Creating a huge sand and gravel quarry on green belt land near Clifton Hampden will increase the risk of flooding along the Thames, the Environment Agency has warned. And other sites less likely to flood should be investigated .
Hills Quarry Products wants to develop land bordering the Thames over ten years, extracting 2.5m tonnes of sand and gravel. In addition Hills plans a concrete processing plant on site.
Once the quarry is exhausted the land would be restored and the area developed for public recreational use for sailing, boating, walking and angling. The county council is consulting with the public and organisations likely to be impacted by the proposed development. The planning committee is expected to discuss the application in September.
The EA says in its submission to the county council that the Flood Risk Assessment or FRA presented by Hills does not provide a suitable basis for assessment to be made of the flood risks. In its FRA Hills has not factored in an allowance for climate change, says the EA.
The report goes on to say that the development should not be permitted if there are reasonable other sites available in areas with a lower probability of flooding. In addition to its concerns over flooding the EA is worried about the risk the quarry poses to nature conservation and adds: “We will maintain our objection until the applicant has supplied information to demonstrate that the risks posed by the development can be satisfactorily addressed.”
Anecdotal evidence points to otters living within the site. Otters are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. The EA says that surveys didn’t identify current records for water voles or otters. The restoration scheme should however include habitat creation for these species.
“Water voles have not been found at the site but potential otter lying-up sites have. The loss of these areas and the impact of increased disturbance hasn’t been addressed through the phasing of quarry activities, nor the mitigation measures.”
On the company’s proposed restoration plan the EA says it does not show any infrastructure which would support this use. The Agency says there are no fishing platforms, access tracks or paths, slipways, site office or facilities marked on the plan.
“The applicant should consider the location of all of these, and what form they will take at this stage so that they can be full incorporated into the restoration scheme. The restoration plans should also include details of how the wildlife areas will be protected from disturbance from visitors such as fencing to deter access.”
The strongly worded objections to the quarry plans have been welcomed by objectors who say the EA’s stand reinforces their concerns over flooding, the risk to wildlife and that other sites less likely to flood are available. Leading the anti-quarry campaign is Bachport – Burcot and Clifton Hampden for the Protection of the River Thames – which has more than 800 supporters.
Bachport has the backing of neighbouring parish councils including Long Wittenham, politicians, local county and district councillors, individuals and large organisations including the Culham Science Centre where scientists working on highly sophisticated projects are worried about the harm dust from the quarry might cause to sensitive equipment. Other main objections include noise and extra traffic.
Bachport spokesman Giles Baxter said: “We welcome the stance taken by the Environment Agency. We are also pleased that the EA has reminded the county council that development should not be permitted if there are other reasonably available sites in areas with a lower probability of flooding. The river floods regularly now. A quarry could make flooding worse.”
“Oxfordshire does not need another quarry for 15-20 years and we maintain our position that OCC should identify sustainable sites for minerals extraction that are at lower risk from flooding before this application is considered”.
County councillor Lynda Atkins said she thought the quarry plan was “very badly conceived” and did not take account of many important issues. She said: “The response from the Environment Agency and others makes it clear that some things have not been thought through. I hope that Hills will realise that the plans are not viable and withdraw them. Unfortunately I suspect Hills will fight this to the bitter end and we will have to do the same.”