The piece in the Express & Echo gives a very good summary of the Inspector's findings:
Devon Minerals Plan hearing recommends nearly 200 changes
By Exeter Express and Echo | Posted: May 28, 2016 By Anita Merritt
Nearly 200 modifications have been made to controversial plans which will set out the future of quarrying and mining in Devon following examination hearings this week.
The revised Devon Minerals Plan will result in further public consultation between August 1 to September 23, before being given Devon County Council committee approval.
There are 199 modifications altogether, though many are minor issues of clarity, updating and correcting errors.
The modifications include:
• Amending the vision and the spatial strategy policy to a more concise form;
• Widening mineral consultation areas for ball clay and china clay;
• Clarifying the tonnage of sand and gravel potentially available at Straitgate Farm;
• Greater detail on the means of access to the West of Penslade Cross site to avoid lorries passing nearby houses;
• Increased commitment to use of secondary and recycled aggregates
Examination hearings to consider objections over the Devon Minerals Plan were held over four days at Exeter’s County Hall, and concluded on Friday.
The plan underwent consultation last autumn, and proposes sites to achieve the supply of minerals to 2033.
It includes building a 100-acre quarry near homes in Uffculme.
Mid Devon residents expressed there anger that they had not been consulted for three years while the proposals were being drawn up, while those in East Devon, where another quarry is proposed at Straightgate, near Ottery St Mary, have successfully campaigned for the size of the potential quarry to be reduced in size.
The proposal for Penslade Cross in Uffculme would see 40 hectares – almost 100 acres – of agricultural land, lost to a sand and gravel operation. The land contains an estimated eight million tonnes of aggregate which would be used in the building trade.
Residents have also voiced concerns over a huge increase in lorry movements around junction 27 of the M5, and noise and dust pollution.
The examination hearings this week were conducted by government inspector Andrew Freeman. The aim was to establish the soundness of the minerals plan.
The emerging Devon Minerals Plan will eventually replace the existing Minerals Local Plan of 2004, and it is likely to be adopted by the end of the year. The plan aims to maintain the supply of the wide range of mineral resources produced in Devon, while minimising adverse effects on Devon’s communities and environment.
Devon County Council have said that while some of the resources have adequate reserves to last beyond the next 18 years, it is necessary for the plan to propose some new areas for working to ensure supply.
A Devon County Council spokesman said: "We are satisfied with the outcomes of the examination hearings which have enabled all parties to have their say on each part of the minerals plan. The modifications that have arisen from these discussions do not significantly alter the proposals within the plan, and largely address matters of detail and clarity."
Devon Minerals Plan hearing recommends nearly 200 changes | Exeter Express and Echo
Here is the piece from the EDW blog:
DEVON MINERALS PLAN: INSPECTOR RECOMMENDS MORE THAN 200 CHANGES
28 May 2016
It appears from the press release (link below) that the recommendation is that Straitgate Quarry should be reduced in size but the Inspector raised many issues about access and alternative sites to which he did not receive adequate answers.
Much centred on lack of consultation, and the amended report must now go out to public consultation again from August 1 to September 23,
Report from the Straitgate Quarry Action Group here:
And here is the piece from the campaigning Straitgate Quarry Action Group - which suggests that we are no further forward:
What happened at the Examination?
The Examination of the Devon Minerals plan was adjourned today, after four days of hearings. An eight week consultation on modifications will begin in August; the Inspector will consider responses and produce his report by the end of October.
DCC and Aggregate Industries faced a number of difficult questions from the Inspector in relation to Straitgate. The Inspector learnt that despite Straitgate being one of DCC's Preferred Areas for future sand and gravel quarrying, despite the site being championed by the Council since 2012, despite consultations, discussions, reports and planning applications - we still don’t know how the site will be accessed or how the material will be processed. Fundamental unanswered questions. A Preferred Area is meant to be:
areas of known resources where planning permission might reasonably be anticipated
The draft Devon Minerals Plan puts forward two such areas. Even on the first day of the Hearing, in relation to over-provision of resource, the Inspector said:
I suppose the question is, do you need two Preferred Areas?
On the second day, questions started on Straitgate. On access, AI confirmed that it had no rights over the northern part of the site, leaving the only possible access on the southern side. The Inspector read out to AI what the company had previously said in its planning application to quarry Straitgate:
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
Despite having had six months to sort this out, AI said it was still 're-assessing' this option; the option where the recent safety audit indicated that HGVs could only turn left - not right, where they would need to go; the option where only this week a DCC Highways Officer said "nothing has been resolved nor even tentatively agreed".
The Inspector moved on to processing. Having first ruled out Whiteball in Somerset, the Inspector read out to AI what the company had previously said in its planning application to quarry Straitgate:
It has been demonstrated that processing at Rockbeare is not physically possible due to a lack of silt space and clean water storage, insufficient stocking and processing area and the presence of great crested newts in existing ponds. 8.37
The Inspector wanted to know if AI had ruled out Rockbeare. AI wouldn't go that far, but did confirm that 'a detailed assessment had ruled it out as a viable option'. So, if not Rockbeare, what about Blackhill?
The Inspector read out to AI the objection from Natural England in response to the recent Blackhill/ Houndaller application; an application to process a fraction of the amount of nitrate-rich soils that would come from Straitgate:
At the current time, Natural England does not concur with the applicants view that the importation of the proposed material will not have an adverse effect on the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths SSSI/SAC for the following reasons... The unit of the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths adjacent to Blackhill Quarry contains sensitive wetland habitats including areas of M14 - Schoenus nigricans-Narthecium ossifragum mire which is dependent on low nutrient status. This habitat is more sensitive than any other wetland habitats and is very sensitive to any nutrient change...
AI said it was working on a response. DCC said it was not putting Blackhill forward as a processing site in the Minerals Plan, relying on the phrase:
Proposals for the off-site processing of extracted materials should be located outside of the AONB unless exceptional circumstances can be demonstrated.
Which is all well and good, but where does DCC think the material will be processed?
The Inspector also raised questions on the risk of birdstrike, soil storage, B3180, hydrogeology, ancient woodland, archaeology, hedgerows and dormice, heritage, visual impact on AONB, flooding and tourism.
A further question addressed the amount of resource, and this issue was also considered at the hearing today. Earlier on in the proceedings, it was made clear that AI had dropped the 460,000 tonnes of overburden from its plans; an issue we had raised last year.
On the remaining resource, only last month DCC had advised:
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".
This was in line with the EA's position:
In addition, although it was our understanding that the minerals development at Straitgate would entail above max water table working, we note that the operator is now proposing an operation that does not conform to the requirements of this policy or the mitigation proposed in Appendix C.
DCC has now backtracked on its statement, relying on the number in AI’s hastily produced resource statement, which "assumes a working base that coincides with… the maximum recorded winter water table" - not 1m above it - and the Council persists with the notion that Straitgate could provide "Up to 1.2 million tonnes"; a ridiculous show of faith when you consider how many times AI has revised that number. The dry working scheme sanctioned by the EA - see post below - could only produce 900,000 tonnes, according to AI’s own Regulation 22 response, and this point was made to the Inspector.
To safeguard private water supplies, the Inspector recommended more consistent wording in the main body of the Plan to reflect the wording in Appendix C.4:
The development of this site will only involve dry working, above the maximum winter (wet) level of groundwater with an unsaturated zone of at least 1m maintained across the site.
In summary, the Inspector was left not knowing how processing of any material from Straitgate would take place nor how access to the site might be safely achieved; a ludicrous situation for a Preferred Area; a ludicrous situation when you consider how long DCC and AI have had to prepare for this.