Campaigners demand new law as quarry battle looms
Locals fighting a national quarry operator's plans in Devon want the government to back councils who are unwilling to take on big developers for fear of appeals and the prospect of huge legal bills.
A campaign group in Uffculme, near Tiverton, are to meet with planning minister Nick Boles to ask for change to planning law.
The move comes amid concern over plans by Aggregate Industries (AI) to extend one plant at Hillhead Quarry and create a brand new site on farmland at Straitgate Farm near Ottery St Mary and West Hill.
Devon County Council is currently drafting its new Minerals Plan and Waste Plan, which will cover the period up until 2031.
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Once these are approved, planning applications are expected to follow with environmental campaigners already drawing up battle plans for 2014. The Culm Waste and Minerals Group (CWMG), which is fighting AI plans to extend Uffculme's Hillhead facility by 109 acres, says the firm must do more to alleviate the effects of increased numbers of heavy trucks.
Thomas Ferguson, CWMG chairman whose home and business is on the HGV route, said AI and joint owners Viridor could widen a road to take site traffic away from homes and a dangerous junction at little cost.
However, he claims Devon County Council is not prepared to make either company do this.
"The county council rolls over rather than do anything that might provoke them to call their lawyers," he said.
Now Mr Ferguson is to lobby Mr Boles, whose family live in the county, for changes in the law to help local authorities extract more community benefits from hugely lucrative developments.
He is to meet with the minister, along with local MP Neil Parish and county councillors Bob Evans and Ray Radford, in November.
"We understand that gravel has got to be dug and waste disposed of but as a community we get nothing back – all we are asking for is a level playing field," Mr Ferguson added.
The county council's mineral and waste plan had been expected to be rubber stamped last year but was delayed.
It was put back further when Natural England and the Environment Agency raised objections to AI plans to dig aggregates on land it owns at Straitgate Farm, which sits in the mineral-rich strip of land stretching from Uffculme to BudleighSalterton.
Residents in Ottery St Mary and West Hill are unhappy about the scheme, which it is feared could wreak "devastating" environmental damage, including drying up the water supply to ancient woodland.
AI claims the 86-acre site, which is currently a productive dairy farm of 150 acres with 120 cows, contains around 3.6 million tonnes of sand and gravel, which could be extracted over 10 years.
Critics say at the end of 2012, Devon already had sand and gravel reserves with planning permission of 8.29 million tonnes.
Claire Wright, independent county councillor for Ottery St Mary Rural, said there was "huge opposition" to the plan.
"We are gearing up for a big battle next year against the quarry, which will be a huge scar on the countryside," she added.
"Proposal to mitigate the effects are entirely inadequate."
The Western Morning News was unable to contact Aggregate Industries.
Devon County Council did not respond to a request before the WMN went to press.