The following address was made to Hertfordshire County Council’s Development Control committee on Wednesday 22nd March 2017 by Mark Lynch.
I’m speaking today on behalf of the 806 mainly local people who signed a
petition entitled “Stop the Bengeo Quarry” in the spring of 2016. I have looked through the many comments left by the signatories. Many of them are concerned about the proximity to Bengeo Primary School or they have environmental concerns such as dust and traffic – topics that will be addressed by other speakers today.
It is striking, though, that a large proportion of the comments express shock and even outrage that this central feature of the north Hertford landscape could be destroyed.
Bengeo Field, the proposed quarry site, is an integral part of north Hertford. It’s a hugely important amenity to many people and, in its prominent, highly visible position, it sets the character of the entire area. Fundamentally, the field makes north Hertford feel semi-rural, whereas the quarry would make it semi-industrial.
The applicants claim that eventually the quarry will lead to an improved landscape – mainly because they will plant lots of trees which might hide some of the damage. I have yet to speak to anyone who actually believes that to be the case – this area has already suffered from quarrying at Waterford Heath and at Rickneys – and, from a resident’s perspective, the experience is a lamentable one.
[Anyone surprised by this level of cynicism need only stand behind my property. On one side skylarks sing above Bengeo Field, green with young winter wheat and rolling down towards the River Rib. On the other side, the southern section of Rickneys quarry that was “restored” 20 years ago – an ugly bowl of coarse grass and brambles. Before extraction there were skylarks, but none have returned.]
[According to the officer’s report my own property is 2.5m from the quarry site. I confess to being mystified that while the Health and Safety Executive recommends an HEPA filtered environment for quarry workers, my family and I are apparently perfectly safe living a few meters away.]
In the extraction phase, regardless of the assessments in the application and the conditions imposed, residents experience intrusive noise and very obvious dust – Sacombe Road residents remember that when Rickneys quarry was active it was pointless hanging out washing on any day other than Sunday. And then the extraction timetable is extended… And then restoration is inexplicably delayed…. And then eventual restoration delivers an infertile, obviously man-made scar on
the landscape… with, yes, some young trees. In a nutshell, the proposed quarry site is an important, highly valued area of countryside that very few local people believe can ever be satisfactorily restored.
I realize of course that, while resident opinion may add weight to arguments about the importance of a landscape, ultimately the committee’s decision must be based on planning policy. Indeed I sat in this chamber when the new quarry on the British Aerospace site in Hatfield was discussed in January… and I heard members of the committee say, in effect, that they had great sympathy for local Hatfield residents, but, in the absence of any policy-based objection, the committee’s hands were tied.
Today, the situation is different since several serious, policy-based objections have been highlighted by the Planning Officer. So, I say to you the committee as you consider the Bengeo quarry, that a large number of Hertford residents passionately reject this proposal, that they have very good reasons for that passion and that in this case your hands are not tied.
Refusal is surely the only option.