Tuesday, 27 September 2016

"Support from Aggregate Industries UK Ltd noted"

If you read DCC's report on the modifications consultation along with AI’s submission you can tell just how far the Council has climbed into bed with LafargeHolcim, the world's largest cement conglomerate. There were more representations by far on the Straitgate modifications, MM32, MM33, MM57, MM58, than any other part of the Plan. Concerns were raised by the Environment Agency, by East Devon District Council, by Ottery St Mary Town Council, by councillors and by members of the public. And what did DCC have to say? "no further change is considered to be necessary"What a surprise.

And AI? They're happy with it all. Of course they are.

Remember those words from the Chairman of DCC's Development Management Committee?
I therefore encourage everyone to take part in this consultation and make further comment on the proposed modifications so we can make sure we strike the right balance and secure a plan fit for our future.
What a good job DCC has done in striking the right balance.

So, six years after launching "Devon’s Big Minerals Debate", DCC is still pushing Straitgate as a Preferred Area for sand and gravel quarrying without even knowing how the site will be accessed or where the material will be processed. What a farce.

Monday, 26 September 2016

EA responds to DCC's removal of the 1m safeguard at Straitgate

The consultation on the proposed modifications to the Devon Minerals Plan closed last week. The Inspector will now consider the responses, including this one from the Environment Agency on the subject of Straitgate and DCC's decision to put a line through the 1 metre buffer stipulated by the EA to protect drinking water supplies. The Inspector plans to issue his report by the end of October.


Friday, 23 September 2016

It looks like Rockbeare's out of the picture for good, as far as Straitgate is concerned

Further to "Has AI finally given up on Rockbeare?" and "AI's plans are still up in the air", it looks like the chance of Rockbeare ever being used to process material from Straitgate was well and truly ended this week, when planning application 16/1464/MFUL from Waycon Precast Ltd was approved by EDDC.

Waycon plans to lease the old concrete products site at Rockbeare from AI, replace the buildings and expand production, "to provide an updated state of the art concrete precasting works".

Readers will remember that it was only in May, at the Examination hearing, that an AI spokesman was telling the Inspector that it "wouldn’t wish to rule out the site" for processing material from Straitgate and would "look again" at Rockbeare if permission for Blackhill was not extended beyond 2016.

But as we wrote a couple of weeks ago, and just to show how much the company cares for the environment, AI is now ludicrously talking about processing Straitgate material at Uffculme - some 23 miles away - which would work out as an astonishing 2.5 million HGV miles and 4000 tonnes of CO2 in total. You wonder if there's any Minerals Planning in Devon, but good luck to AI with convincing the councillors and residents of Mid Devon of the merits of that scheme.

Why Straitgate’s sand and gravel is so much better than the millions of tonnes already permitted at Uffculme, also from the Budleigh Salterton Pebblebeds, only AI can say. For each Straitgate load to warrant a profit-sapping 46 mile round-trip, before any of the site development costs, it must be very special stuff. Is there gold in them thar fields??

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Thursday, 15 September 2016

Yes, let’s imagine a world...

...where a LafargeHolcim company doesn’t plan 2.5 million CO2 polluting HGV miles on Devon roads.


The cement industry is one of the world’s most polluting: it accounts for 5% of man-made carbon-dioxide emissions each year...
Cement firms have not attracted the ire of environmental campaigners in the way that oil firms have. But that could change if they shirk efforts to cut emissions in a manner consistent with keeping the world less than 2°C warmer than it was in pre-industrial times (as agreed at UN climate talks last year). For now, few cement companies are setting environmental targets that are tough enough.
Let’s imagine a world where cement and aggregate companies #ActOnClimate, not just talk about it.

MP to campaign against AI's plans to extend Uttoxeter quarry

Another story about Aggregate Industries. Another story about broken promises. Another story about how much you can trust what AI says. This is what Andrew Griffiths, MP for Uttoxeter says:
LAST year I wrote in this paper about the benefits Uttoxeter's quarry had brought to the town through the jobs it created and minerals it extracted. In the same column, I highlighted how residents would soon be rewarded for their patience, putting up with the disruption the quarrying activity had created with work shortly beginning on regenerating the site into a community asset.
It came as a surprise to me then, along with local residents earlier this month, to learn that Aggregate Industries, the company that manages the quarry, has lodged an application with Staffordshire County Council to extend its excavation of the site for a further 10 years.
This goes in direct contradiction to the promise they made to residents on being awarded the previous extension back in 2008, that in return for the additional eight years of quarrying activity, work would start on transforming the area into pleasant walkway and sports facilities with the site being handed over in stages.
The new plans also do nothing to address the concerns of residents and other users of the nearby road, the B5030.
Aggregate Industries has controversially applied for an extension to excavate and restore Uttoxeter Quarry until 2028
This road already sees accidents and congestion on a regular basis, but the increased traffic the area would experience from the quarry could pose a real danger to pedestrians and road users.
The actions of Aggregate Industries are completely unsympathetic towards local residents who are fed up of delay after delay.
I have already written to the county council on a number of occasions in object to these plans and I will campaign along with other local activists for the rights of local residents against this proposal. Last year I said I'd put up with the disturbance caused by any new quarry if it meant residents had access to the new community asset.
However, as work is still yet to start on this, to award Aggregate Industries another extension would go against local people's good will and disregard the company's broken promise. Funding has been awarded by Sports England for these new leisure facilities and that money will not be up for grabs for long. I will continue to urge the council and Aggregate Industries to fulfil their promises, take the financial opportunities available and give the people of Uttoxeter the new facilities they deserve.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Hugo Swire MP writes to Cllr John Hart

DCC, who put a line through the 1m buffer stipulated by the Environment Agency to protect private drinking water supplies for more than 100 people around Straitgate, now has the gall to say it "remains committed to protecting the water environment in the vicinity of the proposed sand and gravel quarry".

Following that modification to the Minerals Plan, a concerned resident wrote to Hugo Swire MP, who in turn wrote to Cllr John Hart; this is John Hart's reply. He reminds us that:
Following extensive dialogue with the mineral operator and the Environment Agency concerning the potential impact of mineral extraction on the water environment at and surrounding Straitgate farm, the pre-submission Minerals Plan of August 2015 included a requirement that “an unsaturated zone of at least 1m [be] maintained across the site”.

If 1m were to be left unquarried above the maximum water table as specified by the EA there would NOT be "Up to 1.2 million tonnes" as DCC maintains, but no more than 900,000 tonnes; AI say so themselves:
...excavating to a level 1m above the highest winter water table level would reduce the saleable tonnage by approximately 300,000 tonnes 8.77
DCC’s Minerals Officer no doubt had a large hand in John Hart's reply, but saying that "...no iteration of the Plan has used a figure of 900,000 tonnes" is disingenuous because this modification had been intended, as correspondence less than four weeks before the Examination Hearings records:
Given that Aggregate Industries has stated the quantity by which their original resource figure would be reduced by compliance with the requirements of Table C.4 of the Plan, I consider that it would improve clarity of the Plan if the currently-modified reference to “Up to 1.2 million tonnes” be replaced by “Approximately 0.9 million tonnes”. Paragraph 5.4.9 will also require similar amendment. The Council is not intending to circulate further modifications in advance of the hearings, but will table modifications to this effect at the hearing session that includes Straitgate Farm.
Of course, DCC then spinelessly back-tracked on that commitment after AI rushed out another Resource Statement, made public on 12 May 2016, with its untested unorthodox unapproved summer working scheme; the same unapproved scheme and resource statement that prompted the EA to say:
We are... still waiting for a robust assessment of the risks that would result from this modification to the operation.
It is also notable that the applicant appears to be basing the present resource assessments on the basis of a hydrogeological model (highest water level) that has not been formally agreed.
Which means that after years of faffing about, years of consultations and expense, years of waiting for groundwater measurements and reports, DCC’s Minerals Plan - the Preferred Area designation at Straitgate and the amount of resource available - is based on a hydrogeological model that has not been formally agreed; again, this for a site supplying 100 people and 3 livestock farms with spring water. What a pig’s ear.

Those who participated at the Examination Hearings will also remember:
In order for all parties to be able to prepare for the hearings, any additional statements should be with the Programme Officer by 5.00pm on Friday 22 April 2016… Late submissions and material tabled at the hearings are unlikely to be accepted since this can cause disruption and result in unfairness and the adjournment of the hearing."
One rule for some, another rule for aggregate companies.

For what it’s worth, the consultation on this and the other modifications is open until 23 September.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Dormouse numbers halve over last 20 years...

... and are "vulnerable to extinction in Britain" according to "the first definitive report on the state of the species"; a study which looked at more than 100,000 records gathered from across the UK over the last 25 years, and "thought to be the longest-running small terrestrial mammal survey in the world".

The wildlife charity, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, found that the number of hazel dormice counted at nest boxes in England and Wales has fallen by 38% since the year 2000, and by 55% since the mid-1990s; alarming numbers when you consider that conservationists regard the dormouse as an important indicator of biodiversity - a canary in a coal mine.
The state of Britain’s dormice remains precarious: the population decline apparent at monitored sites continues and a changing climate makes their future uncertain.
This European Protected Species is found in the ancient hedgerows of Straitgate Farm - the same 2km of ancient hedgerows that Aggregate Industries wants to destroy.

Dormice "depend on well-managed woodlands and healthy, connected hedgerows for their survival". The PTES dormouse officer said:
“We can’t do much about the climate, so the only thing in our armoury is getting our woodlands managed properly and linking our landscape up through hedgerows.”
AI couldn't care. It wants to start earthworks at Straitgate Farm in the Spring/Summer of next year with, incredibly, virtually no appropriate mitigation planting yet in place.

Last year, in response to AI’s aborted application, Natural England reminded DCC that:
We are also aware that tree and hedgerow planting proposed as mitigation for both landscape purposes and replacement habitat for the dormouse population may not yet be in place in the quantity identified throughout the documentation supporting this application...
We are also aware that changes identified in the Reg 22 response in relation to the tree and hedgerow planting proposed as mitigation for both landscaping purposes and replacement habitat for the dormouse population may affect the quality and quantity of planting that will be in place. Your Authority will need to be satisfied that the mitigation plan proposed by the Applicant is deliverable in the quantity and to the quality required and within the appropriate timescales to provide the necessary replacement habitat.
Even if AI did start to plant some trees in the right place:

Thursday, 8 September 2016

AI's plans are still up in the air

We are now into September, but it's unlikely that a revised planning application from Aggregate Industries for Straitgate Farm will land on Devon County Council's desk any time soon; AI’s plans for "essentially the same development" have gone awry.

Why? DCC has again underlined that it will not support Blackhill being extended beyond the end of 2016, to process any material from Straitgate, which is good news for Woodbury Common and all those who live in Woodbury and along the B3180.

Since AI has given up on the alternative of processing at Rockbeare you would be forgiven for thinking that must be the end of it. But no. Unbelievably, as mooted at the Venn Ottery Liaison Meeting, AI is now considering processing Straitgate material at Hillhead - some 23 miles away - an astonishing 2.5 million HGV miles in total - equivalent to driving around the earth 100 times - equivalent to almost 4000 tonnes of CO2 - equivalent to 1% of AI's total annual process emissions; AI has obviously no thought for sustainability, climate change, air pollution, the environment, even the NPPF:
To support the move to a low carbon future, local planning authorities should plan for new development in locations and ways which reduce greenhouse gas emissions
And AI certainly has no thought for DCC's new Minerals Plan:
Mitigation of and adaptation to climate change is a key consideration and statutory duty for the Devon Minerals Plan, and will be a cross-cutting theme for the Strategy. 2.2.4
AI already has millions of tonnes of sand and gravel resources at Hillhead. It therefore makes a mockery of any strategic thinking in the Minerals Plan; apparently the reason why the County needed both south (Straitgate) and north (Penslade, near Hillhead, Uffculme) sites:
Maintaining the production of sand and gravel from the southern and northern parts of the Pebble Beds is also important in minimising transportation distances to the main markets in Devon and adjoining areas in accordance with Objective 1 and Policy M1. 5.4.8
Spatial Strategy (Policy M1) ensures that the distances that minerals are transported by road are minimised 3.4.7
This spatial pattern will also minimise the contribution of mineral development to climate change. 2.5.3


If Penslade is not on the cards for another 10-12 years (again, from the Venn Ottery Liaison Meeting) it's likely that AI would want to extract material from Straitgate on a campaign basis - during the summer months when groundwater levels are lower - somewhere in the order of 100,000 tonnes per year. How this still makes financial sense, with extensive haulage and road junction engineering costs, remains a mystery. Who ever thought that sand and gravel could be so profitable?? Or have the LafargeHolcim bean-counters in Zurich taken their eyes off their free-spending Devon colleagues?

On the site access front, it now looks likely that the proposed entrance at Little Straitgate will be ruled out on safety grounds. AI is running out of options. However, following the recent meeting, Hi-vis jackets out in force, an AI surveyor was out measuring up along Birdcage Lane this week. How muddy lumbering 44-tonne HGVs pulling out from this lane, some 60m along from Little Straitgate, won't present overtaking and fast-moving cars on the dangerous B3174 with exactly same safety issues is unclear. How this tiny lane can accommodate two-way HGV traffic with pavement facilities to protect pedestrians, including from adjoining public footpaths, is also unclear; no doubt AI has another cunning plan.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Are they really going to put another ‘Seagull Pond’...

or any other body of water from quarrying at Straitgate Farm... 200m directly below the landing approach of Exeter Airport? Seagull Pond? That's what Aggregate Industries calls this body of water at Blackhill Quarry; you can see why:


The Red Arrows often use Exeter Airport; 25,000 people watched them at Sidmouth this summer.


For the Red Arrows, the weekend that started with Sidmouth was not without incident:



It has happened in Devon too:


You can see why the issue of birdstrike should be taken so seriously:



If events such as 'Birdstrike drama...' and '...bird strike causes two bangs and smoke from engine' don't raise public awareness of the dangers, this upcoming film will.


Thursday, 1 September 2016

"We view the one metre buffer... to be a critical environmental bottom line"


But, in New Zealand...
It was widely criticised by residents near the quarries, who feared it would impact their drinking water.
Both the city and regional councils opposed the application.
An independent hearings panel has sided with opponents, writing that the application fell "considerably short of the mark" for protecting groundwater quality.
In an at times scathing decision, the panel pointed to repeated rule breaking at the quarries and poor compliance monitoring by authorities.
The existing rule — staying one metre above the groundwater table — was being broken, along with various other rules such as hours of operation, meaning there was no confidence more relaxed rules would be followed.
"We are simply not confident of the ability of the quarry operators to consistently adhere to such a complex set of conditions for a long period," the panel wrote.
"We view the one metre buffer... to be a critical environmental bottom line that should adhered to 100 percent of the time and strictly enforced by the consent authorities.
"This is clearly not happening."
All expert witnesses agreed that digging deeper would negatively affect groundwater in some way.