Public Enquiry Day 11

The final day of the public enquiry at County Hall heard the closing statement from the parties involved in the enquiry.

For The Campaign, barrister Katharine Elliot gave a strong case outlining the reasons why the proposal is not acceptable on the grounds of the contamination risk to the chalk aquifer and air-quality related health impacts. The conclusions are:

  1. It is agreed between the parties that the proposed development could have an unacceptable adverse impact on the chalk aquifer and consequently the public water supply at the Wadesmill Rd PWS. The proposed development can therefore not be permitted unless the Appellants can demonstrate that appropriate measures can be imposed to mitigate that impact. The mitigation measures proposed by the Appellants are wholly insufficient to mitigate the serious potential impact of pollution on the Chalk aquifer. Planning permission for the proposed development – whether the original or the amended scheme – should therefore be refused.
  2. As to air quality, the Health Impact Assessment has been unable to demonstrate that the health impact for vulnerable groups of the local community arising from short term peak concentrations of PM would not be unacceptable for the purposes of the policy framework. On this basis, planning permission should also be refused.
  3. By way of a final comment on the Appellants’ attitude to the acceptability of the impacts of the proposed development on the local community, Mr Symes has on various occasions commented that you would not want to put new houses in the immediate vicinity of an active quarry. This is a reference to Hert4, a housing development to be delivered on the property of the landowner of Ware Park. The logic behind these comments is obvious. People will understandably be unwilling to buy properties and put their keys in the door of Hert4 houses when they know that they will be suffering the impacts from the quarry. Reversing this logic from Mr Symes, how can it reasonably be said that it is any more desirable or acceptable to put a quarry in the immediate vicinity of existing homes and a thriving primary school?

County Councillor for Bengeo, Andrew Stevenson was next to make his statement. He said: “There are many reasons why this appeal is unsound. The primary reasons are the loss of a landscape of outstanding value to the whole community of Hertford and the absence of any real need for the sand and gravel it would produce in Hertfordshire. There are many secondary factors that add up to further reasons why this application is unsound on any scale.”

“It is reported to me by parents that this long drawn out decision process has already had negative impact on the school with a decline in application numbers due to the widespread publicity about the threat of the quarry”

“The proposed access road is unacceptably close to the Sacombe Rd roundabout compared to te access road specifies in the 2007 Local Minerals Plan.”

“The impact of the HGV traffic on the local transport system would be severe and would run counter to the new local transport policy of putting sustainable transport first within town boundaries.”

“It is quite misleading to suggest that there is any sense of urgency for East Herts for minerals to be developed to meet housing obligations.”

“The special significance of Bengeo Field landscape to the 29,000 people of Hertford in general and the 7,000 residents of Bengeo in particular make these plans especially damaging to the community.”

“I conclude that there is an unquantified risk that air quality will be sufficiently badly affected by the contribution from the quarry that there will be a significant adverse affect on the population health as a whole within about 400m.”

“The operating company is relatively inexperienced for a site of this sensitivity and complexity and has not demonstrated sufficient financial assets to be able to cope unforseen events.”

“In light of the information available, it would be highly irresponsible to permit a quarry at this location. The Council’s decision to refuse was sound and on good grounds. This appeal should be rejected.”

In his closing speech on behalf of the county council, David Fordsick QC said: “It is entirely clear that faced with the reasons for refusal, the appellant intended to drop the 1.75mt scheme. The 1.75mt scheme was only resurrected when the procedural impossibility of what the appellant proposed was highlighted. The Appellant sought, in this appeal, to substitute the 1.25mt scheme rather than try to respond to the criticisms of the 1.75mt scheme. It was only to keep this appeal alive that the 1.75mt scheme was resurrected.”

He continued: “In any event, the 1.25mt scheme should be refused – it too is in clear breach of MP3 and PA2 and other policies. It provides a road right through the middle of the area specifically excluded from the allocation, it is inappropriate development in the middle of the Green Belt with obvious and significant landscape and visual harm.”

“The justification for the breaches of PA2 both schemes to be only that joint working with Hanson to deliver a PA2 compliant development was AND IS not possible in time consistent with delivery of housing envisaged in the recently adopted District Plan. That argument has fallen apart at each stage – first joint working is being pursued and can deliver a PA2 compliant scheme incorporating the access, an extension to Rickneys Quarry, the Rickneys Quarry extension and Ware Park; second, there is no sterilisation effect on the facts; and there is no timing problem.”

In their closing statement, the Appellant claimed that: “Stop Bengeo Quarry’s concerns on water and health are not shared by statutory experts, The Environment Agency and Director of Public Health. All of the potential harms raised by all parties are temporary and reversible.”

The Government Inspector is expected to make a recommendation to The Secretary Of State later in the year, with a final decision expected in 2019.

Public Enquiry Day 10

Day 10 of the public enquiry started with Mr Symes (representing the Appellant) giving his evidence.

He explained that in his view, requiring the payment of a bond (as a condition of planning approval) is not appropriate in this application as the government does not support bonds – only in exceptional circumstances. He claimed to represent a “good company” which will deliver restoration. This is for landowner and the tenant to legally agree, and the local authorities to monitor.

Mr.Symes was cross-examined by the campaign’s barrister – he agreed that the the measurements for the water pollution concerns are not defined clearly at this stage. He accepted he understood the community’s concerns about the restoration (“Rickneys is a poor example of my industry”). When asked about the lack of community engagement he stated that the community could have reached him. He added: “What benefit would there be for me to talk to community if it is clear they don’t want me there”. The absence of landowners through the processes has been pointed out, especially as the local community is asked to rely on the reassurance that the private agreement between the landowner and the quarry organisation will deliver restoration.

Mr Symes also confirmed that the appelant regard this appeal to be about the second (smaller) planning application for extraction of 1.25 m tonnes and not original application for 1.75 m tonnes.

The final day of the public enquiry is Thursday 25th October. It will start at 10am (rooms upstairs) and will focus on: discussion of conditions (in case the application is approved), and the closing statements by the campaign, Cllr Stevenson, the county council &  the apellant. There is lunch break at about 1-1.30. The hearing is planned to finish at 4pm.

Public Enquiry Day 9

The Public Enquiry in to the proposed quarry in Bengeo resumed this morning with questions for the Stop Bengeo Quarry Campaign’s Health Impact Assessment/Air Quality expert Mr Roger Barrowcliffe.

Stop Bengeo Quarry approached numerous experts in this field to represent us but many declined due to the difficulty in winning cases like these on health grounds. Roger has decades of experience in air quality and is currently Vice-Chair of the Institute of Air Quality Management. He agreed that these cases are hard won but felt there were some important uncertainties in the evidence submitted by the appellant to highlight to the inspector. This he did with credibility and clarity during questioning by SBQ’s barrister. The main points covered included the following:

  1. The reference to “significance” relates to a framework constructed by Ben Cave and is not professionally recognised nationally or internationally at present (though there are some guidelines for doing HIA generally).
  2. The air quality model submitted by the appellants may have under predicted the levels of particulate matter due to the averaging of the outputs over the whole phase rather than a more realistic workable area such as a hectare. He drew attention to data suggesting that the incremental decrease in air quality at sensitive sites as predicted by the appellants model seemed lower than expected given site-specific observations at quarries (though he conceded this was a small sample)
  3. The emission rate, a key parameter in the air quality model,is not appropriate for modelling local emissions and the uncertainly was not explored.
  4. The HIA only gave only cursory consideration of the health effects of decreased air quality on vulnerable subgroups and these should have been explored further.

Roger did well under cross examination, which included some rudimentary calculations by the appellants barrister. The Campaign’s barrister was quick to point out that these weren’t included in the expert reports. For reasons undisclosed, Ben Cave was not recalled by the appellants and therefore much of the discussion has focused on air quality and not the wider health issues.

Later in the day, Prof Sokhi – speaking for the applicant – said that it was important to look at the large data to determine the impact of the quarry on the health of population. He agreed that there is uncertainty in any models for assessing the impact. He told the enquiry that he believes there is no need to consider the hourly short-term peaks of increased concentration of the pollution – and that he believes the approach to considering annual average approach is a better option. However, it was pointed out that WHO and other organisations use the hourly peaks and it is not unusual to do so.

Prof Sokhi accepted that the receptors will be used to alert residents about unacceptable levels of pollution so local residents would be aware when they would need to avoid being outside for periods up to 24hrs. The Campaign’s barrister pointed out this would impact on health quality life style of local population.

Another argument was made by The Campaign – that there is a high level of asthma (46) in the school 340 m away from the proposed quarry cases. Prof Sokhi believes that it is impossible to assess the impact based on small number of population, based on the used methodology.

It was put to him that there are vulnerable groups who would have higher level of exposure to pollution – such as children with asthma, going to Bengeo Primary School, and residents of Bengeo living closely to the quarry would have multiple vulnerability, which has not been taken into account in HIA.

We heard that Prof Sokhi provided his evidence based on the review of Ben Cave’s Health Impact Assessment. He was asked to confirm that the HIA made an assumption that the quarry operator would use brand new equipment (rather than older/well used equipment). It was put forward by The Campaign’s barrister that there was no guarantee by the current applicant or future operators that new equipment would be used.

Based on the HIA Prof Sokhi believes that there is a small risk of health impact “at least on annual basis”. He explained that he is reviewing the data to determine if “the health changes can be contributed as resulting from the quarry”.

Public Enquiry Re-opens Next Week

The Public Enquiry in to the County Council’s refiusal of planning permission for a quarry in Bengeo re-open next Tuesday (23rd October) at County Hall for three days.

Come and join us any time you can please, wearing red if you want to.

The schedule for remaining days of the enquiry are:

Tuesday 23rd October: Health witnesses and evidence in chief from Mr Symes representing the appellants
Wednesday 24th October: Mr Symes’ evidence cross examination and conditions for Section 106
Thursday 25th October: Closing submissions

You can come any time during the day. We need the Inspector and the appellant know that the residents of Hertford will not stop campaigning to Stop Bengeo Quarry.

Runners Raise Funds

Runners, walkers and spectators braved the early morning chill and heavy rain on Sunday to take part in the Bengeo Field Fun Run. The event was organised by Stop Bengeo Quarry (SBQ) campaigners to demonstrate the community’s unwavering determination and support for Hertfordshire County Council’s (HCC) decision to refuse planning permission for an urban quarry within Hertford Town Council’s boundary.

The Public Inquiry, to consider the appeal by the applicant, against HCC Development Control Committee’s unanimous decision on 22nd March 2017, to refuse planning permission for a quarry at Bengeo, was adjourned earlier this year in controversial circumstances. The Planning Inspector adjourned the Public Inquiry on 18th May to enable campaigners time to obtain expert health advice. During the already extended Inquiry in May, members of the public questioned the applicant’s health expert about their claim that the proposed quarry would have no health impact on children attending Bengeo Primary School, or on vulnerable members of the public living in nearby homes, or on the safety of motorists using the busy Wadesmill Road.

As reported by The Mercury at the time, the Planning Inspector ruled on 18th May, that the late submission by the applicant of their 95 page Health Impact Assessment had materially prejudiced Stop Bengeo Quarry’s case. Since then, campaigners have raised £10,000 through a series of appeals and initiatives like this Fun Run, to help fund the next stage of their legal battle against the applicants, in support of the council’s previous decisions to refuse two successive applications (22nd March 2017 and 26th April 2018).

The Public Inquiry is due to reconvene at County Hall 23rd-25th October. SBQ campaigners are appealing for a high turnout of people living and working in and around Hertford, who are increasingly concerned about the risks and potential health impacts of Bengeo Quarry. When the Public Inquiry concludes, the Planning Inspector will write a report and make a recommendation based on his findings to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, James Brokenshire. The Secretary of State will then make the final decision, either to uphold Hertfordshire County Council’s refusal, or to over-rule the Council’s two previous decisions and allow the quarry to go ahead.

Aska Wisniewska-Pickering, said on behalf of Stop Bengeo Quarry “We have won every key stage of this marathon battle on behalf of the whole community, to preserve Hertford’s open, rolling countryside and protect the health and wellbeing of children and other vulnerable residents from a gravel pit in close proximity to a Primary School, play area and people’s homes. A quarry in this location poses numerous unacceptable risks including; up to one hundred additional lorry movements during busy times of the day onto a hazardous section of the B158; detrimental impact on air quality, and a serious risk to Hertford’s water source. Many of Hertford’s residents are still unaware that 6 million litres of their fresh drinking water are pumped every day from the chalk aquifer underlying Bengeo Field, via two nearby boreholes. The quarry would also disrupt use of a footpath and bridleway that has been in public use for hundreds of years. This Public Right of Way provides the only safe pedestrian, cycle and equestrian access from Hertford to Chapmore End and the rural communities to the north of town.”

Our Response to the Health Impact Assessment

We have now formally submitted our response to the applicant’s Health Impact Assessment.

Photo: Paul Crowley

In the summary we state: ” The decision-making framework used by the HIA is not scientifically or professionally recognised and therefore these conclusions on the health impact from reduced air quality (AQ) represent judgments by Ben Cave Associates (BCA) based on evidence commissioned by the appellants. The limited scope of the literature reviewed, the absence of quantifiable risk data, the omission of specific vulnerable groups, and the reliance on highly questionable AQ models for PM leads us to question the reliability of these judgements.

Our response is also critical of the desk-based methodology used in the assessment: “The absence of crucial evidence based on observations on site invalidates the conclusions of the HIA on these fundamental issues of pollution of air and groundwater.

The full response is 24 pages long and can be read by clicking the link below.

» Read Response (PDF)

Our Health Impact Leaflet

This is our last chance to tell the Planning Inspector and The Secretary Of State that Hertford Residents say NO to urban quarry plans.

This leaflet is about the current health consultation – open until 28th August.

Shortly before the opening of the Public Enquiry in to plans for a quarry in Bengeo, Country Council’s Public Health Director withdrew the objection. However, we have managed to negotiate a final opportunity for the residents of Hertford and around to tell the Planning Inspector and the Secretary of State that we, the residents, are concerned about any quarry plans near homes, near our children’s play areas and the Bengeo Primary School. The inspector WILL READ every letter. But the deadline is soon.

The applicant’s Health Impact Assessment that we are asked to comment on is » here.

Please help us reach as many people as possible. Please share the news and make sure all who care about clean air and water in Hertford write to the Planning Inspector now!

And if you can help with the distribution of our latest leaflets, please let us know too!

The Planning Inspectorate’s public inquiry continues on 23rd-25th October 2018 at County Hall

Bengeo Quarry – The Impact On Our Health?

Your Chance to Comment on the Quarry Applicant’s Health Impact Assessment.

The quarry applicant decided to appeal against the Herts County Council’s decision to reject two applications for permission to extract gravel from Bengeo Field. The appeal to the Planning Inspectorate led to a Public Inquiry which took place in May. During the inquiry the Stop Bengeo Quarry campaign requested that the residents of Hertford should be given an opportunity to comment on the Health Impact Assessment (HIA) which was submitted by the quarry applicant on the 25 April 2018 – just a few days before the public inquiry started.

The Planning Inspector considered the request and decided to adjourn the inquiry until October, allowing the community of Hertford to have an opportunity to comment on the Health Impact Assessment (HIA). Of course, the quarry applicant claims in the Assessment that there will be no adverse effect on the health of local residents or the children at Bengeo Primary School.

The latest version of the HIA can be viewed here

View Updated Health Impact Assessment

The HIA states that there is no significant risk to health, but does not back up this claim with reliable evidence on crucial issues. For example, how much dangerous fine-grained silica dust will pollute the air around the proposed quarry?  How can the applicant claim no harm without providing observations made locally? As a first step, the applicants should provide an analysis of the fine-grained material that would be disturbed by quarrying.

The HIA fails to convince that there is no significant risk to health. We summarise here our comments on the shortcomings of the HIA.

Stop Bengeo Quarry Comments On The Health Impact Assessment

Weaknesses In The Applicant’s Environmental Statement and Other Documents

The HIA is based on uncritical acceptance of the data and conclusions provided by the applicant’s ES, together with various reports commissioned by the applicant. This raises questions as to the impartiality and objectivity of the document.

Although the HIA reviews the responses from various consultees, it does not reference the Acoustic Associates Noise Assessment commissioned by HCC, which reaches significantly different conclusions to those in the applicant’s Noise Assessment.

The HIA fails to take any note of the groundwater concerns raised by SBQ, including the authoritative November 2017 hydrogeological report by Professor Frederick Brassington. The HIA fails to take an appropriately long-term view of the consequences for health of loss of supply of water from pollution of the chalk aquifer during or following the proposed quarrying operations.

Confusion Resulting From The Two Applications

There is an unnecessary layer of complexity introduced by interchanged reference to either the “1.75m tonne application” and the current “1.25m tonne application”. This is potentially confusing and therefore discourages the general public from scrutinising the information presented. For example, there are 47 references to “the Environmental Statement” in the HIA, but rarely (if at all) any indication of which ES is being referenced. It is unsatisfactory that it is left to the reader to decide which ES is being referenced and to resolve any potential ambiguity.

Arguments Based On Assumption Not Data

The majority of section 9 of the HIA (Potential Effects) consists of the author making reasoned assessments on the basis of expected outcomes given a particular set of input data. There is obviously scope for unconscious bias to creep into such assessments and anyone preparing such a document should be extremely careful to ensure that they are “data-driven” rather than “expectation-driven”. Section 9.2.3 appears to be an example of an assumption being used to justify a conclusion. To paraphrase, the section states that the higher potential for dust in dry conditions is balanced by the fact that winds are lower in the warmer months. In Hertford the average wind speed in January 2017 was 12.5mph while in June 2017 it was 10mph. Without clear references to research that justifies this assertion, there is no way to tell that this difference is large enough to totally offset the drying effects of warmer weather.

Air Quality

The Air Quality section (9.2.5) reports that the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for PM2.5 dust (10 micrograms per cubic meter) are already exceeded by the dust baseline at all modelled locations. Section 9.2.10 appears to say that the dust generated by the quarry can therefore be ignored. However, we would expect that any additional dust that the quarry would generate may exacerbate existing respiratory conditions. At the very least there should be a reference to the research that underpins the author’s conclusion.

Section 9.2.18 states “Given the semi-rural context (where baseline air quality is generally good)…” We are puzzled that the air quality in Bengeo is described as “generally good” when section 9.2.5 reports the level of one type of particulate as being above WHO guidelines.

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) stated in the recent draft Clean Air Strategy 2018 consultation: “We will progressively cut public exposure to particulate matter pollution as suggested by the World Health Organisation. We will halve the population living in areas with concentrations of fine particulate matter above WHO guideline levels (10 µg/m3) by 2025.” Further decreasing of the air quality in a community where levels already exceed these WHO thresholds is inconsistent with this commitment. https://consult.defra.gov.uk/environmental-quality/clean-air-strategy-consultation/

Community Liaison & Building Community Trust

Several HIA sections (e.g. 9.5.15, 9.5.16 9.5.17) stress the importance of community liaison and building the trust of the community. The document also concludes that without this the general health and well-being of the community would be affected. We note that, apart from a poorly advertised public exhibition in late 2015, the applicant has made no attempt to research the importance of Bengeo Field to the local community or to engage with the residents about their other concerns. Instead the applicant made repeated efforts to impose the quarry project against very strong community resistance. We contend it is unlikely the applicant will be able to build any sort of trust at this point and that if permission for the quarry is granted, there will be a significant negative effect on local health and well-being.

Recommended Minimum Distances

In section 11.2.3 HIA recommends a 100 yard[NG1] stand-off for The Orchard. We are puzzled that there is no equivalent stand-off recommended for the properties at Sacombe Road, especially since they are closer to Phase 2 than The Orchard is to Phase 1.

The distances from the application boundary to the nearest properties are as follows: Houses to the West (160 Sacombe Road) – 2.5m, houses to the East (Waterworks Cottage) – 53m, houses to the South (The Orchard) – 27m, and Bengeo Primary School – 340m.

Public Rights Of Way (PRoW)

Section 11.2.10 identifies the creation of two new looped rights of way around the western and eastern sides of Bengeo Field as being a potential health benefit that could come from the project. It seems likely that quarrying would in fact reduce the health benefit that the field provides, even with the proposed new Rights of Way. Bengeo Field is already very well-used and two good circular routes exist: A) via Byway 1 Footpaths 1, 3 and 4 and paths in Waterford Heath; B) a long-used unofficial path around the western side of the field linking Byway 1 and Footpath 1 (a very pleasant walk with excellent views) – it seems that route B is effectively the route proposed for the new western loop. Should the quarry go ahead, however, the value of path B (and therefore the western loop) would be compromised, initially by the presence of the quarry itself and subsequently by tree planting and landform changes which would destroy all the open views. We believe that quarrying would lead to less health and recreational use of the field rather than more.

A loop on the eastern side would run a few metres from the B158. In view of the tranquillity available on the western side of the field we again speculate that an eastern loop would not be well-used and is unlikely to be a significant health benefit.

We contend that the public health and well-being of the local community are much better served by leaving Bengeo Field as it is, and that the best positive health outcome would be for the landowners to remove uncertainty about route B by working with HCC to make it an official PRoW.

Road Safety

There is no recognition or analysis of the interaction of lorries queueing to enter the site and morning rush hour traffic.

There is no analysis of the collision data associated with gravel lorries

We welcome the recommendation in paragraph 11.2.16 that no traffic would enter or leave the site during school opening and closing times. We look forward to seeing this formally incorporated into the proposal.

Fun Run Set For September

Our fundraising Fun Run has now been rescheduled for Sunday 23rd September at 10am.

As before, adults and children can run one of three courses – a 1 kilometre run from the mobile mast to the Lonely Oak and back, a 2 kilometre run to the edge of St.John’s Wood and back, or a 4 kilometre run from the mast through St.John’s Wood, around Rickneys and then back again.

Entry is £5 for adults with a child free, or £1 for a child.

To apply to take part go to the Fun Run Registration Form.

Registration Form