14 representatives from both the Ottery area (as well as around 60 resident observers, most of whom arrived on a coach), spoke to the Development Management Committee, who listened and asked questions.
Councillors will make a decision on the recommendation from their officers to include Straitgate as a quarrying site, in the autumn.
A series of speakers from Uffculme (the focus of proposals for extensions to a quarry) made representations. Mid Devon District Councillor, Bob Evans, gave an expertly researched and rousing speech. He said that because building materials had changed and more glass and steel was now used, the need for aggregates had dwindled.
Cllr Evans also challenged the figures used by Aggregate Industries, which quite incomprehensibly, are not being independently verified by Devon County Council.
The other key point well made by Cllr Evans, which aligns with what Cllr Roger Giles has been saying for a long time, is that the landfill tax and aggregates tax means that far more aggregates are being recycled, which again, reduces the need for quarrying.
Speaking for Ottery Quarry Action Group, my points were confined to biodiversity issues and I have pasted my full speech below.
Before starting my speech I made reference to the disputed figures, provided by Aggregate Industries and suggested that independent verification should be sought.
I was stopped about two thirds of the way through my speech and told I only had 30 seconds left of my five minutes, so I had to sum up quickly.
However, my key point was that Devon County Council should not have proposed Straitgate as a site in the minerals plan when there are clearly so many unknown environmental issues, largely disturbance to a major acquifer.
During the questions afterwards I asked that an Environmental Impact Assessment be carried out at this stage, instead of at the planning application stage.. However, the DCC Minerals Officer, Andy Hill, said that this wasn’t the way things are done and it would be carried out at planning application stage, if it got that far.
This was very disappointing and rather reckless given the environmental damage at stake. Once a site for quarrying has been allocated in the minerals plan it will be incredibly difficult to stop a planning application. Mitigation is likely to be the best option to hope for.
The other Ottery speakers covered the following:
Cllr Glyn Dobson – impact on the town of Ottery – visual and tourism
John Ayres – traffic impact along the B3180
Basil Herbert – visual intrusion issues
Me – environmental implications
Margaret Hall– impact on Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)
Dan Jelly – impact on West Hill and other nearby residents
Eileen Perkins – farming issues
Monica Mortimer – need and viability
Rupert Thistlethwayte – Cadhay and its mediaeval fishponds
Chris Wakefield – tourism
Cllr David Cox – queried facts and why part of the most environmentally sensitive part of the site has been put forward, despite the marketing material stating otherwise
Cllr Tony Howard – localism and local decision-making
Cllr Roger Giles – need and flooding implications
Cllr Roger Giles, our Devon County Councillor gave a typically colourful and passionate speech against the Straitgate proposal. He reminded councillors about the dreadful flooding incident in October 2008 and how disturbing an acquifer high on a hill above Ottery, could result in this situation being made worse.
He handed over a petition of 152 names from people living on the Thorn Farm estate, many of whom were flooded in October 2008 and had to move out of their homes for months while they dried out.
The speakers made some excellent points and complemented each others speeches as they dovetailed nicely.
It was clear that some of the councillors got to hear about a number of issues that they had not been aware of previously, such as the lack of need and the likely significant environmental damage.
The lack of need is surely a key issue which needs to be explored in far more detail by Devon County Council before it comes back before the committee for a decision later this year.
I cannot comprehend that DCC is relying facts and figures supplied by Aggregate Industries, who lets face it, have rather a vested interest in getting both the Ottery and the Uffculme sites allocated for quarrying.
This is surely a conflict of interest of the largest proportions!
Anyone wishing to view the webcast should visit the DCC website and look under webcasts of meetings. The meeting will be available online for viewing in the next few days.
There is still time to object. Officially, the deadline is Monday 30 April, however, today, committee chairman, James McInnes, stated that DCC would accept comments after this date too.
Nine quarry sites in and around the Ottery area have been discounted for environmental reasons, including biodiversity, water and visual intrusion. issues
What I am struggling to understand is why the Straitgate Farm site, which by DCC’s own admission has significant environmental constraints, possibly more so than any other, is being backed by DCC as a site for quarrying.
From studying the site appraisal for Straitgate, a desk-based exercise carried out by DCC officers, using small-scale maps, it is clear how much damage a quarry on these fields, high above Ottery St Mary, would inflict.
It appears that damage to a high quality acquifer lying below Straitgate farmland is the main cause of the likely environmental harm.
From the site appraisal, out of 40 topics examined almost half (16) are identified as needing further assessment. Several are described as medium-high risk.
The topics referred for further assessment include:
1. impact on pebblebed heaths re Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation. Possible MEDIUM RISK, however, if dewatering is found to be likely, this is deemed HIGH RISK.
As I am sure you are aware, any damage to SAC/SPA could breach EU legislation.
2. impact on Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Risk possibly MEDIUM, however, if there is dewatering this increases to HIGH RISK.
NPPF section 118: Proposed development on land within or outside of a Site of Special Scientific Interest likely to have an adverse effect on a SSSI… should not normally be permitted.
3. impact on ancient woodland, including Mardles Wood, Big Wood, Cadhay Wood and Cadhay Bog. Cadhay Wood and Bog in particular as these woodlands are reliant on the two streams from Straitgate. The site appraisal states that dewatering of these areas could have ‘significant negative impacts on the sites.’
Clearly, ancient woodland, which could date back more than 500 years, is irreplaceable and should not be put at risk.
NPPF section 118: “Planning permission should be refused for development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats, including ancient woodland….”
4. impact on Biodiversity protected species. This wildlife is in the woodlands described above. The appraisal states that ‘any mitigation against the loss of such species, would not be fully effective’
Straitgate farmland is designated the best and most versatile quality agricultural land of grades 3a and 2.
5. impact on AONB (views from East Hill)
6. impact on grade 2 listed Straitgate farmhouse
7. impact on iron age archaeological settlement remains
8. impact on water courses with a consequent impact on two streams that flow into the rivers Tale and Otter. – POSSIBLY HIGH RISK
9. impact on groundwater
The nature of the water table and the proximity of private water supplies (around 100 homes and some nearby farms could lose their water supplies) and sensitive habitats – possibly HIGH RISK of harm from dewatering.
Desk-based assessment states there would be a ‘more limited’ impact from quarrying the western side of the Straitgate site BUT detailed investigation is required to establish scope of the extraction.
Not whether it is appropriate to extract! How much to extract!
I will leave the flooding issues to Roger Giles.
Chairman and councillors I will leave you with one thought.
With 16 topics of the site appraisal marked for further assessment – many marked medium to high risk, how can Devon County Council possibly justify including the Straitgate site in its minerals plan?
The best geologist in the country could not determine the impact of a quarry from studying maps at their desk.
I think we all know that leaving the detailed environmental assessments to the planning application stage, as proposed by Mr Hill, will simply result in mitigation. It will be virtually impossible to stop the quarry by this stage.
A quarry at Straitgate Farm would wreck an area of land around the size 56 football pitches, let alone the other damage it would cause.
Please don’t be persuaded by your officers that quarrying here is either necessary or justified. It is neither. And the evidence from DCC’s own appraisal suggests it would cause huge and irreversible environmental damage.
Photograph: The coach of protesters from the Ottery area on the steps of County Hall this morning, before going into the meeting.