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”.

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.

Public Enquiry: Day 5

The public enquiry in to proposals for a quarry north of Bengeo resumed today following the bank holiday break.

Wednesday opened with County Councillor for Bengeo Andrew Stevenson speaking on behalf of local residents.

A Risky Operation in a Sensitive Area

He explained that as an elected County Councillor he represented the concerns and interests of about 12000 constituents and several hundred businesses in his division.

He considered the application by considering key issues:

  1. The need for this site and the new minerals plan context
  2. Housing needs in Hertford, East Herts and Hertfordshire
  3. Transport problems and the council’s Local Transport Plan
  4. Risk to water Supplies
  5. Risk to public health
  6. Impact on the Landscape
  7. Need for £2m bond to underpin any conditions

His conclusion was: “This is a risky operation in a sensitive area. There is no need for the minerals extraction and no need for the housing development the appellants have linked to it. There are no net community benefits at all from the restoration proposals. The operation poses serious and unquantified risks to Hertford’s water supply as well as a number of health risks. I have no confidence that conditions would be complied with and a £2m bond is a pre-condition for any conditions. This appeal should be dismissed. There are better places for quarries- even in Hertfordshire.”

Other Witnesses

There then followed presentations from witnesses speaking in support of the appellant, covering noise, air quality, transport and rights of way. We also heard from the County Council’s planner for Hatfield and 3 public speakers – Ben Penrose, Veronica Fraser and Cllr Margaret Eames-Petersen, who represents Hatfield North.

Further witnesses spoke on before of the appellant – Jethro Redmore of Redmore Environmental spoke about dust and air quality. He said that dust meets regulations and does not pose a risk to human health. Cllr Stevenson cross questioned him particularly on the lack of quantification in his responses. The campaign’s Dr. Adams also questioned him.

James Sutton for Ingrebourne Valley spoke about operational matters and said that the company specialised in  restoration and took a pride in following best practice and delivering more than larger companies.  There was questioning from the campaign’s barrister Katharine Elliot about water risk. He was also questioned about possible deals with Hansen which he referred to Mr. Douglas Symes.

Finally Nigel Braggins raised the issue of who the applicant actually was and the Inspector asked for clarity on this as the Secretary of State will need to know. It was pointed out that the application was in the name of RJD and this could potentially be an issue as RJD no longer exists.

Ian Dix spoke about Transport and Rights of way. On transport he asserted that the planned route was safe. On rights of way he asserted that the access road would not disturb users and only crosses one path whereas the Rickney’s Road crosses two (apparently making it worse) he did not mention how many people may be likely to cross the two different roads. Cross questioning was postponed for tomorrow.,

Tomorrow sees presentations by 10 public speakers, including Cllr Mari Stevenson & Cllr Bob Deering, along with witnesses for the appellant.

Public Enquiry: Day 4

Day Four of the public enquiry into the County Council’s refusal of planning permission for a quarry north of Bengeo marks the halfway point in the process.

Much of today’s morning session was taken up with public speakers, including Stop Bengeo Quarry campaigners Andrew Smith (Traffic and truck movements), Aska Pickering (strength of SBQ campaign support), David Adam (Air quality), School Govenor Libby Mountford (Impact on school), Headmistress Julie Starkiss (Impact on school), Suzanne Bray (Parent and local resident), Tanya Needham (First hand Experience of quarrying), Thalia Weston (Parent of child with cystic fibrosis), John Howson (Landscape and ecology), Robert Chandler (Cycling), Anu Palmer (Amenity and location), Mark Lynch (Landscape, Bengeo Neighbourhood plan) and Bryan Lovell (Water risk). Other speakers were Terry Mansfield , John Barnes, Alan Burgess and Kelly Martin.

There were also presentations in support of the campaign from Councillors Steve Cousins and Andrew Stevenson.

Later in the day, the appelant’s water consultant Christopher Leake of Halfren Water Ltd was cross questioned by the campaign’s barrister Katharine Elliot. He stuck firmly to the line that the quarry would be safe in terms of water supply. He claimed that because Affinity Water thought one metre of gravel left above the chalk is sufficient at Rickneys one could imply that one metre is sufficient at Ware Park. The discussion later moved on to hydrocarbons.

In the afternoon the Inspector visited the site along with county council planning officer Felicity Hart and the campaign’s John Howson, together with the appellant’s representatives Douglas Symes and Richard Flatman.

. The Inspector spent most of his time examining drawings and identifying the locations of various working areas and features of the quarry application. Due to the gorgeous there were plenty of people out on the field, including joggers, dogwalkers and cyclists. The inspector will be making a further private visit next week.

The Enquiry resumes again on Wednesday 9th May with more public speakers and witnesses appearing in support of the quarry.

Public Enquiry: Day 3

We are now in to the third day of the 7-day Public Enquiry in to the proposed Bengeo Quarry.

The morning of the third day was taken up with further questioning of the County Council’s planning officer Felicity Hart.

Ms.Hart defended the need for a measured and balanced planning decision. Following on from exchanges about landscape and rights of way the appellant’s barrister, Isabella Tafur, challenged the planning officer on her understanding of minerals planning policies.

The Campaign’s consultant hydrogeologist Professor Rick Brassington was next to be cross-examined on water issues. The appellant’s barrister challenged photographic evidence provided from the nearby Rickneys quarry. With regard to contingencies that might be put in place to deal with any threat to the local water supply, Prof.Brassington commented: “The measures are not sufficient for quarrying in Rickneys or Bengeo Field”.

Finally, RJD’s water expert was cross-examined by the Campaign’s barrister Katharine Elliot.

Public Enquiry: Day 2

Welcome to our roundup of the highlights of Day 2 of the public enquiry at County Hall.

The morning saw cross questioning of the County Council’s mineral planner about gravel reserves. Significant time was also spent on discussing housing development, with the County Council asserting that housebuilding would not prevent future gravel extraction.

The Council’s Landscape Officer later set out the landscape objections, with questioning by the appellant’s barrister focusing narrowly on trees. The Inspector picked up on this and tried to draw out a wider Landscape judgement. The Landscape Officer said that the quarry would change the character of the area overall.

Finally, planning officer Felicity Hart gave her witness statement in which she outlined the reasons why she had refused the application, focusing particularly on the matters of the Green Belt and openness. She said that the field was a part of what Hertford was as a place and contributed to its character as it is at the gateway to Hertford. She also mentioned the amenity value of the field and how it was extensively used. She mentioned the potential harm to the health of the people of Hertford if they felt they could not use the field.

In her cross questioning the appellant’s barrister sought to examine the issue that regarding the quarry as an extension of Rickneys by asking if such an extension was realistic and could ever have happened given land ownership issues. Ms.Hart said it could and she didn’t see that land ownership had anything to do with it – this was about access roads.

The barrister then appeared to give a rebuttal to the suggestion of a joint collaboration between RJD and Hansens by saying that such a partnership, even if it existed, would need to go through formal processes which took a lot of time and was unlikely to happen until 2019.

Lastly the barrister tried to find a scenario whereby Ms.Hart could agree to a quarry. It was established that she could see such a situation if the whole quarry was in Preferred Area 2 (as defined in the current Minerals Local Plan). The Planning Officer was also question on a technical matter in the MLP and where there was room for interpretation, but she was very firm despite repeated questions and attempts to get her to take a different line in insisting that it was her job to make a balanced judgement.

Tomorrow will see discussion about the risk to the chalk aquifer and water supplies, as well as amenities and rights of way issues.