Monday, 12 March 2018

Could a shortage of HGV drivers undermine the viability of AI’s plans?

Profit margins are slim in the sand and gravel business. Haulage costs are significant; "the OFT considered that it is economical to transport aggregates around 30 miles" 4.15.

Any material dug from Straitgate Farm would entail a 46 mile round-trip for processing, before any onward haulage to its final destination; 46 miles extra to a normal sand and gravel quarry operation where the material is processed on site.

The bad news for Aggregate Industries is that haulage costs are on the increase because of a national shortage of drivers. The RHA says:
The UK haulage industry is currently facing a shortage of between 45,000 and 50,000 HGV drivers and we as an industry need to face this challenge head-on

Companies are plainly worried. Even AI. The same company whose plans for Straitgate would involve some 105,000 truck movements is even touting driverless trucks as one answer:
“It is therefore vital that we embrace the driverless truck concept and the positive impact it could bring. Although it is still very much in the embryonic stage, it could play a crucial role, if utilised correctly and safely, in ensuring we have the resource required to keep up with an escalating level of demand.”
We’re obviously not going to see driverless trucks hauling sand and gravel along narrow Devon B roads any time soon; many think the commercial rollout of driverless trucks is 'decades away'. Human drivers would be needed for the operation AI proposes at Straitgate - an operation the company says would last 10-12 years.

And who knows what the haulage landscape will look like in 5 years time, let alone 12? Will deliveries of sand and gravel then be competing for the same drivers that put food on our supermarket shelves?

MPA bemoans proposed changes to NPPF

The Mineral Planning Association warns that proposed changes to the NPPF, announced by Theresa May on 5 March and now subject of a government consultation, do nothing to benefit their members. According to the MPA:
The changes now being proposed will considerably weaken policy supporting minerals. In contrast, the weight given to environmental designations has been strengthened, with no transparent evidence provided to justify the changes.
There was however "Good news for ancient woodland", says The Woodland Trust. Proposed changes to the NPPF means that:
development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats (such as ancient woodland) should be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons. 173(c)
The planning advice for veteran trees remains that:
Where development would involve the loss of individual aged or veteran trees that lie outside ancient woodland, it should be refused unless the need for, and benefits of, development in that location would clearly outweigh the loss;
The consultation draft text for the NPPF can be found here.

UK construction output in biggest fall since 2012

... reports the Office for National Statistics.

Devon MP calls on PM to ensure our children benefit from better air quality

Tiverton and Honiton MP Neil Parish has called for a member of Cabinet to help ensure “our children and grandchildren” have good air quality.
Aggregate Industries plainly couldn't care about all that. Its plans to haul material from Straitgate some 2.5 million miles for processing would mean '31 tonnes of NOx air pollution and 4,463 tonnes of CO2'.

LafargeHolcim continues to suffer backlash over behaviour in Syria

Lafarge’s involvement in Syria has been the subject of a number of previous posts.

The New York Times has published an extended article about the company that now owns Aggregate Industries and Straitgate Farm; about how six months after the Lafarge Holcim tie up was announced, Lafarge workers in Syria were left to fend for themselves with the approach of ISIS:
“What I want to know,” Mr. Mohamad said of Lafarge in an interview, “is why did they leave us there to face our deaths?”
“The factory was the only thing they cared about,” Mr. Mohamad said. “But Lafarge should be a lesson for Western companies in foreign countries: They should treat people working for them like human beings.”

Monday, 5 March 2018

Revised junction plan put forward by Group eliminates pedestrian & HGV conflict

Whilst the Group maintains its objection to mineral development at Straitgate Farm, we are not averse to pointing out improvements in the proposals - where improvements can be seen; Aggregate Industries adopted a suggestion we proposed last year to modify the extraction boundary and reduce hedgerow loss by 500m.

The current site access plan can also be improved. That much is obvious. If the person who first put it together was subsequently found to have fabricated traffic numbers, then how much faith can local people have in his design?

AI's proposed access onto the B3174 Exeter Road for up to 200 HGVs a day centres on Birdcage Lane, the narrow lane on the right of the Street View above, much used by dog-walkers, joggers, ramblers and cyclists. The plans have been the subject of much concern and complaint - click site access label to see how much - particularly with regard to the potential impact on pedestrians and school children, particularly knowing that so many pedestrians are killed or injured in collisions with HGVs.

Many representations and objections have been made to DCC on this matter, including from solicitors Foot Anstey and the highways consultants Vectos. The proposal would also damage third party property. Solicitors warned DCC that:
any development which may cause such damage [to Tree H] will be resisted through available legal means, which may include an application for an injunction and/or an action for damages. Any such action would be brought against both the applicant and the Council (in its capacity as the local highways authority), and may also include a private prosecution for criminal damage.
The original design has since been passed to another set of consultants. It has been through a number of revisions - the latest revision of which has the inclusion of a narrow gravel path. AI proposed this path to be gravel in an effort to protect itself and the Council from the legal action above, but Vectos explained why such a path could not be implemented nor protect the tree. Solicitors warned DCC again:
In relation to the proposed drawing provided by the applicant, it is clear that it creates even more problems.
With each new attempt to address a problem, the applicant merely creates new ones, demonstrating that the scheme is inherently poorly conceived.
Despite this, DCC Highways appeared content with the gravel path proposal, and maintained in correspondence with a county councillor:
There are plenty of historical locations in Devon where a gravelled surfaces [sic] adjacent to the road are used and are safe for pedestrians.
When asked to provide examples of these locations, DCC Highways answered:
The Ex Estuary Trail [sic] and the Tarka Trail has areas where there is rolled stone finish to the surface.
It’s not clear if either of these locations have gravelled surfaces adjacent to the road - but hey, if Birdcage Lane could be viewed in the same light as the Exe Estuary and Tarka Trails, who cares? Local tourist businesses would surely welcome the area becoming a magnet for ramblers, cyclists and the like!

Nevertheless, with all the inherent problems in the existing access scheme, a number of proposals have been made to the Group, including one to the west of Birdcage Lane (i.e. to the left of the lane in the Street View above), that was then put to Vectos for scrutiny. Highways consultants verified that the proposal was feasible, had the required visibility, and offered safety advantages over the existing plan. Specifically it would:

  • eliminate all interaction between HGVs and pedestrians (including school children)
  • make it easier for vehicles exiting Toadpit Lane onto the B3174 by avoiding conflict with HGVs
  • save three veteran oak trees and a length of ancient hedgerow
  • reduce the visual impact - including from the AONB - by retaining more site screening

Furthermore, the area would also be easier to restore post extraction, and remove any conflict with PROWs and third party farm gateways. As an aside, it would also protect DCC from any legal action in relation to Tree H, and even be cheaper for AI.

Vectos’s letter has been sent to DCC. It looks like a no-brainer.

Both DCC and AI would obviously be open to criticism - or worse - if this alternative were not properly considered, and a serious accident were to result from the current design and/or the failure to separate HGVs and pedestrians.

“An alarming heatwave in the sunless winter Arctic...”

Whilst the world tries to wrestle with the problems of climate change and reduce CO2, consider that...
Who’s the largest cement company in the world? LafargeHolcim of course, the same company that owns Aggregate Industries.

So we shouldn’t be surprised that AI couldn’t give a toss about the CO2 associated with its scheme to haul each load dug from Straitgate Farm a 46 mile round trip for processing - 2.5 million miles in all.

Neither should we be surprised that AI keeps pumping out greenwash like this:
But those same blizzards referred to above no doubt put paid to any such event; AI’s website once boasted this but now looks like this.

And of course, if AI really had any commitment to combating climate change its CO2 emissions would not look like this:

‘50 quarry lorries a day turning community into village from hell’

... reports a local paper in Ceredigion, Wales:
In June 2016 the Cambrian News reported that concerned residents had launched a petition against quarry plans which they feared would lead to harmful emissions and an increase in heavy vehicles. Now there are fresh claims that the firm’s lorries are damaging the local environment. “It’s turned into the village from hell”
What's proposed for Straitgate?
The maximum number of vehicle movements generated as a result of this proposal is 86 loads per day, or 172 movements per day. The traffic impact assessment has been conducted using a figure of 200 movements per day... 8.7
Why 200? Because, as posted in 2015, planning applications are one thing and reality something else:
AI’s planning application for Venn Ottery in 2010 talked about an average of 138 HGV movements a day over a 4 day week, yet, on the one random day we checked, it was 194.

MPA sets out plans to give something back to communities blighted by quarrying

The Mineral Products Association has set out proposals for a new Aggregates Levy Community Fund to be introduced in England in April 2020.

Local communities, who suffer the impacts of an industry dominated by a handful of multi-billion pound corporations, shouldn’t get excited:
The MPA proposal would see 8p per tonne - or 4% - of Aggregates Levy revenue being allocated to the new ALCF to fund local community projects and biodiversity and nature conservation projects. It would mean that an aggregates quarry selling 200,000 tonnes of aggregates per year would generate aggregates levy credits of £11,200 annually for community use...
The figure of 8p per tonne gives you an indication of how much the minerals industry cares about the communities it blights; it effectively rounds down to nothing. To put the number in context, look at LafargeHolcim’s 2017 Annual Report:
The new CEO (Jan Jenisch) started on September 1st 2017 and received a combined base salary plus variable compensation of CHF 1.7 million, share-based compensation of CHF 6.8 million, employer contributions to pension benefits of CHF 0.3 million. As a result, the new CEO’s total compensation amounted to CHF 8.8 million.
Around £7 million in 4 months; nice work if you can get it. Or if that figure doesn't do it, how about this:
Lafarge paid 13 million euros to armed groups to keep operating in Syria - rights group
LafargeHolcim is the parent company of Aggregate Industries.

LafargeHolcim writes off $4billion

The stock fell more than 7 percent after the strategy was revealed. Analysts said the new goals lacked ambition... The revamp would include a focus on fewer markets to concentrate on the United States, Latin America, India and Africa... The fourth-quarter charge pushed LafargeHolcim into a net loss of 3.12 billion Swiss francs in 2017. Without the charge, net profit fell 31 percent to 270 million francs.
LafargeHolcim is the parent company of Aggregate Industries.

Monday, 26 February 2018

New borehole readings put base of planned quarry at Straitgate 1M BELOW WATER

Aggregate Industries faces more water trouble at Straitgate Farm, and potentially further delays.

Not only does the Environment Agency want further information from the company - see post below - but new boreholes drilled last year show that AI’s model of the maximum winter water table (MWWT) has failed before any quarrying has even started.

So much for all those assurances. In the latest Hydrogeological Assessment - the one that got whitewashed - AI’s consultants promised that:
Groundwater levels would be lower than this elevation for the vast majority of the time, with this level only being reached in extremely wet conditions. 4.2.17
Monitoring over the exceptionally wet winters of 2013 and 2014 allow this surface to be defined with confidence. 6.2.2

More recently, after the EA’s objection, the same consultants again pushed the idea that the MWWT:
builds in a conservatism 2.2.2
But it does no such thing. We’ve had a relatively dry few months in the South West. The most recent groundwater monitoring data for Straitgate Farm, up to and including 8 February 2018, confirms this:

In their objection last year, the EA advised AI:
The accuracy of the maximum winter water level grid may benefit from additional piezometers
A number of additional boreholes were duly drilled - see the 2017 locations on the map below.

The monitoring data from these boreholes show the groundwater level at PZ2017/02 and PZ2017/03 to have recently reached 134.62m and 138.06m respectively.

However, the MWWT at PZ2017/02 and PZ2017/03 has been modelled to 135m and 137m respectively.

In other words, the estimated - because that’s all it is - MWWT level around these points - the level that AI proposes to quarry down to - fails to even allow for normal rainfall, let alone maximum events.

In fact, the MWWT at PZ2017/03 has been modelled ONE METRE BELOW current levels.

PZ2017/03 is at the location of "Test Hole 4". Last year we posted about "Test Hole 4"; about how AI’s own report talked about "the closeness of the water table to ground level in this area". Borehole levels now confirm this - and expose the flaws in the troubled MWWT model; it was only last year that we posted about problems elsewhere too: that AI’s seasonal working scheme can't work as described.

So, what would these 2017 piezometers be telling us if the rainfall was as high as it was during the winter of 2013/14, which was 182% of the 1981-2010 average? How far below water would the MWWT guesstimate be then?

As the EA warned earlier this month - these events are happening with increasing regularity:
Met Office records show that since 1910 there have been 17 record breaking rainfall months or seasons – with 9 of them since 2000.
We’ve warned about all this numerous times before; click on the groundwater label.

The MWWT 'surface' - the base of the proposed quarry - was modelled from just 6 'maximum' water level points across the site. We’ve argued for a long time that this surface cannot be accurate. AI’s consultants have so far refused to confirm the level of accuracy (in +/- m) for this surface - see post below. This issue is especially important given the number of local people and businesses relying on the area for their drinking water and given that AI’s unorthodox seasonal scheme does not propose to leave a 1m buffer of unquarried material above the maximum water table to protect these supplies - the typical minimum requirement elsewhere where such supplies are at risk.

The base of any quarry as proposed is obviously too low, and allows nothing for a margin of safety.

There’s been a post on the right hand side of this blog for some time: The importance of leaving 1 metre...; it’s as relevant now as when it was written in 2015:
Leaving 1m unquarried above the maximum water table should be a precautionary given; 1m allows for a margin of error and a margin of safety, because the maximum water table is not known with accuracy; faulting across the site is not known with accuracy; excavators would not dig with accuracy; future climate is not known with accuracy; future land use pollutants are not known with accuracy.

EA requests further information - again

If Aggregate Industries thought it had the hydrogeology part of its planning application to quarry Straitgate Farm finally sown up it will be disappointed; the Environment Agency wants more answers.

Last October, the EA requested further information on a number of issues - one of which was:
A description of the tolerance levels and interpolation method used to produce the ‘Maximum Winter Water Table’ grid.
Whilst AI’s consultants were happy to talk about interpolation methods, they refused to tell the EA about tolerance levels. It was the same story two years ago, when we first asked DCC - who in turn asked AI, but never got an answer to - the question:
Since AI now intends to dig right down to the maximum water table, perhaps you could ask Amec to confirm the specific level of accuracy (in +/- m) to which their maximum groundwater contours are mapped?
Why is this question important? In the same post we wrote:
The MWWT is the surface that AI wants to quarry down to at Straitgate Farm. It would be the floor to any quarry. As AI does not intend to leave 1m unquarried above the MWWT to protect drinking water supplies - the typical requirement elsewhere - it is quite appropriate to ask what level of confidence AI or its consultants Amec have in this surface, and how this tolerance level has been derived. When essentially only 6 data points have been used to model this surface across almost 60 acres, the MWWT obviously cannot be exact. So, is it +/-1m, +/-2m or more? It's important to know because it could have a dramatic bearing on any working method employed.
It’s obviously not a question that AI or its consultants want to answer. But you only have to read the post above to see how inaccurate the MWWT model is already proving.

Last week the EA requested the information again, writing to DCC:
Straitgate Action Group has highlighted to us the incompleteness of the response provided by Aggregate Industries (via AMEC) to our letter of [9 October 2017] with regard to them providing a ‘description of tolerance levels’.
Section 2.1 of AMEC’s response makes no reference to tolerance levels, the relevance of tolerance levels, or the level of accuracy in the interpolated maximum winter water table (MWWT).
We recommend that a description of tolerance levels is therefore requested again from the applicant to support the planning application and to provide clarity in advance of the Planning Committee.
The EA also used the opportunity to raise this point:
We would also like to seek additional clarification on the infiltration tests carried out on the proposed backfill material. The report, ‘Aggregate Industries UK Ltd, Straitgate Farm hydrogeological assessment’ – AFW, December 2016, states that infiltration trials have shown the disturbed, proposed backfill material to have a similar infiltration capacity to the in-situ BSPB. However, the report, ‘Aggregate Industries UK Ltd, Straitgate Farm hydrogeology/drainage – Regulation 22 responses’, AFW, July 2017, Table 2.2, shows the disturbed overburden material to have a ‘much enhanced infiltration rate’. The applicant should clarify how the infiltration rate of the proposed backfill material compares to that of the in-situ material, and what effect the change between in-situ and disturbed overburden material might have on groundwater levels beneath the site.
Has Amec (Amec Foster Wheeler, AFW, now Wood) been found out? Telling one story to one party and a different story to a different party? The answer in 2016 was provided to satisfy concerns of the EA (4.1.3); the one in 2017 to satisfy concerns of the Lead Local Flood Authority after its objection (2.10).

AI’s unorthodox scheme proposes that the quarry base would be:
backfilled with at least a minimum of 1m of material derived from the upper uneconomic BSPB, in order to create an infiltration layer 4.1.3
Anyone worried that the future hydrological landscape for drinking water, wetland habitats in ancient woodland, or flooding in this part of the Budleigh Salterton Pebble Beds would be irreparably changed - as a result of undisturbed in-situ BSPB being replaced with backfilled and disturbed overburden material - is unlikely to find comfort in Table 2.2, the table referred to by the EA in the point above.

Because much enhanced infiltration rates might not only affect groundwater levels, as alluded to by the EA, but also the speed at which future pollutants - from farming or whatever - would reach drinking water supplies. As Dr Rutter's report made clear:
the restored soil (and possibly overburden) will not have the same structure as the original, and will have less capacity to attenuate any contaminants infiltrating from the surface
Plainly AI and its consultants have some explaining to do.

Monday, 19 February 2018

SW homeowners warned ‘intense bouts of flooding to become more frequent’

Ottery St Mary has a long history of flood events. Straitgate Farm sits on a hill above the town; four watercourses emanate from it. Removing a million tonnes of sand and gravel from this hilltop site is bound to affect the hydrology and surrounding flood risk. Local people have warned DCC, and so have we; click on the flooding label.

In removing a proportion of the unsaturated zone including the soil layer there will be a reduction in the storage capacity/buffering and so recharge may move more quickly through the unsaturated zone. The extent to which this makes the groundwater hydrograph more "flashier" would be difficult to quantify with a high degree of certainty… Within the proposed development the establishment of a 1m freeboard over and above the highest known water level provides for this eventuality. 3
Unfortunately, and as we wrote last year:
AI’s unorthodox seasonal working scheme does NOT propose to leave "a 1m freeboard over and above the highest known water level". Obviously we can now assume, by inference, that a flashier groundwater hydrograph has NOT been provided for.
Homeowners in the South West are being warned that intense bouts of flooding are set to become more frequent. The Environment Agency launched a Flood Action Campaign last week. EA chief executive Sir James Bevan warned:
Climate change is likely to mean more frequent and intense flooding.
Floods destroy – lives, livelihoods, and property. Our flood defences reduce the risk of flooding, and our flood warnings help keep communities safe when it threatens.
But we can never entirely eliminate the risk of flooding. Checking your flood risk is the first step to protecting yourself, your loved ones and your home.

Last year, DCC, in its role as Lead Local Flood Authority, still objected to AI’s scheme at Straitgate Farm - despite the company having had many years to get its water act together:
At this stage, we object to this planning application because we do not believe that it satisfactorily conforms to Policy MP24 (Flooding) of Devon County Council's Minerals Plan (2011-2031) which states that proposals for mineral development must not lead to an increased risk of fluvial, surface water or groundwater flooding. The applicant will therefore be required to submit additional information in order to demonstrate that all aspects of the proposed surface water drainage management system have been considered.
Any catchment is at risk of flooding associated with a rare, high-magnitude event, whether a natural catchment, or a designed drainage system. These rare events exceed local infiltration/storage capacities and result in concentrated downslope runoff. The proposed infiltration areas at the Straitgate Quarry [sic] have been designed to meet national guidance on design events (1 in 100 year with climate change). However, any bunds that may act to retain water also need to be safely designed to safely pass forward flows from these rare, high-magnitude events as would happen if the rare high-magnitude event occurred over the baseline catchment. 2.18.5
Is this enough? The EA's warning last week:
...follows a pattern of severe flooding over the past 10 years linked to an increase in extreme weather events as the country’s climate changes. Met Office records show that since 1910 there have been 17 record breaking rainfall months or seasons – with 9 of them since 2000.
The threat of flooding is real and increasing – as is also demonstrated by its listing as one of the nation’s major threats.
Last year, the Met Office published new innovative research which found that for England and Wales there is a 1 in 3 chance of a new monthly rainfall record in at least one region each winter.

Friday, 16 February 2018

UK bird strikes rise by a third in 5 years, reports CAA

The Jersey Evening Post reports "geese culled to reduce bird-strike risk to planes" and says:
According to a CAA report, between 2012 and 2016 the number of confirmed bird strikes in the UK rose from 1,380 to 1,835. The number of near misses also increased from 157 to 268.
Is it any wonder - if Exeter AIrport’s response to Aggregate Industries’ planning application to quarry Straitgate Farm is anything to go by? Exeter Airport has not objected to the ponding and wet grasslands that would attract birds and be left in perpetuity less than 200m directly below its landing approach.

Flybe operates out of Exeter Airport. In 2014, a Flybe plane taking off from Guernsey Airport collided with a bird - and was left to fly on with just one engine. Flybe has been involved in a number of other birdstrike incidents, including an emergency situation at Cardiff Airport in September.

In relation to Straitgate Farm, Matt Roach, Managing Director of Exeter Airport, wrote in December:
We are satisfied that the proposal which includes the site wildlife hazard management plan addresses the habitat for the life of the scheme and in the aftercare period (i.e. back to agricultural land) once the quarrying operation is complete. For the avoidance of doubt, one of our conditions was that the site will not have any new permanent bodies of water and furthermore we have corresponded with DCC in relation to this matter. The responsibility for bird management on the site remains with the site operator (not the airport) who must adhere to any conditions imposed. Having taken specialist advice Exeter Airport has no safeguarding concerns provided that the conditions they have submitted are agreed to and implemented. However, if the planning authority approves the application without including the conditions requested by the airport, then the airport has the right to engage the CAA to request that the application be called-in for determination by the Secretary of State.
I agree that aviation safety is paramount and Exeter Airport’s requested conditions are intended to minimise the potential impact from birds.
Exeter Airport is clinging on to the expectation that Straitgate would be left with no new permanent bodies of water - but nearby Venn Ottery Quarry was meant to be worked dry too and see how that turned out.

And on the subject of geese, this was AI’s other nearby quarry last year.

Friday, 9 February 2018

What is AI’s bottom line, because it surely can’t be profit?

Not long ago we posted that if Aggregate Industries’ resource at Straitgate Farm was equivalent to cows, it would be left with just 2 - having started with 33. Thank goodness AI leaves the farming to others.

Back in 2015 we wrote "Straitgate has already been a disaster for AI". Now, AI is left with just 6% of the figure first estimated in the 1960s, and plans to extract sand and gravel from just 6 fields - but still decimating a successful dairy farm in the process.

Let's see what that shrinkage looks like in visual terms. This was the plan in 1967:

This is how the plans have changed over recent years:

pic name

And this is where we stand in 2018:

So, what is AI’s bottom line? Because it surely can’t be profit. Even if AI won planning permission - after extensive application costs - it would still have to stump up further big slugs of money:

Extensive roman and iron age archaeological investigations;
Birdcage Lane 'improvements', including a bus stop for children waiting for school transport, and pedestrian provision;
Fit-for-purpose farm tracks and gates across the site around quarry workings;
Further tree planting;
Moving power lines across the site;
Cost of a 46 mile round trip for each load of as-dug material;
Provisions for mishaps / loss of water supplies to 100 people and businesses / under-recovery or over-estimation of material etc.

And all this over and above the standard outgoings for site access, tarmac haul road, wheel wash, bunding, soil mounds, restoration earth works etc.

Anyone would think AI was prospecting for gold, not sand and gravel. Or is it only concerned with what it could sell the site for afterwards? An industrial estate perhaps - if Blackhill (below) is anything to go by?

Monday, 29 January 2018

Objections mount for CDE’s planning application for Blackhill Quarry

Aggregate Industries’ permission to process material at Blackhill Quarry on Woodbury Common came to an end in 2016, and the plant is now in the process of being taken down to be re-erected at Hillhead Quarry near Uffculme.

It was widely hoped that this area at Blackhill would be restored, but landowner Clinton Devon Estates made an outline planning application late last year for 35,000 sq ft of industrial units - referred to in the post Why does quarrying have such a bad name? Take a look at Blackhill

Objections to this application in the East Devon AONB are mounting up, and the issue has been covered in the local press:
DCC raised no objection to the proposal, but interestingly the Devon Stone Federation did:
This planning application has been drawn to my attention by the Minerals Officer of Devon County Council… Devon Stone Federation objects on the basis that the proposal would sterilise an important underlying mineral.
Sterilisation is a rather bizarre reason - given that the mineral operator is now moving away from the site and dismantling its plant, and given that modification orders to restrict further mineral extraction were served back in 1999 when the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths were designated nature conservation areas of European importance.

But hey, an objection is an objection and should be welcomed, particularly considering what had been intended for this area.

The plan agreed with DCC states that for the processing area, Area 12:
It is anticipated that an alternative use for Area 12 will be sought by the landowner, perhaps a recreational or leisure use which will benefit from the existing hardstanding, office building and workshop to alleviate pressure on the SSSI. It is acknowledged that a planning permission for an alternative use will need to be sought from the Local Planning Authority. Should planning permission not be forthcoming then the office building and workshop will be demolished and removed from site. In addition, the existing hardstanding would be dug up and recycled for potential use on estate roads. The area will then be restored in line with the site restoration principals as agreed by the Quarry Restoration Group at the time. 

Only a select few - landowners, mineral companies, county councils or the like - would have imagined that plans for "a recreational or leisure use… to alleviate pressure on the SSSI" could mean an industrial estate. Objections to planning application 17/3022/MOUT can still be made here.

CEMEX turns 50 disused quarries into wildlife habitats

Whilst plans are afoot to renege upon the restoration promises at Aggregate Industries' Blackhill Quarry, CEMEX in conjunction with the RSPB has some better news:
A conservation project to turn 50 quarries into nature reserves by 2020 has been completed two years early and is already saving endangered species, like the turtle dove.
In 2010 the RSPB and CEMEX set an ambitious goal of restoring 1,000 hectares of land over a decade and in less than eight years we have met that target.
Working in partnership with CEMEX we have shown how land can be transformed from being an active quarry into a vibrant home for wildlife and we hope that our experience inspires others to play their part in restoring nature.

AI pins hopes on AI

Earlier this month we posted about artificial intelligence, how "AI has been all over the news recently".

Imagine our surprise when just a few days later Aggregate Industries launched its "2018 Innovation Strategy, with key focusses including robotics and artificial intelligence amongst others."


Monday, 15 January 2018

AI delays yet again

Aggregate Industries just can’t get its act together at Straitgate Farm.

In November, we warned that there were More delays to come and last week AI duly agreed with DCC "to an extension of the determination date from 31st January 2018 to 30th April 2018."

What’s the chance of AI’s planning application being determined by then? AI claims:
at present [10 January] we are confident of meeting your timetable for the April committee
But AI has no idea; it’s just wishful thinking. Ever since AI first applied to quarry Straitgate Farm in June 2015 there has been one delay after another. As things stand, AI’s scheme is still undeliverable - for the reasons previously outlined on this blog. No weight can therefore be assigned to AI’s latest claim.

How long is DCC going to keep entertaining this charade? Because:
- not, as in AI’s case, the norm.

Why does quarrying have such a bad name? Take a look at Blackhill

Quarrying is temporary, we’re told; land taken for quarrying will be restored back to nature or farmland, we’re told.

But how many times does that happen?

Look at what’s going on at nearby Blackhill Quarry. Surrounding communities have put up with quarrying for the best part of 80 years or more, with HGVs trundling back and forth through their villages, looking forward to the day when this industrial blot within the East Devon AONB might be restored.

Communities have fought tooth and nail to stop any further quarry development - including processing any material that might be won from Straitgate Farm.

But as soon as quarrying at Blackhill has finished, what do we find? Landowners Clinton Devon Estates submitting a planning application to EDDC just before Christmas for 35,000 sq ft of industrial units; AI’s traffic would be replaced by "around 134 two-way vehicular trips... across the day."

In the mind of the applicant, the prior industrial use has paved the way for more of the same:
The site currently benefits from an existing access road onto the B3180. As a result of the existing quarrying operations and also the adjacent industrial use, the access is able to accommodate HGV traffic. 2.4
Clinton Devon Estates makes reference to relevant planning policies in its documents, but conveniently overlooks point 116 of the NPPF which states:
Planning permission should be refused for major developments in these designated areas except in exceptional circumstances
Anybody who objects to the continued industrialisation of the AONB should make their feelings known to EDDC as soon as possible. The application can be accessed through this link, ref. 17/3022/MOUT.

EDIT 18.1.2018

DCC as Mineral Planning Authority has now responded to the above application. You might have hoped that DCC would have objected, given that the site is within the AONB and adjacent to the SAC, given that AI’s plant area at Blackhill was "the subject of a legal agreement under s.106 of the Town and Country Planning Act which required the operator and landowners to implement a wider restoration and after care scheme...". But no. Legal agreement or otherwise, DCC says:
To clarify, Devon County Council as Mineral Planning Authority would not wish to raise any objection to the proposal so long as adequate compensatory habitat to replace the lost area of heathland is provided elsewhere and that this is secured by condition or legal agreement. In such a scenario it would not then be reasonable for the County Council to seek to enforce the provisions of the legal agreement insofar as they relate to this small parcel of land.

AI has been all over the news recently

In the past we’ve detailed the catalogue of fiction that AI has generated in relation to the planning application for Straitgate Farm.

We use the abbreviation AI hoping that readers know what we mean.

Perhaps we should be more careful. With so many stories about the creativity of AI one might easily think, at first glance at least, that these recent headlines were referring to Aggregate Industries rather than artificial intelligence.

“Safety must come first as dangerous lorry driving hits the headlines”

... proclaimed an Aggregate Industries' press release last month.

But if that is the case, that 'safety must come first', it rather begs the question - since AI has been unable to secure a Stage 2 Road Safety Audit for its proposed cattle crossing, which would be a direct result from its proposals: What's going to happen at Straitgate Farm?

But we digress. AI's press release quite rightly points out that "businesses must pay extra diligence to ensuring the safety credentials of their haulier providers."
Throughout the duration of 2017 there has been an influx of headlines around poor lorry driving which has led to structural damage of property and infrastructure, accidents and, most tragically of all, fatalities.
As part of an ongoing crackdown on bad driving etiquette by Highways England, last month (November 2017) saw one UK County conduct secret filming which worryingly captured a number of HGV drivers using their mobile phones, watching YouTube videos and even reading books behind the wheel.
Ben Young, Head of Road Logistics at Aggregate Industries, comments: “The increase in reported dangerous lorry driving in the news this year is shocking and it’s something that all businesses, whether operating their own fleet or using a transport provider, have a duty to address.
“At Aggregate Industries, for example, we operate a robust theory and practical testing process when recruiting a new haulier which includes requiring them to achieve a minimum of FORS Bronze accreditation - which is followed up with regular monitoring and maintenance as part of our safety programme.
So, how well is AI's safety programme going? Seemingly, not well enough: