A highly controversial 100-acre quarry in Ottery St Mary has been refused by Devon County Council (DCC) following significant concerns surrounding the safety and environmental impact of the project. The decision will come as a delight for campaigners, a headache for the applicant and a surprise to many. Council officers had recommended approval for the plans which would have seen up to 1.5 million tonnes of sand and gravel dug up at Straitgate Farm on Exeter Road over the course of 10 to 12 years.
A highly controversial 100-acre quarry in Ottery St Mary has been refused by Devon County Council (DCC) following significant concerns surrounding the safety and environmental impact of the project.
The decision will come as a delight for campaigners, a headache for the applicant and a surprise to many.
Council officers had recommended approval for the plans which would have seen up to 1.5 million tonnes of sand and gravel dug up at Straitgate Farm on Exeter Road over the course of 10 to 12 years. The materials would have been transported 23 miles by road to Hillhead Quarry near Uffculme, Mid Devon for processing.
Despite years of attempts to get the plans in a state thought to be acceptable for the council’s development management committee, when it came to the vote councillors rejected the plans by five to three and instead backed a motion of refusal.
Their reasons included potential harms on heritage assets such as Cadhay House, the unacceptable impact on human health because of potential dangers to the water supply, lack of evidence of measures for protected species, and lack of a surface water management plan and the subsequent potential flood risks.
Councillors also cited the loss of mature trees and hedges. There were also worries about the quarry’s impact on climate change, partly as a result of the 23-mile journey extracted materials would be hauled along the county’s roads in HGVs.
Also noted were unresolved road safety issues related to a cattle crossing and a children’s bus stop along the route,
A ripple of applause came from the campaigners in the back of the council chamber when the vote was confirmed. Though the applicant, Aggregate Industries UK Ltd, a Leicestershire-based building material manufacturer and supplier, still has a right to appeal, it is now far less likely that the quarry will go ahead.
The news will be a relief to many people. A public consultation in 2017 resulted in more than 250 objections from the public. East Devon District Council and several parish councils neighbouring the proposed quarry also submitted objections.
Councillor Jacqi Hodgson (Greens, Totnes & Dartington) noted the level of objection from the community, saying: “These are the people who will actually suffer the consequences if this goes wrong, and I have to say I haven’t got the confidence this won’t go wrong.”
Following contradicting scientific reports from Aggregate Industries, the Environment Agency and from academics on the environmental safety of the quarry, Councillor Jeffrey Wilton-Love (Conservative, Bideford West & Hartland) concluded the quarry was simply too much of a risk.
He said: “If this boils down to ‘who do we believe?’ It could possibly be a 50:50, and we’re making a decision on a possible ecological disaster on the toss of a coin and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with it.”
Councillor Rob Hanniford (Labour/Cooperative Party, Exwick & St Thomas) told the committee: “This is a difficult decision. We do have a responsibility to make sure we have enough minerals and aggregate [but] on balance I think in terms of the environmental considerations, the historic context of the area and all the traffic and transport concerns I’m not minded to support this.”
Councillor Jerry Brook (Conservative, Chudleigh & Teign Valley) supported the application. He said the necessary checks and balances had been carried out by officers and were reflected in the conditions for approval put forward to councillors.
Speaking before the vote, Kirstin McCarthy, sustainability director at Aggregate Industries, said the scheme would “not have the detrimental effect as described by some of our objectors.”
She told the committee that the company would be monitoring the water table at all times, that the farmland used for the quarry would be restored after the work is done and that a ‘community liaison forum’ would be established to make sure residents’ concerns are addressed.
She argued that the quarry would create jobs and actually improve the environment and biodiversity in the area once steps towards mitigation were taken.
Ms McCarthy concluded: “We are committed to sustainable development. Enhancing the local economy, the need for minerals, the need to build homes, schools and hospitals and the need to protect the environment all come into play when we talk about this.
“Straitgate is sustainable. It is about Devon making its contribution to mineral supply in an environmentally responsible manner.”
It was also argued that the quarry would be better for the environment because it would mean materials wouldn’t have to be imported from outside Devon, releasing even more CO2.
Councillor Jess Bailey (Independent, Otter Valley) responded: “I don’t accept this argument at all. There’s a relatively small amount of aggregate in the site and the damage is enormous. I simply don’t accept that.”
Roger Giles, a councillor on Ottery St Mary Town Council, said the quarry had posed “a great threat to Ottery St Mary for many years.”
Mr Giles, who formerly sat as ward member for Otter Valley on DCC and was a member of the development management committee, described the result as “wonderful news for Ottery.”