On Tuesday 6 September around 180 residents attended the Stop Bengeo Quarry meeting focused on the latest developments of the Bengeo quarry proposal. The meeting was held at Bengeo Primary School, which is only 320 metres from the site of the proposed gravel quarry.
Campaigners presented a brief update on the main areas of concerns and objections against the quarry proposal, including an overview of the responses submitted to HCC date (all available on HCC website, as well as www.stopbengeoquarry.org.uk).
Aska Pickering, the Chairman of the SBQ campaign, explained that the proposal for the new quarry South of the still not closed Rickney’s quarry, is still in the process of being reviewed by Herts County Council. She also explained that the HCC Development Control Committee is expected to consider the proposal not earlier than November, and most likely in December. This is because the applicant has been requested to submit a health (and dust) assessment, as advised by Public Health England.
David Adam, one of the Bengeo Primary School governors and SBQ campaigner, explained about the concerns raising from the research on dust and noise pollution and potential impact on health – especially of children and people with breathing concerns. The SBQ welcome the health assessment requested to support the application.
The Stop Bengeo Quarry campaign are extremely concerned that the proposals for Bengeo Field would lead to the destruction of an important feature of the local landscape. Bengeo Field and its symbolic lonely oak tree on the by-way is home to health walks and a part of the sustainable transport route between Chapmore End and Hertford. Mark Lynch, speaking on behalf of SBQ explained that were the quarry to go ahead it would produce a 2.6 million ton “hole” in a highly visible location that would forever be ugly and unnatural. Hertfordshire County Council’s own Landscape Report, produced in response to the quarry proposal, is highly critical of the consequences for the landscape (if the quarry were to go ahead) for the very same reason: “Overall the proposed development does not go far enough to compensate for the permanent negative landscape effects due to the creation of an unsympathetic landform profile, and the removal of some distinctive historic landscape features.” John Howson also expressed his concerns about ecological impact and the destruction of the ancient woodland.
Andrew Smith explained that SBQ’s position, backed by other bodies who responded to the application, is that there is no proven need for sand and gravel that would justify opening this quarry. As the applicant acknowledges, Hertfordshire has a ‘land bank’ of sites with planning permission well in excess of the minimum the county is required to maintain. The SBQ group believes the applicant’s suggestion that there is a local market that needs to be met by quarrying Bengeo Field is not supported by evidence.
The concerns of local residents about the effects of the proposed gravel pit on roads and rights of way were summarised by Nick Gough, former chairman of the Molewood Residents’ Association. The hundred or so heavy lorries that would enter and leave the site every day would not be allowed to pass through Bengeo and Hertford but would blight the B158 Wadesmill Road and A602 Westmill Road. We are especially concerned about road safety at the blind summit by Crouchfields, the danger caused by lorries queuing to get into the site every morning and the mud that they are likely to deposit on the road when they leave. Within the site we are concerned that the disruption to well-used rights of way would be significant. As with other technical areas of the application we are still waiting for the applicants to provide additional information to answer our questions and those posed by HCC’s highway engineers who were also unhappy about the proposal.
Dr Bryan Lovell, former President of the Geological Society of London, formerly of BP Exploration, now Senior Research Fellow in Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridge, made a strong case against the proposed quarry and called upon the Council to reject the project. “Quite apart from all the other reasons to oppose this particular quarry, the geological risk is not acceptable.” He explained: “Fractures in the chalk aquifer mean that any pollution can reach the Wadesmill Road boreholes rapidly. This crucial risk to Hertford’s water-supply has already been identified by Hafren Water, consultants to the very company seeking permission to quarry.”
Lovell added that in general he rather liked quarries. “For many of you, I imagine, excavations are a scar on the landscape. For me they are a source of fascinating information.” But, he said, the sand and gravel it is proposed to quarry in Bengeo are not essential for the local or national community. “What is essential is that we have an uncontaminated supply of water to Hertford. There is no compelling need to put our water supply at risk by quarrying.”
Local MP Mark Prisk was unable to join the meeting in person due to parliamentary commitments. However, a brief address to all the residents was pre-recorded and played on the day. Mr Prisk shared his concerns about the protection of drinking water in the area and explained that he is going to raise his concerns with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Andrea Leadsom. He explained that in his opinion the Environment Agency report to the Council falls short on the crucial matter of prevention of pollution. He also recognised the strength of opposition to quarry among Hertford residents and paid tribute to the coordinated response of the Stop Bengeo Quarry campaign.
County Councilor Andrew Stevenson attended the event and voiced his strong opposition to the proposal, explaining the current status of the proposal and addressing many of the concerns of residents. He explained: “Our highway system is already under stress. A414 air quality is outside allowable limits. Bengeo already suffers problems from non-local traffic cutting through to escape congestion elsewhere.” Mr Stevenson then explained that Herts Highways said on May 10th that “they cannot support the application without more information from the applicant to address the impact on the A602 junction and mitigation, on the HGV routes considering collision data, on Rickneys access arrangements and on footpaths, rights of way and permissive paths.”
Andrew Stevenson also explained about the Local Mineral Plan review: “As a separate process to consideration of the specific application by HCC Development Control Committee, the list of preferred sites will go out to consultation later this year. I encourage everyone to add their voice to the consultation on this review when it is published on HCC web site. Circumstances have changed since it was placed on the preferred list and there may be a case for removing it.”
George Sandell, Chairman of CAGE (Campaign Against Extracting Gravel), and Terry Mansfield, Member of Chapmore End Association and CAGE, spoke passionately of their experience of campaigning against the local quarry in the past. They called for the residents not to lose sight of the importance of their support for the campaign and the need to express objections now and during the Committee meeting – before the decisions are made. Mr Sandell said: “My major concern is to encourage and make folk of all ages understand the need to show their support, when the application comes before the Development Control Committee, to make the applicant and their agents aware of the strength of the opposition and its case. No one should under estimate how long it will take but for the sake of future generations. It’s a battle that has to be won.”
Terry Betts, Chairman of Hertford Civic Society, also addressed the residents and explained the Society’s objections against the quarry proposal, especially in the context of draft District Plan.
Mark Lynch and Andrew Stevenson also explained about the new Bengeo Neighbourhood Plan proposal. The steering group supported by local Residents’ Associations MRA, LOBRA, and WERA, as well as SBQ campaign, has submitted the initiative to Hertford Town Council and will promote the involvement of the local community in Bengeo Ward development.
Cllr Sally Newton and Cllr Steve Cousins also joined the meeting.
Hertfordshire was rated the best place in Britain to raise a family in the uSwitch Better Family Life index published last month. This is a timely reminder for local residents of what they have and the importance of protecting the environment from this destructive proposal.
The meeting was closed with a call to all residents of Hertford and areas around to support the campaign and not let this cherished local landscape become permanently scarred. Bryan Lovell suggested the alternative: “Let’s leave that field to the skylarks and the aquifer.”
Ben Penrose, Chairman of Molewood Residents’ Association, which has supported the campaign from the very start, commented: “It really is phenomenal to think that a small, low key planning proposal has been taken to the hearts of so many.”
HCC Development Control meeting is currently expected on 21 Dec 10am at County Hall. Bengeo Field tree walk is planned on Sunday 18 Sept 11am-1pm