Friday, 20 June 2008

Residents write in ...

Helen Hutchings from Northmoor writes today ...

"As a resident of Northmoor I was heartened to read the very obvious common sense of the flooding report ie

1) ''The Environment Agency to undertake a full floodzone modelling study, including effect of gravel abstraction, of the Windrush delta, including Newbridge Cut and Northmoor New Cut.

Prepare flood control options from the Study conclusions drawn.'

2) 'Hanson's in conjunction with the EA to prepare a satisfactory flood defence solution with regard to their proposed quarrying operations.'

but I am seriously concerned that the EA and Hansons, if their previous arrogance is anything to go by, will ignore or ride rough shod over the recommendations.

Surely if they were both so confident that the extraction would not increase our risk of flooding then they could produce models to prove it or put up a guarantee to compensate us in full if we do suffer flooding as a result."

Steven Cooling from Northmoor has written in too ...

"Having travelled and lived all over the world it was with utter disbelief I witnessed my first English Council meeting. The meeting was supposed to discuss and make a decision about the Stonehenge Farm site for the extraction of gravel. The lax attitude of the councillors (one yawning and slouched in his chair) had to be seen to be believed. Information the councillors had been given was minimal and not enough to make this very important decision. A decision that could have a detrimental effect on a lot of people's lives. They seemed to be unaware or unconcerned that a flooding report commissioned by the West Oxfordshire District Council which is clearly highly relevant to the decision they were taking was not yet available for them to study.

If the local alarmed residents had not turned up in numbers and the very articulate and well informed speakers had not put forward their concerns, it was obvious that the proposal would have been pushed through. As a resident of Northmoor it seems common sense that the extraction of gravel in the area will have an detrimental affect on the water levels. If there is proof that this extraction and its clay bunds will have no affect, let Hansons and the Environmental Agency put a guarantee in place that if there is flooding or wells drying out the affected residents will be compensated in full.

There seems to be no concern about the impact such an enormous hole in the ground has on the diverse natural environment in the area. It will be changed forever and future generations will only see a 'man made' lake and reed beds!"

Julie Hankey from Northmoor also responds ...

"One of the things that motivates me in the fight against gravel extraction at Stonehenge Farm is the loss of landscape: fields wrecked, trees cut down, a place for wild animals and plants turned into a moonscape. But the loss of landscape, it seems, is low on the list of the planners' priorities.

In theory there are protections. Policy M2 (Oxfordshire Structure Plan 2016) says that in identifying appropriate locations for sand and gravel working, the County Council will take account of 'areas and sites of nature conservation importance, especially Special Areas of Conservation and Sites of Special Scientific Interest' and also 'features of landscape importance, especially Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty'.

In practice this policy is useless for anywhere which is neither designated nor labelled - neither a BAP (Biodiversity Action Priority) nor a HAP (Habitat Action Priority) nor an SSSI nor an AOB. In other words, if you're not part of the planners' alphabet soup, you're sunk.

Stonehenge Farm doesn't fall into any of these categories. So we're left with trying to explain what the landscape means to us. Our difficulty is that we can't quantify or measure this meaning. It's not like noise, or dust, or air quality. The planners and developers try to be scientific about it by using phrases like 'visual receptor points', 'major or minor adverse visual impacts', and 'intervisibility'. But in the end, they can twist this language to mean anything they want it to mean. If they can't avoid admitting that the whole thing is going to look like a disaster area, they'll say that it will only affect walkers actually walking through the site; that the conveyor belt will only be seen by people passing on the road; that only people living in the closest houses will be able to see any of it.

What they don't realize or acknowledge is that a big opencast mine like the one they propose at Stonehenge Farm has a far wider effect. This corner of the Thames Valley, between the Windrush and the Thames is very special. It has never been touched by the gravel companies and it feels different precisely because of that. There isn't that sense of violation and blight. I can't give it a number, or chart it on a grid. It's just the feeling of someone who, over the last twenty years, has come to love this part of the world."

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