Sunday, 18 March 2018

Pressures to expand business parks in East Devon >>> Blackhill Quarry, Woodbury: part two

Over a month ago, this blog reported on plans to extend the industrial estate at Blackhill on Woodbury Common:
Futures Forum: Pressures to expand business parks in East Devon >>> Blackhill Quarry, Woodbury

Back in December 2016, Aggregate Industries, the company which quarried on the site, announced it was going to move out - and that the area would return to heathland habitat:

Blackhill closure to improve traffic flow

02 December 2016 | Daniel Wilkins

Blackhill quarry. Ref exe 06-16TI 0666. Picture: Terry Ife

The closure of a mineral processing plant in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) could mean 140 fewer HGVs a day travelling across Woodbury Common.

Aggregate Industries has announced it will be moving its processing activities out of the former Blackhill Quarry at the end of 2017. Over the next 12 months, the company will help to return the site to heathland habitat. It will then be handed back to landowner Clinton Devon Estates (CDE). In a withdrawn application to extend its stay, Aggregate Industries said there could have been as many as 140 HGVs travelling on the busy B3178 through Woodbury Common every day.

Roger Saunders, chairman of the Otter Valley Association, which has been campaigning for mineral processing to cease at the site, said: “The quarry site is within the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is bordered on two sides by highly protected countryside (Site of Special Scientific Interest, Special Protection Area and Special Area of Conservation).

“Quarrying activity stopped several years ago, but the site has had its life extended a number of times to store and process material brought in from other sites. Given the sensitivity of this site, and the importance of Woodbury Common, it made little sense to subject the area to the traffic impact of hauling thousands of tons of material to and from the site for processing. Closing the site will have an immediate impact on traffic across the common, making it a much more pleasant experience for drivers and cyclists.”

Blackhill closure to improve traffic flow | Latest Exmouth News - Exmouth Journal

Then Clinton Devon Estates announced they wanted to extend their industrial estate into the site - as reported by the group campaigning against Aggregate Industries at another site:
Straitgate Action Group: Objections mount for CDE’s planning application for Blackhill Quarry

The application has been defended by CDE: 

Quarry expansion plans will provide 'space for nature and sustain local economy'

Clinton Devon Estates have hit back at criticism of the plans for expanded business units at Blackhill Quarry in Woodbury

Daniel Clark Local Democracy Reporter For Devon

5 FEB 2018

Plans to expand business units at Blackhill Quarry in Woodbury represents an area of less than two percent of the former quarry that is being returned to nature, landowners Clinton Devon Estates have clarified.

East Devon District Council planners have received an application for the proposed expansion of Blackhill Engineering to allow construction of up to 3251 sqm (35,000 sq ft) of general industrial floor space with access, parking and associated infrastructure.

Environmental campaigners have said it would be ‘morally and ecologically wrong’ to allow the proposed expansion of business units at Blackhill Quarry in Woodbury.

But landowner Clinton Devon Estates say the plans will enable the sustainable development of the local economy in the South West and the site represents an area of less than two percent of the former Blackhill Quarry on the edge of the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths (EDPH) which is being fully returned to nature

Leigh Rix, Head of Property and Land at Clinton Devon Estates, said: “We’re extremely pleased at how well the restoration at the quarry site is progressing, and we’re grateful to both Aggregate Industries and the team from the RSPB for all their efforts.

Blackhill Quarry

“While quarrying and related work at Blackhill has ceased, Blackhill Engineering, who have been based at this site for over thirty years, continue to operate from this location. We are in discussions with them about them taking on the extra space so that they can expand locally, creating extra jobs and apprenticeships. Blackhill Engineering, which supplies products to the UK civil engineering and defence industries and exports to the USA, New Zealand and Europe, already employs 34 full-time staff at the site, and hopes to increase this.

“This application proposes that we replace the existing sifting and grading plant structures with purpose-built units which would be lower and less intrusive on the landscape. All the existing screening on site would be maintained, and studies have shown that the traffic generated by the new use would be less than that associated with the previous quarrying and processing work.”

The site, like much of East Devon, lies within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is also a County Wildlife Site, but is outside the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and outside the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and the Special Protection Area (SPA).

Proposed layout of new industrial units for Blackhill Engineering

Mr Rix said: “Prior to submitting this application, we commissioned a comprehensive ecology report, which shows that, because the application involves replacing existing industrial equipment, the work is unlikely to impact on nearby designated sites, nor the County Wildlife Site. Nevertheless, we will be implementing an ecological mitigation plan.

“This application will help a successful local company to grow, creating high-quality, full-time jobs for local people, without damaging the local environment and not causing any interruption to the highly successful restoration work already under way. We believe that approval of this application will result in a major boost for the local economy, while at the same time protecting the environment for the benefit of people and wildlife.”

Woodbury business park expansion would be ‘morally and ecologically wrong’

Tony Bennett, from Wild Woodbury, has said that the plans would seek to reverse this restoration plan and the “U-turn” would be a huge blow to the environment as it sits within one of the most highly protected and scientifically important areas of countryside in Europe.

Processing plant in area 12 being dismantled (Image: Tony Bennett)

Woodbury parish council have also voted to object to the application.

The application is to install new specialist facilities on a 1.5 hectare (3.7 acres) site, formerly occupied by the quarry’s processing plant. The ten year project to return 64 hectares (158 acres) of redundant quarry to lowland heathland with open water habitats has already won national recognition in the 2017 Mineral Product Association’s Biodiversity Awards just five years into the programme. Under the terms of the scheme it was agreed that a planning application could later be lodged to consider alternative use at the site of the quarry processing plant and other buildings.

The area represents less than two percent of the 64 hectare former quarry site which lies within 1,124 hectares (2,800 acres) of the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths and is owned by Clinton Devon Estates and managed by the EDPH Conservation Trust.

East Devon District Council planners will determine the fate of the planning application.

Clinton Devon Estates defends Blackhill application | Latest Exmouth News - Exmouth Journal

This is the press release from CDE:
Blackhill Quarry application - the facts - Clinton Devon Estates

And here, restoration of the heathland is detailed:
Access restrictions at Frying Pans and Quarry Shelterbelt - Clinton Devon Estates

However, as noted by the East Devon Watch blog, it is very much about PR:
Clinton Devon Estates PR team working overtime on Blackhill Quarry! | East Devon Watch

With comment here:

One thought on “Clinton Devon Estates PR team working overtime on Blackhill Quarry!”

David Daniel says:
10 Feb 2018 at 2:13pm

Like, I suspect, many others I welcomed the creation of the Pebblebed Heath Conservation Trust established as a conservation charity (charity registration no. 1109514) in 2006 by Clinton Devon Estates. It put the management of one of the most important conservation sites in Europe on a sustainable basis and enabled financial support from DEFRA to be obtained. I appreciate the good work that the trust has done in the years since.

However, I want to make two comments.


I question the propriety of the Charity in using its Friends mailing list to promote the Estates’ development proposals for Blackhill. There is always going to be a potential conflict of interest between development either on or adjacent to the Heaths and to their conservation. This is recognised by the 400m housing development exclusion zone that surrounds them. The Trustees of both the Clinton Devon Estates and the Conservation Trust should be aware of this.


Despite the story being spun by the Estates’ PR department, this planning application is controversial. At the core is the issue of how to treat the existing site. Is it a matter of replacing existing industrial equipment and, therefore, will not change the status quo? Or should the baseline acknowledge that the existing plant, machinery and buildings are not permanent features and that there is a current agreement to restore the site to heathland?

Currently there are 189 objections from individuals.

It is particularly disappointing to find that the Pebblebed Conservation authors do not appear to have followed their own advice to read the comments on the EDDC planning web site to dispel inaccurate rumours. Had they done so they would have found that Natural England, who oversee the work done on the Heaths, have been very dismissive of the ecological aspects of the CDE planning application and want additional information.

Natural England do not buy the argument that there are no potential significant effects on the East Devon AONB, East Devon Pebblebed Heaths SSSI, East Devon Pebblebed Heaths SAC and East Devon Heaths SPA. They are not satisfied with the “comprehensive” ecology report submitted with the planning application. They are awaiting further information on the effectiveness of the proposed ecological mitigation; and they were provided with an updated (why updated?) Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment only one day before the closure of the formal consultation period.

This is a devastating comment on the quality of the ecological case made by CDE in its application and which the Friends are being told to accept at face value.

Clinton Devon Estates PR team working overtime on Blackhill Quarry! | East Devon Watch

See also:
Welcome - Pebblebed Heaths
East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Trust - Clinton Devon Estates
Pebblebed heaths conservation trust - Home | Facebook

There have been several pieced on the East Devon Watch site the last weeks:
Clinton Devon Estates and Blackhill Quarry – trying to be Mammon AND God! | East Devon Watch
Has Clinton Devon Estates completely lost its moral compass (if it ever had one)? | East Devon Watch

And in a piece last week, EDW asks a few more questions: 


7 MAR 2018

These days most large developers pay for pre-application advice before submitting a planning application. A recent Freedom of Information request has uncovered the advice that was offered to someone (name redacted) seeking such advice on proposed business units at Blackhill Quarry, Woodbury in early October 2017.

Specifically this proposal was for the erection of AN ADDITIONAL industrial building to support the existing business, Blackhill Engineering, being operated form the site together with the erection of FIVE ADDITIONAL industrial buildings for use by other businesses.

In summary the advice given was that this would not comply with the protective policies that cover this sensitive site. A much stronger employment benefit case regarding the expansion of the existing business to justify a departure from these policies would be needed. The five speculative industrial buildings would not justify a policy departure.

On 20 December 2017, within three months of this advice, planning application 17/3022/MOUT was submitted for outline application seeking approval of access for construction of up to 3251 sqm (35,000 sq ft) of B2 (general industrial) floor space with access, parking and associated infrastructure.

The accompanying justification reads:

So, is this application all about the needs of Blackhill Engineering to expand, having already designed flood defence gates for New York City Hospital, worked for the European Space Agency and the pier at Hinkley Point, which in October seemed to require only one building; or more about Clinton Devon Estates trying to generate rent from a new industrial park? Restoration provides no income.

For those interested here is the detailed pre-application advice, given on an informal basis and without prejudice, in about half the words:

Blackill Engineering Extension – is this an excuse to drive a new industrial site into the heart of the Pebblebed Heaths? | East Devon Watch

Comments on the application can be viewed here:
17/3022/MOUT | Outline application seeking approval of access for construction of up to 3251 sqm (35,000 sq ft) of B2 (general industrial) floor space with access, parking and associated infrastructure (details of appearance, landscaping, scale and layout reserved for future consideration) | Blackhill Quarry Woodbury Exeter EX5 1HD

Finally, the Straitgate Action Group referred to above make a point about how quarries are not in fact temporary and that once extraction is over that the land will not necessarily return to nature: 

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.

Straitgate Action Group: Why does quarrying have such a bad name? Take a look at Blackhill

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