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.

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

Planning Inspectorate’s Public Hearing Adjourned Until October

The Planning Inspectorate’s Public Inquiry, which started on the 1st of May, has now been adjourned until after the summer due to the many health concerns raised by members of the public.

An appeal against the decision by the county council to refuse planning permission for the application to extract sand and gravel from the land (known locally as Bengeo Field) at Ware Park, Wadesmill Road, Hertford was made by RJD Ltd and Gowling WLG Trust Corporation Ltd to the Secretary of State.

From the start of the Inquiry, the Stop Bengeo Quarry (SBQ) group raised the issue of the lack of public consultation about the appellant’s Health Impact Assessment (HIA), submitted just a few days before the proceedings began.

This late submission meant that Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) had little opportunity to follow standard procedure with new evidence and were therefore unable to open it for consultation with the public. The late submission of the HIA meant that HCC were unable to consult health experts and the decision was made by HCC Public Health to withdraw their objection.

This also meant that SBQ (as Rule 6 party) focused its attention exclusively on the possible contamination of Hertford water, believing that the other health issues would be raised in the Inquiry by HCC.

Aśka Pickering, Chairperson of SBQ said: “The appellant’s late submission of their Health Impact Assessement and the unexpected withdrawal of the HCC public health objection left residents without 1) an opportunity to respond to the HIA or 2) an opportunity to have their own health witness expert at the appeal.”

“We are delighted that following our request the Inspector has agreed to adjourn the inquiry until October to allow both SBQ and the public the opportunity to produce evidence in response to and submissions on the conclusions of the appellants’ Health Impact Assessment. This is the only way that residents can be given a fair opportunity to share their views.”

Hertford residents found the HIA did not address their health concerns. During the Public Inquiry, the Inspector heard the health concerns of local people and the potential impact of dust on the lungs of children. Parents of young children living locally spoke of the number of young children with asthma and allergies who are affected by air quality. Amber Waight, speaking at the hearing, explained that: “17% of local children under 10 years (360 children formed part of the survey) had been prescribed at least one type of inhaler, a significant proportion 2 or more, in their childhood and 8% of the same population had been hospitalised due to breathing issues.”

Mrs Waight added: “Within the local community, it has also emerged that there is a child with cystic fibrosis; a child who has a tracheostomy (a breathing tube through the neck) and another a candidate for a tracheostomy.”

Doctor David Adam, a local resident and parent, has a PhD in environmental science and is an editor at the Science Journal ‘Nature’. Dr Adam, speaking at the inquiry as member of the public told the Inspectorate that: “the Health and Safety Executive in the UK carried out some tests on the impact this dust (Respirable Crystalline Silica dust) has on air quality outside the boundaries of working sand and gravel quarries, just like the one the developers propose for Bengeo Field.”

“The results will be published next month…  They measured respirable crystalline silica in a rural location, just like Bengeo Field, and in samples downwind of five working quarries in the UK during hours of operation. In a fifth of cases, the level of this carcinogenic dust in air outside the quarry was 150 times greater. How were these quarries chosen? ‘Because they employed good dust suppression techniques.'”

Kelly Martin, a parent from Buckwells Field and a member of SBQ told the inspector: “My sole purpose, my one and only purpose of joining this campaign was my children, all of our children… Their school is 350m away from the proposed quarry, that makes our house probably 200m away. The playing field that my children play on daily off Sacombe Road is even closer than that. As I’m sure you can work out for yourselves, my children will pretty much be living and breathing the pollution from this quarry 24-7.”

Although Herts County Council may commission their own independent expert report, the SBQ campaigners are keen to do the same. Aśka Pickering said “we would also like the report to reflect and consider health impact in a wider context, including healthy living and activities as well as impact on mental health.”

This of course requires funding and there will be a number of fundraising events in the pipeline. In the meantime, however, if you wish to support the Stop Bengeo Quarry campaign, please donate to 1) NatWest bank account: Stop Bengeo Quarry Group, sort code 60-10-39, account number 14189135 or 2) (5% charge applies).

Public Enquiry: Day 8

The eighth day of the public enquiry into proposals for a quarry north on Hertford has yielded some important changes to the enquiry schedule.

Following the late submission of the Health Impact Assessment (HIA) by the appellants, The Inspector has ruled that the enquiry should be adjourned until September or October to allow the county council and Stop Bengeo Quarry to prepare a formal and detailed response to the contents of the HIA, as well as bringing in an independent health expert witness.

As a result of this development, the enquiry will no longer be sitting on Monday 21st May 2018.

Today’s proceedings continued with the appellant’s ecology witness Susan Deakin. In her Proof of Evidence, she stated that habitat losses during mineral extraction operations would be short-term and confined to land under active arable production. Any potential adverse effects on inhabiting wildlife would be substantially off-set by the restoration proposals for both schemes, which will result in significant biodiversity gain. The proposed Landscape and Nature Conservation Management Plan (to be secured through planning condition) would aim to ensure that the existing populations of wildlife are safeguarded in the long term and that the retained and new habitat features are managed in accordance with sound ecological principles in the long term. She was adamant that government standard 15m is an adequate buffer zone for St John’s Wood.

Ms Deakin was asked if there would be any danger to St John’s Wood if the quarrying changes it from being on a slope to a low ridge? She replied that the rainwater resources the trees depend on would not be affected. She was also asked if some of the post-restoration benefits depend on continuing, long-term active management, to which she answered ‘yes’.

The enquiry has now been adjourned for up to 5 months.

Public Enquiry: Day 7

The seventh day of the public enquiry saw the welcome appearance of Mark Prisk MP, in  support of the campaign against the Bengeo quarry.

County Hall

However, the day started with statements from and cross-questioning of the appellants representatives Robert Sellwood (on planning) and Richard Flatman (on landscape).

Mr.Sellwood commented that it was only in the last few weeks had the appellants had heard from Hertfordshire County Council that building houses would not sterilise the land. He also explained that East Herts District Council saw reprofiling as a condition of building the houses. This could only happen if the minerals were extracted first. Cross questioning focused on the issue of sterilisation. Mr Selwood admitted to Andrew Stevenson that HERT4 represents only 0.1 percent of new houses needed in Hertfordshire.

Richard Flatman started by giving an explanation of the strategy for landscape. In it he addressed one or two of the concerns that had come up during the course of the inquiry like care for hedgerows. He also explained some of what they try to achieve and the “benefits” of the landscape changes. One of the key points they wanted to draw out was that the new landscape mimics the old in that they will try to recreate an undulation.
David Forsdick vigorously cross questioned Mr. Flatman. One of the main thrusts of his argument was that every benefit that was in the current proposals could also have been delivered in a preferred area two compliant proposal. Mr Flatman sought to cast some doubt on the original Inspectors report by saying that all of the field was equally sensitive. A point that seemed to argue in the favour of not having a quarry. Other questions concerned the accuracy of drawings. Councillor Stevenson asked if Bengeo field would have a slope down with trees like the edge of Waterford Heath. Mr Flatman said it wouldn’t be the same but didn’t deny that there would be a bank. John Howson sought to show that a human element should be factored in when assessing the landscape based on the criteria used by Mr. Flatman.
Mr. Flatman admitted that this was the case, he also admitted that people feelings with regards to the landscape should be a factor taken account of in the inquiry. The Inspector asked if the new field would be a profiled hollow rather than a hill Mr Flatman admitted that this was the case.

Later in the morning MP for Hertford & Stortford, Mark Prisk addressed the enquiry. Mr.Prisk stated that he strongly opposed the application on a number of grounds, including impact on community, air quality and water, and proximity to local homes and school. The Appellant’s barrister asked Mark Prisk if he is aware that the HCC Director of Public Health is not objecting the application subject to agreement on the conditions. Mark explained that he is aware, but also is aware of independent consultants on water and is also here to voice the public feelings on air quality, as these views need to be taken into account.

The Public Enquiry has now been extended by two days, with additional hearings now scheduled for Friuday 18th May and Monday 21st May at County Hall.

Public Enquiry: Day 6

Day six of the public enquiry started with a number of strong presentations in support of the Stop Bengeo Quarry campaign.

Cllr Mari Stevenson spoke about the Bengeo Neighbourhood Plan and the engagement of community in planning of their environment, as well as appreciation of the green spaces in Hertford.

Steve Halsey spoke about the research into dust PM10 and the acceptable thresholds worldwide. He also questioned the methodology of the threshold assessment in appelants’ Health Impact Assessment.

Laura Wyer made a strong case from parents’ perspective and challenged the suggestions that there is no evidence that the Bengeo Field is used. She quoted some of the users of the field who walk from Chapmore End daily, walk children to school. She also referred to the online survey where majority of respondents said the footpath would be no longer used if there was a quarry alongside.

Simon Pickering talked about the impact of the extensive process on the community and the utter logical disbelief that an urban quarry in Hertford would be considered.

Nadine Cleland made a presentation on the standard requirements of the public consultation process and the complete lack of public engagement in this application.

Russell Norris expressed his exasperation with the ongoing procedure which allows for an exploitation of loopholes and weaknesses. He listed the examples of confusion and disruptive lack of clarity faced by the campaigners. He pointed out that this appears to be a strategy to make it as difficult as legally possible for the objectors to make a case.

Heston Attwell raised a number of vital grounds of objections focusing particularly on traffic and road safety, as well as on lack of community engagement.

Amber Verity explained the impact of ongoing quarry on children’s health – both physical concerns but also their ongoing anxieties, which parents cannot dismiss. She provided data of cases of children with asthma and the use of Bengeo Field through generations

Cllr Bob Deering stressed that the quarry concerns do not just affect Bengeo residents but also residents of Hertford and neighbouring villages. He stressed particularly acute concerns over dust and proximity to the school and the town. He also made the point that the current application is completely separate from the housing development on HERT4 and should not be in any way connected.

Nigel Braggins spoke of the devastation of the Rickneys Quarry and the lack of responsibility/accountability for the restoration. He also raised the issue of the ongoing process with no clarity on who the appellant is (RJD is non-existent) and the community determination to continue objecting any quarry applications in this area.

Dr Laura Horsfall explained about the health impact on the development of children’s lungs and the respiratory issues.

Ben Cave, of Ben Cave Associates, on behalf of the appellant, answered questions from County Lawyer David Forsdick, followed by the campaign’s barrister  Katharine Elliot and then Cllr Andrew Stevenson. Mr.Cave insisted that the amount of interest in particulates was so insignificant that it would make no difference to the health of either children or adults. He was unwilling to speculate on children who already had specific conditions. He was repeatedly pressed by the audience but he emphasised as strongly as he could that he believed there was no significant risk.

Ian Dix, speaking on behalf of the appellant, was cross questioned by David Forsdick on transport and public rights of way. He referred to the surveys of SBQ in his questioning and highlighted that the applicant had not done any quantitative research. He was cross questioned for some time by Councillor Stevenson and by members of the floor. Lack of community liaison by the applicant was again cited in questioning.

Tomorrow, Friday 11th May was originally scheduled to be the last day of the enquiry, but a further day has now been added. The eighth and last day of the enquiry will take place on Friday 18th May at County Hall.