Secretary Of State Dismisses Appeal

Secretary Of State Dismisses Appeal

We are delighted to have received James Brokenshire’s letter upholding Hertfordshire County Council’s decision to refuse planning permission for a quarry on Bengeo Field, north of Hertford.

In his decision, the minister has backed our views on the threat to water supplies, loss of amenity and the impact on local residents.

Campaigners spell out our objection to a quarry in the field beyond

In the three years of campaigning against the quarry, we have been determined to present rational, fact-based arguments against gravel extraction on the site.

We have had the support of our local MP Mark Prisk, councillors, businesses, experts and most importantly the residents of Bengeo, who’ve been getting in touch to express their delight:

“I just wanted to say a massive heartfelt thank you for all you and the rest of the SBQ campaigners have done. Today was a massive win for the whole community and makes me feel so proud to be part of it.”

“Your commitment and dedication has not gone unnoticed as is an inspiration to us all. My daughter was so passionate about the campaign and it’s taught my children you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it and stay strong and for that I can’t thank you enough.”

Reaction on Facebook was also swift:

“Fantastic news. Many congratulations to everyone who worked so hard”

“On behalf of myself, my family and friends – who have often taken great pleasure on this beautiful place – thank you”

“Well done to all especially those who appeared at the hearings”

“Incredible news. Thank you to all involved. Our community rocks!”

Campaign lead Aska Wisniewska-Pickering said: “We are all utterly delighted with the news and the decision by the Secretary of State to refuse the appeal. After 3 years of campaigning against the quarry proposals in Hertford, we achieved the result we so much hoped for. None of that would have been possible without the huge support, community collaboration, engagement, and expertise of the residents, Councillors, and parents of the Bengeo schools. I can’t describe how lucky we are to have the expertise and incredible commitment among the Stop Bengeo Quarry campaigners. We hope that this appeal decision by the minister will set out an important milestone and a ‘material consideration’ in determination of any other case on the area. This will be important for the pending decision by HCC on the adjacent Rickneys quarry extension.”

One of the campaign’s key experts, geologist Dr Bryan Lovell said: “I’m delighted that the geological evidence we presented convinced both the Inspector and the Secretary of State of a real threat to our water supply if quarrying at Bengeo Field had gone ahead. This result is a triumph for the local community and the Stop Bengeo Quarry group, superbly led by Aska Wisniewska-Pickering.”

John Howson, one of the key campaigners, who led on environmental concerns, stated: “This is an amazing decision. In his report the Inspector has paid close attention to the arguments we repeatedly made on landscape and amenity issues, and has come down in our favour. It is a complete vindication of our position and a reward for the hard work put in by so many members of our community and lovers of Bengeo Field. We want to thank those who took part in two landscape surveys and one monitoring exercise. The Inspector refers directly to this evidence in his report.
I am particularly pleased that the Inspector’s report recognises the unique position of Bengeo Field in our local landscape as the last unquarried field adjacent to the Molewood Estate. He has also recognised that it is the very openness of the field that gives it especial beauty.
It is also very satisfying that the loss of agricultural land has been recognised as a factor. SBQ has argued from the very beginning that the field would be seriously degraded as an agricultural resource and we are delighted that the Secretary of State and the Planning Inspectorate agree.”

In their letter, the ministry was unequivocal about objections to the quarry:

“The Secretary of State has carefully considered the Inspector’s analysis at IR375-388. He agrees with the Inspector that while not subject to any designation given to landscape, the appeal site is a landscape resource and visual amenity of considerable importance because of its proximity to the urban area, and the fact the appeal site retains its natural landform makes it important in its local context. For the reasons given, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the operational development to extract, screen, stockpile and transport sand and gravel would have an adverse effect on the character and appearance of the area of major significance, albeit of a limited duration.”

“The Secretary of State has gone on to consider impacts following restoration. He agrees with the Inspector … that the restored landform would give the landscape an artificial crumpled appearance, and that the proposed low-level restoration would not be appropriate in the landscape context which applies here. He further agrees … that appellants’ hedgerow and tree planting would be the wrong landscape strategy for the appeal site and that the cumulative impact of the appeal scheme, over time, adds to the overall harm to the landscape resource. He therefore agrees with the Inspector at IR388 that on restoration the scheme would have an adverse effect of moderate significance. Overall the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector’s conclusions that the appeal scheme would have an adverse effect on the character and appearance of the area of substantial significance (IR388), which carries substantial weight against the proposal (IR433), and would not be accordance with MLP Policies”

“The Secretary of State has carefully considered the Inspector’s reasoning and agrees with his analysis. Overall the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the appeal scheme would have an adverse effect on the living conditions of residents and on the amenity of the area which carries moderate weight against the proposal and would not accord with MLP Policy 18(viii) or with the aim of the NPSE to avoid significant adverse impacts on the quality of life”

“the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector’s analysis of the risks from the development to the hydrogeology, including groundwater pollution, harm to the aquifer and the public water supply. He agrees with the inspector’s conclusion that the risk of contaminating groundwater would give rise to an adverse effect of moderate significance, which should given substantial weight because of the implications for the public water supply. He further agrees with the Inspector at IR420 that in the absence of an appropriate mechanism and planning condition to safeguard the aquifer, the proposed development would pose an unacceptable risk to groundwater pollution, and so would conflict with MLP Policies …and would have an unacceptable adverse impact on the natural environment”

Some document references and Minerals Planning Policy numbers have been removed from the above to improve readability

Whilst we are mindful of the applicants’ right to take the minister’s decision to the High Court, we are confident, as we always have been, about our case against the quarry.

We would like to thank everyone that has offered us support – be it knowledge, financial, moral or logistical. You all helped us achieve this fantastic result for the community.

Rickney’s and Our Water

Renewed quarrying at Rickney’s presents a significant threat to the water-supply boreholes at Wadesmill Road.

A new Minerals Local Plan is being prepared for Hertfordshire.  An area north of Hertford was designated as Preferred Area No.2 in the previous plan. It is proposed to remove this area from the new plan.  

An application to quarry sand and gravel from the southern part of Preferred Area No.2, in Bengeo Field, was rejected by Hertfordshire County Council on 22 March, 2017, on a number of grounds. An appeal has been made by the applicants, on which a decision is now awaited from the Inspector and the Secretary of State.

During the final session of the hearing of the appeal at County Hall in October 2018, the possibility emerged of a future application to quarry north of Hertford, using the access road previously used during operations at Rickneys.  It is not yet clear whether any such future application would include both operations at the Rickneys site, and operations in Bengeo Field using a northern access via Rickneys.

Continue reading →

Rickneys Planning Application Submitted

Hanson have submitted a planning application to re-open the old quarry south of Chapmore End.

The abandoned site is immediately north of St.John’s Wood and Bengeo Field. The site access road joins the B158 Wadesmill Road around 600 metres north of the proposed access road for the Bengeo Field quarry.

Laminated notice attached to wooden post

The Rickneys site closed in 2001 but Hanson have in the past submitted further applications to extend the operation, the most recent being in 2013 when they asked to extend the timeframe to 2017. This application was approved by the County Council but no formal Planning Decision was issued after a failure to agree Section 106 conditions associated with the plan.

Hanson have now amended this planning application, changing the date to 31st December 2021.

At the Public Inquiry in to the proposed Bengeo Field quarry, the applicant (Ingrebourne) made it clear they have negotiated with Hanson to use the existing access road for Rickneys, thereby overcoming any highways issues regarding the earlier proposals to access the site further south adjacent to the Revels Croft Farm entrance.

The Rickneys planning application therefore brings the Bengeo Field Quarry one step closer, although the Secretary Of State has yet to rule on the plans overall following this year’s public enquiry.

We would therefore urge everyone opposing Bengeo Quarry to also oppose any extension of Rickneys.

The deadline for comments on Hanson’s planning application is Monday 14th January 2019 (originally the deadline was 21st December 2018 but this has now been extended).

» View Planning Application

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.