Protesters out in force at Denton quarry inquiry
Around 80 people this week joined planning experts for the closing submissions into a planning inquiry concerning quarrying proposals off Gorse Lane, near Denton.
Applicant Mick George Ltd is appealing against a county council decision to prevent him extracting limestone from a site that would be known as Gorse Lane Quarry.
The 104ha site (with an extraction area of 77ha) would later be filled with waste, with the land to be restored.
Mick George Ltd estimates 5.65 million tonnes of limestone would be extracted, at the rate of 200,000 tonnes a year, with two million tonnes of waste used to infill the site.
The project would take 32 years and create 31 full-time jobs, with a claimed £2.4 million of capital spent into the local economy every year.
As a “fall back” Mr George has said if his plan is refused, his company will push ahead with a much larger scheme known as ROMP (Review of Mining Permission), which would use a decades-old rights to extract, though it would have conditions attached to it.
However, locals and Lincolnshire County Council were not convinced, with villagers branding the ROMP “fallback” a “blackmail” and because it did not involve waste in-fill, the county council believed ROMP would be uneconomic and therefore, would not happen.
As their Gorse Lane Action Group (Golag) spokesman ended his closing comments, the villagers all stood up and applauded. Likewise when Lincolnshire County Council gave their closing statement, there was further applause.
By contrast, when the barrister for Mick George Ltd ended his closing statement, which exceeded two hours, with him reading out a 58-page document, there was total silence.
Planning Inspector Mel Middleton gave both sides until today to complete a Section 106 agreement and settle other minor issues. He said he hoped to have his report, based on nine days of hearings, written in a “couple of weeks” with a decision by the end of the month, though he said he could not guarantee it.
Simon Curtin, of Golag, noted how Lincolnshire County Council was ‘gatekeeper’ and had policies that were clear, robust and up-to-date. These policies would be breached if the applicant won its fight.
Mr Curtin cited geological and hydrological reasons to oppose the application, saying water supplies to the Wyville Brook and Foston Beck catchments would be at risk.
Experts had said links between the Lincolnshire limestone and the Northampton sands aquifer could affect the supply of groundwater, which could affect the Willowbed Plantation and the nearby springs at Hungerton.
Mr Curtin said insufficient assessments had also been made of the ecology and ancient woodland, including the Willowbed Plantation and Hungerton Wood. These reports were also inconsistent.
Government policy aimed to strengthen habitats and historic assets and protection of ancient woodland alone was enough to justify refusal. Hungerton Springs dated back to the Roman period and the Willowbed Plantation had seepage lines, hillside flushes and petrifying springs.
Insufficient assessment of the flows to the Foston Beck and Wyville break meant historic assets like Hungerton Hall, Denton Manor, Denton Reservoir and the Grantham Canal may also suffer.
If approved, the quarry would be seen from Belvoir Castle and nearby roads and footpaths. It would also take valuable farmland. The limestone extracted would not be of the best quality.
Mr Curtin said the “fall back” ROMP scheme keeps reducing in size and now stands at 260ha and has not received scrutiny from the statutory authorities. Part of its site is not owned by Mick George, so their owners could develop their own ROMP schemes.
He accused Mr George of seeking to “blackmail” villagers, who want no quarrying whatsoever, into accepting the planned scheme by presenting ROMP “in the worst possible light.” If villagers had to choose one scheme though, they would go for ROMP, believing the planning system would make it less harmful than the original proposal.
If any residents supported either quarry scheme, they could not be found watching the inquiry.
Chris and Isobel Booth, owners of Hungerton Hall, which borders the application site, have been fighting to protect Hungerton Springs.
Isobel says during the 1950s when there was mining in the area, her estate lost much groundwater, losing streams with sticklebacks, and medieval fish ponds. She fears a return to mining will see the same happen again.
Margaret Ashly of Harlaxton is another Golag supporter. “The quarry is not needed. It would cause a massive disruption to the local ecology. We like where we are in the country,” she said.
Keith and Karen Young, of Harlaxton, said the proposed quarry was completely unnecessary and would “cause high impact on the area.” Karen added: “I think the evidence the county council and Golag have presented is far more compelling than Mick George has presented.”
Denton resident Daphne Carre said she had spoke at the appeal, warning about potential risks to air quality from quarry dust and also from the diesel fuelled trucks carrying the stone. She said: “Asthmatic conditions can be aggravated.”
A nearby farmer, who declined to be identified, said he was concerned over the loss of good quality farmland in the area.
Another protester, Jonathan Bell, of Denton, said: “It would be ridiculous if the appeal overturned the judgement of elected councils. I’m proud of our councils for turning down the application in the first place.”
Andrea Large, a member of Harlaxton Parish Council, said she was particularly concerned about 80 lorries driving through the village and on to the A607.
Stuart Hollyer, Denton Parish Council chairman, added: “We have a long wait ahead now, which is always frustrating. The inspector is inscrutable. He said ‘don’t read anything into how I look or what I say.”
Lincolnshire County Council feared that approval of the proposed scheme would undermine the planning policies of local and central government. The limestone to be extracted was also not needed and would be of poor quality.
Specialist planning lawyer David Hardy accused Mick George of “selfish commercial aspiration” to move northwards into Lincolnshire. His company might need the quarry, but Lincolnshire did not.
Mr Hardy confirmed no alternative ROMP scheme has been submitted and it had not undergone an Environmental Impact Assessment.
He said the ROMP scheme did not include waste disposal, and without it, the ROMP was not commercially “credible.” Lincolnshire had enough capacity to deal with waste and “a surplus of landfill sites.”
He said: “The council cannot do anything about the legal status of the ROMP but having heard the full evidence, the council is even more firmly of the view that it is not going to happen.
“Even if it were to happen, a modern set of working conditions would be imposed anyway.”
Mr Hardy then cited a variety of council mineral extraction and planning policies, claiming there was “no proven need” for the limestone and allowing the appeal would “fundamentally undermine” planning policies.
The proposed development would also lead to extra quarries and “over saturate local markets.” Existing quarries would take longer to be exhausted, thus extending their environmental impacts.
There was also plenty of limestone in reserve, with a ‘landbank’ of 41 to 48 years. If demand for limestone increased, other quarries could supply it.
Lincolnshire Limestone is poor for aggregate use and the appellant had failed to show its stone would be of good quality. Any ROMP scheme would face multiple land ownership issues and would have to be completed by 2042.
Lincolnshire has other dormant historic permissions and allowing the appeal would set a dangerous precedent with ROMP applications being sought elsewhere.
Mr Hardy warned: “The Local Plan may have to be reviewed which would take several years to complete. This would create a potential policy vacuum and put the county at risk of receiving speculative proposals for both mineral and waste development.”
Mick George Ltd gave a lengthy response to the points raised, taking more than two hours with its closing submission, longer than the two sides opposing it.
Andrew Fraser-Urquhart QC questioned the decision-making framework of the county council.
“Great weight” had to be given to the “benefits” of mineral extraction, which the council had not.
The barriser told the hearing: “However much the system is plan-led, other considerations can’t be ignored.”
Mineral extraction has temporary environmental effects, but they have to be “weighed against the longer term benefits that will follow after restoration.”
Environmental concerns, as raised by Golag, could be dealt with by conditions and the landscape was “not of any particular interest or value.” Suitable monitoring would allay their concerns over hydrology and technical solutions could also be found to ensure no loss of harm to ancient woodland.
Screening would mitigate visual effects and there would be plantation of woodland and hedgerows from the scheme. Footpaths would also be created.
Noise levels would not affect nearby residents, and only a few would face a “small risk of nuidance dust.”
With ROMP, Mr Fraser-Urquhart said the site can be reactivated with conditions but thwarting it with overly-restrictive conditions will not work. However, ROMP would not include permission to import materials for restoration.
He rejected claims the ROMP was a “put up job” to gain consent for the subject of the appeal and he warned the ROMP scheme would have a much greater impact on the environment, leaving cliff edges. The greater ROMP area would need more equipment to extract it, including an above-ground conveyor belt. It would be closer to homes than the appeal scheme, with more suffering noise.
There would also be ten times the HGV movements onto the A607 than with the appeal scheme as more than four times the amount of stone would be quarried. ROMP would also not process landfill waste.
ROMP was commercially viable, even without waste, and Mick George Ltd had a “very long and successful track record of finding a market for all the stone it extracts.”
A market also existed for the landfill waste for the appeal scheme.
The barriser concluded council planning policies were ‘out of date’ and greater balance had to be given to benefits of the appeal plan.
These benefits exceeded the ‘minimal’ harm caused, so permission for the Gorse Land Quarry should be granted, he concluded.