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UK: Villagers angry over plans to expand sand and gravel extraction

Posted on June 5, 2024

ANGER is growing over plans to expand the level of extraction at Sonning Quarry.

Tarmac Trading is seeking permission for an extension of the site, off Playhatch Road, for the winning and working of mineral for 19 years.

It wants to extract sand and gravel from 35.6 hectares of land and estimates being able to produce a total of 2.5 million tonnes, about 230,000 tonnes a year.

Tarmac says it has carried out an intrusive mineral investigation in the area, comprising 24 boreholes which confirmed the suitability of the site.

The firm would be working 8m below ground, which is below the water table, and says no new plant buildings or equipment would be required.

Tarmac says it expected that a maximum of 180 waste transport lorries and 55 mineral transport lorries would travel in and out of the site each working day. These would continue to use existing access points to Playhatch Road and the A4155.

If Oxfordshire County Council approves the plans, extraction would begin in 2027 and be complete between 2039 and 2041. The site would then revert to arable land.

A public consultation on the proposal will end on Tuesday.

Opponents are unhappy that the extension pushes extraction closer to the Thames Path walking trail and the Sonning Eye conservation area.

The Sonning Eye Action Group, which represents the interests of the residents and businesses, has objected.

It says: “The single biggest threat we face is from flooding. This has become a major issue, increasing in importance, extent and frequency over the past 40 years, and affects us all.

“Some houses have flooded and others have come close and have no leeway for any worsening of the situation.

“We do not object to the mining of sand and gravel from the local floodplain and fully acknowledge that these resources can only be obtained from where they exist but this should be done with sensitivity to the local community who have had to tolerate this industrial process for the past 90 years.

“Sonning Eye is a designated conservation area and there has to be a balance between the needs of the industry and those of the community. The planned restoration by importing waste to fill the voids made by gravel extraction is not appropriate in a functional flood plain. It has a profound effect on its normal function and would lead to increased flood risk to adjacent areas.

“We believe that this application should not be allowed to go ahead in its present form.

“There are several aspects which should be changed. Primarily, the plan to restore the site with imported waste is deeply flawed and no evidence for the safety for this approach has been provided.

“There is much evidence provided that it is not [safe] and the precautionary principle should prevail.

“There is a real gain to be had by allowing the worked site to be left as open water given what we can expect as climate change progresses. It is also the safest way to proceed and one that would have least environmental impact yet still produce real biodiversity gains as seen in the other adjacent lakes.”

David Woodward, who chairs Eye and Dunsden Parish Council, said: “The proposal in its current form is unacceptable. Flood risk is a key area on which the council should take independent advice, particularly given that in the last application different hydrologists had different views.

“Restoration using inert waste is not maximising the potential for increased flood capacity. Even using the figures in the application itself, there is a potential for approximately 248,000 cubic metres of increased flood storage capacity.

“However, the figure with landfill is only approximately 19,000 cubic metres. This seems a lost opportunity when the land salvaged is only 36 hectares of grade 2 and 3a agricultural land. The development zone needs to be moved at least 250m from Sonning Eye and the Thames Path in all areas.

“Suitable investment should be made in community infrastructure, particularly the provision of connected footpaths that are accessible all year round.

“The applicant should be required to contribute to flood defences within the parish, particularly including culverts under the B481. Monitoring of current operations needs to be strictly followed and the results fed frequently back to the local community.

“Quarry liaison meetings should be more frequent and cover a wider remit than the current narrow scope, which is related purely to current operations. Public access to the restored sites should be provided.”

David Walker Ltd, for Tarmac, said: “Tarmac has developed these proposals in order to maintain a sustainable contribution to the county council’s obligation to ensure availability of aggregates and efficiently work in a sustainable manner a high quality and proven resource.

“Granting consent would safeguard jobs on site and provide indirect employment benefits. The restoration plan would improve the long-term prospects of the environment and biodiversity in the area.”

To comment on the application (MW.0036/24),
visit https://myeplanning.


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