCN) GP Reporter, Mat has raced around the world and claimed an Isle of Man TT win along with multiple TT podium finishes. He’s been working in the Grand Prix paddock for more than 30 years and his contacts within the racing teams are among the best in the world.
But if AI had hoped that legal action would contain this PR catastrophe, it's done quite the reverse.

AI's heavy-handed response has now been picked up by the motorsport press. Italian GPOne.com, which "reaches 450,000 motorcycle racing enthusiasts", reports:
In the meantime, Aggregate Industries, the company responsible for having resurfaced the Silverstone track, has decided to take legal action against British journalist Mat Oxley and paper MCN (Motor Cycle News). The reasons are not clear as, like all the media present at the event, they did nothing more than report the normal run of events.
Meanwhile, AI's nightmare on Twitter continues; here are a few of the humorous tweets:






EDDC approves CDE's planning application for industrial units in East Devon AONB

Last month, we posted CDE’s planning application for Blackhill Quarry recommended for approval, and this week, Conservative Councillors at East Devon District Council duly approved the controversial planning application from Clinton Devon Estates for 35,000 sq ft of industrial units at Blackhill Quarry on Woodbury Common – in an area that was meant to be restored back to heathland.

Details on the EDDC Planning Committee meeting can be found at East Devon Watch. Tony Bennett chair of "Wild Woodbury" responded:
There was a fantastic turnout for the meeting and I think it is fair to say everyone left feeling let down, angry, and betrayed. The floodgates are now open.

AI has been massaging figures again


We posted:
The company claims "The number of trees we plant is always rising". But it's always worth checking AI's claims. Because, if the company's sustainability reports are to be believed, AI planted 16,800 trees in 2013 (p21) and 3,400 in 2014 (p24).
So... not 4,500 in 2014, and not "always rising".
... at Straitgate, this is what's left of some of those 3,400 trees AI planted in 2014:


But not content with that, AI has done it again:


In 2015 we completed... 110 meters of hedging.
So again, the numbers do not keep growing.

And what AI fails to mention, of course, is the amount of ancient hedgerow that the company grubs up in the first place, and that the hedgerows the company plants are mere saplings – that will take decades to reach anywhere near what was removed.

At Straitgate Farm, for example, AI wants to remove nearly 1500m of 'important' hedgerow – hedgerows dating back hundreds of years – hedgerows that provide habitat for protected bats and dormice – hedgerows up to 4m wide.

So spare us the greenwash AI. Most people will still regard your business as primarily habitat destruction.

AI loses head geologist

Aggregate Industries - whose business is dependent on digging up rock - has lost its head geologist.

Eddie Bailey, who was Head of Geological Services and Land Survey, has played a central role in the company’s proposal for a quarry at Straitgate Farm since at least 2011. He was responsible for the design of the proposed quarry, and also the unorthodox seasonal scheme to quarry down to a modelled level of the maximum water table; a scheme that has caused much concern and controversy.

Eddie has, nevertheless, been a very personable member of the AI team, and has always been ready to meet with local people to explain the company’s plans.

Last month, he left the company for pastures new, "TBC".

We wish Eddie well in whatever he chooses to do next.

‘Uncontrolled sand mining led to Kerala floods’


People in East Devon are worried that sand mining and removing groundwater storage on a hill above Ottery St Mary – a town with a history of flooding – will permanently increase the flood risk downstream from four watercourses. They are right to be worried – knowing that Aggregate Industries’ infiltration plans can’t work – when groundwater is this close to the surface, knowing that new plans will not be requested before determination, knowing that this could be heading for an almighty stitch-up.

However, these concerns amount to nothing when compared to the agony suffered in Kerala, India, where more than 1 million people have fled to relief camps, with more than 410 dead and an estimated $3bn in rebuilding costs.

The flooding rightly received attention from the world's media – it was the worst monsoon the area had seen in nearly 100 years. What was less widely reported was the rainfall was less intense than 1924 but the damage as great. Why so? Experts are convinced that uncontrolled sand mining is to blame:
Sand regulates a river’s flow, floodplains store water, recharge ground water, filter pollutants, allows aquatic life to thrive. When sand is taken out, water tables sink, rivers dry up, change course, banks collapse, floodplains get pitted with ponds, silt chokes rivers, vegetation and habitats get destroyed, dust pollution kicks in.
Kerala’s once-in-a-lifetime deluge brought with it rainfall of 2,378 mm over 88 days, four times more than normal — but 30 per cent less and spread over 61 days more than the flood of 1924, the most intense flood in the state’s recorded history, submerging as it did almost the entire coastline. So why has the recent calamity wrought damage on a scale last seen when the state received 3,368 mm rainfall 94 years ago? That’s because Kerala has reduced its capacity to deal with such extreme floods by allowing illegal stone quarrying, cutting down forests and grasslands, changing drainage patterns and sand mining on river beds, experts say.
“Rampant stone quarrying and digging of pits is the reason behind the landslides and landslips, which worsened the situation in the Kerala floods,” Madhav Gadgil, ecologist and founder of the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, told IndiaSpend. “These quarries cause deforestation and block the natural streams, which help in reducing the intensity of the floods.”
And it’s not just Kerala. "Almost each of India’s 400-plus rivers is in the grip of the sand mining mafia." Warnings to governments have been ignored, "buckling under the pressure of sand mining and quarrying lobbies."
These are not just natural events. There are unjustified human interventions in natural processes which need to be stopped
Why are governments the world over – local or national – so toothless in the face of lobbying from the mining and minerals industry?

Monday, 3 September 2018

Tour of Britain 2018

From one sport on two wheels to another.


Today, the Devon stage of the Tour of Britain started in Cranbrook and finished in Barnstable; Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas were among the riders.

The road to Ottery St Mary – the gateway to the Otter Valley – formed part of the early stage. The video below shows riders passing Straitgate Farm – the area behind the cyclists screened by trees. Aggregate Industries wants to remove a large number of these mature trees as part of its plans to reduce the farm to a sand and gravel quarry.

But let's not spoil the day with ugly thoughts. This was one sporting event enjoyed by thousands of people on the 108.8 mile route. More than that, at least in East Devon, the sun was out, it wasn't raining, the roads were dry, and Aggregate Industries – the company that has recently won fame in the world of motorsport and aquaplaning – will be glad that this is one occasion where it should be able to avoid the sort of PR catastrophe that ensued after the cancelled British Grand Prix MotoGP at Silverstone – a PR catastrophe that @AggregateUK has now managed to escalate, after threatening an experienced and respected motorsport journalist with legal action.


Sunday, 2 September 2018

AI catches more fallout from Silverstone track ‘disaster’… and gags a journalist

Readers would be forgiven for thinking we’ve suddenly gone motorsport mad!

We should of course be posting about Aggregate Industries' protracted struggle to get its act together at Straitgate Farm, but the company’s recent trouble in the world of motorsport provides a distracting interlude – and a reminder to those ready to trust AI to deliver the goods: be it tarmac to racing circuits, hauliers using mobile phones whilst driving on motorways, or excavators digging up an East Devon farm with an unorthodox untested seasonal working scheme where a Grade I manor house and 25 other homes are wholly reliant on the groundwater for their drinking water supplies.

Anyway, rest assured that normal service will be resumed shortly. In the meantime, back to Silverstone.

Last time we posted on this matter, we wondered if AI had grasped the severity of the Silverstone track debacle. From the company's interaction with a journalist this week, it’s now clear that they have.

Silverstone was the track that in February promised "should be very close to the perfect surface for a racing circuit" with:
high performance asphalt from Aggregate Industries which will not only help with the grip on the track, but also water drainage and speed – making those fast corners even faster!
After the 2018 MotoGP British Grand Prix was cancelled, when the newly laid high performance asphalt failed to drain properly, AI must have been desperate for a 'good news' story – in an attempt to bury all the bad publicity. You can imagine the scene at AI HQ after the bank holiday weekend:
Quick, find me a good news story! What do you mean there aren’t any? Give The Wildlife Trusts a call – come up with something, anything, to greenwash this shitstorm!
And hey presto, a couple of days later, the company – whose business model is reliant on digging up the UK countryside – announced "a new 3-year partnership with The Wildlife Trusts". In reality, it wasn’t much of a story, and hardly a new partnership – when AI has already "proudly worked with The Wildlife Trusts for the past ten years" – but the construction press, who have stayed largely quiet about AI’s troubles at Silverstone, couldn’t regurgitate the company’s press release fast enough.


In the world of motorsport, however, partnerships with Wildlife Trusts are hardly going to cut it – with the furore over Silverstone refusing to die down, and the company attracting even more unwelcome attention.

AI has at least now confirmed – to Crash.net – that it is helping Silverstone with their enquiries:
We are working in close partnership with Silverstone and will be conducting a full review of the track resurfacing over the next few days to better understand the issues caused by the extremely wet conditions on Sunday. We will continue to make resources available to assist our client during this difficult period.
But you can already sense the lawyers limbering up during this difficult period. In the language of an unscrupulous builder:
Not our fault gov, t’was the ‘eavens, an act of the Almighty, and anyways the T&Cs don’t say nothin' about rain!
And what a legal tussle there might be, when so many commentators don't agree that the issues were "caused by the extremely wet conditions"; Race Director Mike Webb for one:
Silverstone previously hosted torrentially wet MotoGP races in 2011 and 2015, prompting Race Director Mike Webb to conclude this year's problems were "a direct result of the [new] track surface."
Naturally, there has been a range of other comments in the motorsport press:

In MotoGP.com, "Silverstone surface to blame for British GP cancellation", the Grand Prix Safety Officer is quoted as saying:
We will wait to see the outcome [of the investigation]... but for sure they will need a new asphalt.
Clearly the first cause for the cancellation of the UK GP was the resurfacing of the circuit.
Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta says MotoGP's future at Silverstone is not in doubt so long as it undergoes another track resurface, after the current tarmac forced the cancellation of the British GP.
When MotoGP action commenced at the weekend, Marc Marquez – not a rider who normally complains – confirmed the fears by saying after first free practice: "If the people who resurfaced the track got some money after, they have to think about it."
The 2018 MotoGP British Grand Prix will forever appear as a blank mark in the record books, after a botched resurfacing job meant persistent rain on Sunday rendered the Silverstone track impossible to safely race on, forcing a complete cancellation of a grand prix motorcycle race programme for the first time since the snowed-off 1980 Austrian GP.
Giacomo Agostini, 15-time world champion, referred to the cancellation of the British Grand Prix "a gaffe”.
“That's how it is - he explains - Silverstone is an historic track, they can't make this kind of bad impression. It rains and you cannot race? In England?"
Ago, who has significant experience as a constructor, goes on to point the finger at the firm that carried out the work.
"I think the customer who put the resurfacing out to tender and those who didn't resurface the track correctly were both at fault."
"We raced here in worse weather in 2015 with no problems," one senior factory person commented to me, their face signalling a combination of frustration and disgust. The word which cropped up again and again was "disaster", in English, in Spanish, in Italian, in every language spoken in the paddock. And the blame was laid entirely at the door of the circuit, or at the door of the contractor responsible for the resurfacing, who were brought in by the circuit.
As renowned circuit designer Jarno Zaffelli told Italian website Corsedimoto, there are no simple answers. The circuit, the contractor, and the senior staff who signed off on this contract should all consider their positions. Somebody needs to take responsibility for what started off as a minor cock up, but turned out to be a massive systemic failure. After all, what is the point of a circuit in the UK if it can't handle a little rain during the weekend?
However, with Motor Sport Magazine – where Mat Oxley had said much the same as a host of other commentators in "MotoGP Mutterings: 2018 British Grand Prix" – AI took umbrage, let the lawyers loose, sparked another Twitter storm, and prompted Motor Sport to post:
On 28 August 2018, we published an article entitled "MotoGP Mutterings: 2018 British Grand Prix" on this website. This article contained inaccurate statements about Aggregate Industries and these have now been retracted.
This was followed by a string of tweets from the author to his 30k followers:







Here is Mat Oxley in that subsequent interview – carefully avoiding any mention of AI and asphalt – spelling out the dangers of aquaplaning on a bike at 180mph, spelling out that if the race had taken place "there was a good chance we would have lost several riders".



So, really, what is the point of AI's heavy-handed action? Is the gagging of a TT winner and experienced motorsport journalist really going to help the company's reputation? Because every petrolhead and his dog is blaming the track – a track that AI very publicly boasted was laid by them, with material that AI very publicly boasted was suitable for the job. Can it gag all critical comment on Twitter, Facebook, chatrooms, blogs, and from drivers and riders too?



As for the fans, getting any refund when insurance companies are involved – insurance companies who will obviously be pointing to the new track and not just the weather – is likely to be protracted.

EDIT 3.9.2018: Further responses from Mat Oxley:





Here's the full thread, and the rest of Mat Oxley's "collated comments".

EDIT 10.9.2018: Further to the retraction by Motor Sport Magazine, Mat Oxley has revisited the issue:


It’s clear that his new article Silverstone: the aftermath has indeed been carefully scrutinised by Motor Sport Magazine’s legal advisers:
It is too early to know the results of that investigation, which is being jointly carried out by Silverstone and Aggregate Industries, the company responsible for resurfacing the race track in February this year. It is therefore impossible to apportion blame for what is undoubtedly one of the worst days in British motorcycle racing.
However, Mat Oxley has spoken to riders involved in the cancelled event, one of whom likened the track to a "big swimming pool... the problem was everywhere...", and another who said "there was too much water everywhere... there wasn’t a worst part of the track because it was all the same."

The article also speaks about earlier problems with the new surface:
I have subsequently discovered that the British MotoGP weekend wasn’t the first time bike racers had run into aquaplaning issues on Silverstone’s new surface. Bemsee staged a club race meeting in April, where riders rode in similar conditions.
On the question of who pays:
Silverstone has announced that it will inform fans about refunds within the next week. To a large extent who pays for that refund – which could be run into the millions – will depend on the findings of the investigation. It is fair to say that the completion of that investigation is being awaited with bated breath by all concerned.
The full article can be found here.

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 👍 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: