Friday, 30 May 2008

Presentations to Planning Committee on 19th May

Below you can read three of the 5 minute presentations made to the Planning Committee on 19th May: the first was made by Terry Kirkpatrick, representing Moreton; the second by Robert Florey, Chairman of Northmoor Parish Council and long time resident and the third by Julie Hankey representing OUTRAGE.

Presentation by Col Terry Kirkpatrick

Chairman, I'm here today representing the residents of the hamlet of Moreton.

Environmental Law is governed by the overarching ‘precautionary principle’. This law also requires that the environment and its residents should not be put at any increased risk as the result of any development. Together, these mean that a developer is required, beyond reasonable doubt, to demonstrate that a scheme will not increase risk. In their turn, Planning Authorities and their statutory consultees have a duty to ensure that developments cannot increase this risk. Notice, not ‘significant’ risk, but risk in an absolute sense.

Hanson Aggregates has not followed the precautionary principle in preparing this application in at least two respects:

* Firstly, it recognises that, without mitigating measures, the only water supply to a number of properties will be cut off by the quarry, but it has not demonstrated that the proposed mitigating measures can work in all climatic conditions. This contravenes the Water Framework Directive.

* Secondly, it has not demonstrated that flood levels at local properties will be the same or lower with the quarry in place, than they would be without a quarry. This contravenes Planning Policy Statement 25.

Equally, The Environment Agency has not required Hanson Aggregates to undertake the straightforward, inexpensive work that would be required to demonstrate the precautionary principle here. This failure of duty by the Environment Agency has resulted in legal action leading to a Judicial Review being taken against them.

By its own admission, The Environment Agency has also been unlawfully withholding information submitted to it supporting this application. My neighbours and I, therefore, have been unable to make comprehensive and reasoned objections to the application. This is in direct contravention of the EIA Regulations 1999.

Furthermore, although it is admitted in Hanson’s application, your officers have omitted to mention in their report to you, that the permeable margins surrounding the lakes and reed beds will require maintenance in perpetuity to ensure hydraulic connectivity between the lakes and the aquifer. Without this maintenance, the local wells will dry up at some time in the future. This maintenance has not been funded and, it is understood, the site landowner has refused to accept responsibility for it.

Also, the Environment Agency has only recently recognised that the siting of this development must undergo the full sequential test required by PPS25. This analysis has been rushed through by the council’s officers and we have not been given the opportunity to scrutinise their work. An analysis of currently identified locations will show that a number are available in lower flood zones that would satisfy all the demand for sand and aggregate for this area. It is not a valid argument to say (as your officers have suggested) that these sites are not owned by Hanson Aggregates.

Finally, we believe that the omissions and language in your Chief Officer’s report are couched so as to persuade you to accept his recommendations, rather than reporting to you in a balanced way, and letting the facts speak for themselves. For example, he says that the Environment Agency has no ‘cause’ to raise an objection, which he is not qualified to judge, when, in fact the Environment Agency has ‘chosen’ not to make an objection, which is the subject of the request for Judicial Review.
We fully understand that there are many dangers for a planning authority that chooses not to accept the advice of a statutory consultee. This is a clear case, however, of the circumstances in which it is proper for the determination of the application to be postponed.

My neighbours and I believe strongly, therefore, that this committee is not yet in a position to take any informed decision regarding the Hanson Aggregate’s application. It should postpone consideration until further work has been done:
· on maintenance costings,
· on the sequential test,
· on proving the groundwater mitigation scheme,
· on a full Level 3 Flood Risk Assessment and
· on the outcome of the request for a Judicial Review against the Environment Agency.

Presentation by Mr Robert Florey

Mr Chairman -I am addressing this committee on two counts. Firstly as Chairman of Northmoor Parish Council and secondly as a long standing resident of the village of some 48 years and a local landowner.

Firstly, looking at this application from a Parish Council point of view, the Head of Sustainable Development states in his report that this application cannot be viewed as an extension of the quarry. It must be viewed as a completely new site. The Parish Council has always emphasised this and I urge this committee to view it as such and not as an extension.

I move now to the matter of the Routing Agreement.

In past years this agreement was supposed to be in place, but it has never worked. Gravel lorries were still to be found ignoring the regulations and using local minor roads, not intended or suitable for such traffic. I sit on the Liaison Committee which comprises representations of this Council, Hansons, Parish Councils and other local bodies. Time and again, this would be bought up at the meeting and time and again it was found not to be working.

If it were successfully implemented and the heavy traffic routed onto the A415, A40 towards Oxford and then the A34, it would lead to bedlam. The Parish council, when making representations to this committee stated this point. These roads at the best of times are heavily congested and at worst are at a standstill. The local highways infrastructure is not capable of withstanding this amount of extra traffic, especially as vehicle numbers continue to increase as they are at present and this does not take into account the increase in traffic that will come from the huge expansion of Witney and Carterton.

I will now move on to how the gravel workings have affected the village of Northmoor.

The officer in his report states that the quarrying of gravel has not really affected the village and its residents. I can tell this committee that, having lived in this village for some 48 years, this is certainly not the case. Where once upon a time, residents of this village enjoyed a large farming landscape, vast areas of this have now been destroyed.

  • Where we now have Stoneacres Lake, it was good agricultural land – now gone forever.

  • We now have the lakes at Watkins Farm which was good agricultural land – now gone forever.

  • Where we had the Ireland land excavated, more good agricultural land, this has also gone forever.

This is by no means all the land that has been excavated in close proximity to the village.

In his report, the Head of Sustainable Development describes the area as “not the best and most versatile agricultural land”. We may not be in the fens of East Anglia but this land is capable of producing some very good, high yielding crops. I ought to know as I farm alongside the application area.

The next area to look at is the matter of Representations.

We have seen some detail in the report regarding representations to this committee from individuals and certain bodies. However, many of the points that are quite rightly raised seem to be dismissed with hardly a comment or debate.

One point that was raised by many people and also the Parish Council was the problem with the earth bunds and the increased risk of flooding. I think this committee needs to look more closely at the response from the Environment Agency.

As a landowner in close proximity, I recently wanted to restore an old pond which had been trodden in by cattle over the years. All it needed was for this small area to be dug out and the spoil graded up the sides, to restore it back to what it was. I was informed that the Environment Agency would object as it could impede the flow of flood water.

How therefore can the applicant, in light of the dreadful flooding that we have just experienced, be permitted to put in place these bunds and tell us that it would not impede the flow of flood water?

I am afraid it smacks of one rule for for us and one for them.

On the subject of water, I am also concerned that during times of dry weather, the water levels in water courses that supply drinking water to my livestock and four or five other farming neighbours will be severely affected by this application.

On the subject of Landscape Character, the report states that the development would change rather than damage the character of the landscape and that the restoration proposals would provide an acceptable alternative landscape.

Acceptable to whom? Not us. It is not as if we are short of water features in this area. We have rivers and lakes completely surrounding us – we don't need any more.

In his conclusion, the Head of Sustainable Development states that in the longer term the development could have positive effects in the local area. I have read through this report and I am sorry but I cannot see where they are, without losing what we have already got.

I strongly urge this committee to look very closely at the merits or not of this application.

Presentation by Mrs Julie Hankey, Chair, OUTRAGE

Mr Chairman, I represent Outrage, a Northmoor-based community group which has campaigned on gravel matters for the last thirty years.

I should just say that during the four years that this application has been in play, we have been dealt with by the case officer and her immediate predecessors with courtesy and professionalism. It was a shock therefore to read your department's report. It reminded me of the eighties, when Stonehenge was first applied for, and when different standards prevailed. And this is the main point that I wish to make: your officers have given you a heavily slanted report which should not be relied on as the basis for a fair and reasoned decision.

Let me give you some examples:

Your officers state that Northmoor has 'not had a great deal of experience of gravel working, as most extracted areas are some distance to the north west'. This is false, and they must know it.

The diggings at Northmoor extend across the north of the village, from west to east, and are mostly only a field or two away. Gravel applications and the ongoing nuisance of the workings have long been the subject of communications between Northmoor residents and these very officers.

The dark orange on the map indicates the extent of workings in the Lower Windrush Valley – and my next example is concerned with cumulative impact.

West Oxfordshire has been over-dug, with scores of lakes and infilled areas, old and new, around Ducklington, Hardwick, Stanton Harcourt, Standlake and Northmoor. The accumulated impact of all this has now reached a point where parishes everywhere are saying enough is enough.

The new Oxfordshire Structure Plan reflects this concern and states that 'in assessing the impact of new locations for mineral workings ...the Council will consider the cumulative impact of mineral working across an area...'

The officers' report mentions cumulative impact, but only to distort its meaning. It claims that 'there will not be a cumulative impact of additional working, as this site is proposed to replace the Stanton Harcourt Quarry nearby'. This implies that a later impact somehow replaces and does not add to an earlier impact, that if the impacts aren't simultaneous then it doesn't matter. This is a smokescreen. We know what the words mean, and so do the officers. The Minerals Planning Department itself confirmed to me last year in writing that 'cumulative impact includes all the impacts ... both current operations and past workings' (e-mail from Peter Day, 6/02/07).

I turn to the issue of alternative sites:

The developer is required by planning regulations to provide 'an outline of the main alternative sites studied'. The application mentions the list of sites under consultation for the new Local Development Framework, but it provides no outline and no evidence of any alternatives studied. The officers have not only failed to challenge this, but offer a number of excuses for it, and even pre-judge the issue, saying that if better sites were found, 'Stonehenge Farm may still be needed and may be better than many other sites'.

Mr Chairman, it is not the function of your officers to excuse or explain why the applicant has failed to comply with a legal requirement, nor to say, in effect, that it doesn't matter because it won't make any difference anyway.

My last example concerns the question of need.

You will probably be told that gravel can only be dug where it is. This is not the same as saying that it must be dug wherever it is. You will also be told that the County is required by policies MPS1 and Regional Planning Guidance 9, to provide a seven-year landbank, which now stands at 2.6 years.

However, Mr Chairman, the report does not point out that, in the words of the planning department itself, 'there is no penalty for not achieving or maintaining these levels' and that 'the maintenance of this [landbank] ... is dependent on the industry submitting enough planning applications in acceptable locations' (e-mail from Mary Thompson, 26/11/07).

Stonehenge Farm is not an acceptable location. It raises genuine environmental problems, as we have heard. I will add another: Outrage has demonstrated in its objection, the absence of a sufficiently large market within range of sustainable transport. But we all might as well have saved our breath. The market? The report declines to engage with the evidence we produce. Unsustainability? The report surmises that the applicant won't want to make long journeys.

In short, all arguments against this application are trumped by MPS1 and RPG9.


Mr Chairman, the House of Commons guide to judicial review (Judicial Review: A short guide to claims in the Administrative Court (House of Commons Research Paper 06/44 28 September 2006) clearly states that 'a public body is not entitled ... to act under a completely inflexible policy' and that 'a body or tribunal is not entitled blindly to follow policy guidelines' (section B para 1b: Illegality - Unlawfully delegating power or fettering discretion).

The officers' report blindly and inflexibly follows certain policies and policy guidelines in favour of gravel extraction. Your council, Mr Chairman, is not entitled to do this.

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