Following stiff local opposition and major objections from 4 Ecology Statutory Consultees - this controversial project looks increasingly unlikely
Part of the proposed site - photo credit - Daisy Brasington
In May 2021, planning applications were submitted from Hanson mining company to Somerset County Council (SCC) to ‘re-open’, but in reality significantly expand, a quarry outside Frome onto over 100 acres of farmland in Somerset. Specifically, Hanson applied to quarry the virgin farmland of Westdown Farm and dump the waste material (oolite spoil) in the adjacent old Asham Quarry (a SSSI and SAC) calling this “restoration”.
In response, a local campaign group made up of local residents and business owners, nature conservationists formed - Stop Hanson Expansion at Westdown Quarry (SHEWQ). Their concerns are around how this massive industrial project will disturb life further in an area that already has four quarries nearby, including Whatley and Torr super quarries. Aside from the noise, pollution and loss of natural habitat the new quarry would mean a massive increase in lorry movements in the area with the associated problems this brings.
There have been over 500 objections from members of the public. There have also been very strong objections from the 4 Ecology Statutory Consultees – The Environment Agency, Natural England, Somerset Ecology Services and Somerset Wildlife Trust.
Ecohustler has been covering the story closely and has published three previous articles -
Asham Wood just outside of Frome and Nunney
In response to a regulation 25 demand from Somerset County Council (SCC), in June 2022, Hanson put in their submissions which are available on the SCC Planning website. In the view of the SHEWQ campaign - nothing has changed. In light of this, the objectors’ senior (King's Council) lawyer was commissioned to draft an Opinion (a legal term). This opinion states that SCC cannot legally determine the applications with only this information from Hanson.
More specifically, the concerns of the 4 Statutory Ecology Consultees have not been satisfactorily answered. By December 2022 all had reiterated their previous objections. In short, the vast new extractive pit and associated dumping ground would significantly interfere with the existence of precious local biodiversity including at least 13 species of bat, 21 species of bird, dormice, great crested newts, otters and badgers.
The decision from the SCC Planning Board will most likely be announced early in 2023. If Hanson lose or do not like the Conditions, they will appeal, probably later in 2023
In a non-technical-nutshell, the salient points are that the new quarry impact mitigation relies too much on restoration, which may not happen anyway as the quarry lifespan of this new quarry may well be extended. They don’t like the Environment Agency approach that sub water table extraction can be done with conditions. They stress the need to use Defra biodiversity metric 3.1. They say that there is no assessment of ecosystem services, or climate change. They feel that the bat work does not fulfill the 3 legal tests required to grant a license and are not happy with the lighting effect on bats. They say that there is no further consideration of cumulative effect in the Reg 25 report.
Image of Torr Works, Shepton Mallet, by Christina White Photography
Given that all 4 ecology consultees have maintained their objections POST the Reg 25 report (despite meetings with Hanson) and a lot of the objection is based on further survey work needed, which Hanson haven’t done.
It is possible that SCC has decided that enough is enough and it is now time to determine the applications? Hence the expectation that the applications will be determined in Feb/ March 2023.
Photo credit - Talia Woodin
The local battle over whether or not this quarry should open is not just about the local environmental impact. A project of this scale has national impacts and the extraction of an estimated 160 million tonnes of carbon-rich rock could be contrary to the Environment Act 2021 and derail national climate targets.
The rock is most likely earmarked for controversial large scale infrastructure projects like HS2, the roads programme and new nuclear power stations - all of which are highly contested on multiple grounds
Hanson makes the case that the new quarry will bring 40 new jobs to the area. This is an exaggeration because in public meetings Hanson has admitted that some of these jobs would actually be transferred over from the neighbouring quarry. This may reasonably be considered a low number of jobs for all the negative impacts created. Down the line if the assumed demand for the rock declines - no sustainable new jobs will have been created.
There is a strong argument being made currently that the priority should be in creating jobs that makes the UK more resilient to the changing climate and that contributes to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions from the economy. These jobs will be relevant for decades if not hundreds of years and align with the government's stated aims on climate change, achieving net zero and national targets that are being negotiated at international UN climate treaties.
The kinds of jobs that stimulate economic growth whilst responding to the climate and ecological emergencies include but are not limited to -
Stopping Hanson’s new Westdown mega quarry protects precious local wildlife and treasured habitats. It also helps the UK achieve its stated net zero targets and helps to orientate the nation to a sustainable economy in which humans can thrive within an abundant, evolving natural world.
The joyful struggle continues...
Photo credit - Daisy Brasington