Tuesday, 1 March 2016

AI pulls Straitgate & Blackhill planning applications...

...and EVERYTHING starts again.

What a fiasco. With no rights over 3rd party land, Aggregate Industries has withdrawn its planning application for Straitgate Farm and, following advice from DCC, the linked application for Blackhill too.

If AI and its merry band of consultants and lawyers had done their homework properly, investigated rights over neighbouring land properly, we would not be in this position now.

If AI had had any thoughts of sustainability, any thoughts for the environment or for people, any thoughts for local roads, air pollution, climate change, drinking water supplies, airport safeguarding, flooding, heritage, listed buildings, European Protected Species, hedgerows, AONBs, SPAs, SACs, SSSIs, Woodbury Common or Ottery St Mary, we would not be in this position now.

But it didn’t, and because of AI’s incompetence it looks like we have got to go through this all over again. New applications will follow, this time with access at Little Straitgate onto the B3174 Exeter Road - the main road into and out of Ottery St Mary. AI had previously rejected this option on safety grounds:
The southern option, onto the B3174, was dismissed early in the process on highway safety grounds. It would have been too close to existing accesses, including the access to Straitgate Farmhouse, and the vertical alignment of the highway at this point would compromise visibility. 5.44 
New surveys will need to be performed for highways, hedgerows, archaeology, etc. Overtures by AI to the long-term tenant of this land, which is not part of Straitgate Farm, have already been rejected.

Huge questions will now hang over the site at the time of the Examination of the Minerals Plan; a Plan that has gone forward to the Inspector with the wrong tonnages, the wrong area, the wrong fields, the wrong access point, but laughably still as a Specific Site - where "the proposal is likely to be acceptable in planning terms". Perhaps DCC should have listened more to local people and less to the tales spun by a multinational cement conglomerate. On 25 June last year, DCC was advised by solicitors:
The area of land in question, as owned by our clients has been designated as land suitable for use as a transportation hub and we confirm that Aggregate Industries have not supplied evidence of their right to use that land for those purposes. Our clients therefore wish to object on the basis that their land will be used for purposes beyond the extent of any usage rights that Aggregate Industries have.
AI was warned by these solicitors on 13 May 2015. DCC and AI ploughed on regardless. All AI would say:
The applicant contends that it has necessary rights over the surface to implement the proposals as presented. 8.78
And as late as last month, in response to representations on the Minerals Plan about site access and resource, DCC was still stubbornly sticking to the line:
The anticipated tonnage figure was provided by the operator on the basis of retention of one metre unsaturated zone. If it emerges that this is incorrect and/or that the operator does not have the necessary land rights to part of the site, these issues can be considered during the examination and, if necessary, suitable modifications proposed.
Further information will be sought from the mineral operator on land ownership and access issues and consideration given to the need for modifications.
In other words, despite being told to the contrary by the 3rd party’s solicitor, DCC was still siding with AI - changes would be made "if it emerges", "if necessary". This, despite DCC having already sought further information on this matter from AI without success back in 2012. For four years, DCC has blindly and doggedly pursued Straitgate without seeing ANY evidence of AI’s access rights. It’s shameful.

Now another box-load of documents will be generated. AI will have a second chance to either get it right or make another hash of it. Perhaps this time these documents will have the right numbers. Perhaps the facts will be consistent. Perhaps the surveys will be truthful. Perhaps the arguments will stand up to scrutiny. Perhaps not.

The worst part of all this? DCC says none of your responses to the previous applications will stand. New objections will have to be made. In time, DCC will contact those who objected last time. That’s bad news for local people who have been submitting responses on this matter on and off since 2001. Perhaps that’s the plan - wearing down objectors by attrition. 

For AI, it’s obviously a major setback: more expense, more delay; look at when things happened last year: Scoping request (Jan'15), consultation, public exhibitions (Mar'15), AI’s planning applications (Jun'15), consultation, DCC’s Reg22 request (Jul/Aug'15), consultation, AI's Reg22 response (Oct'15).

It now has new people on the job, but still AI appears to have no Plan B and has to be out of Blackhill on Woodbury Common in 10 months. By the time of determination, Devon's new Minerals Plan may even have been adopted, the same Plan that "does not propose Blackhill as a location for processing":
Proposals for the off-site processing of extracted materials should be located outside of the AONB unless exceptional circumstances can be demonstrated.

So, on we go.