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“We are devastated” Campaigners in shock as Somerset ‘mega quarry’ application gets the go-ahead 

A CONTROVERSIAL plan to re-open Westdown quarry near Frome has been approved.

The site, next door to the ancient Asham Wood in the Mendips – a site of special scientific interest and a special area of conservation – has laid dormant since the late 1980s and contains an estimated 160 million tonnes of Mendip limestone reserves.

Three years ago Hanson UK, now Heidelberg Materials Group, submitted plans to re-open the quarry, but there has been concern over the potential effect the expansion could have on the environment in an area that already contains Whatley quarry and Torr Works quarry – one of the largest in Europe.

Green Party councillors in the area, as well as members of the anti-quarry campaigners SHEWQ (Stop Hanson Expansion at Westdown Quarry), have been fighting the plans for three years on the grounds the scheme would have a detrimental impact on the environment.

Heidelberg Materials initially planned to dump waste from the quarry on the regenerated forest next to the last remaining section of the ancient Asham Wood, but this was withdrawn.

The Somerset Wildlife Trust objected to the application in the strongest possible terms, expressing concern about the revised plans for wildlife mitigation on a range of issues, including the absence of a proposal for the rare lesser horseshoe bat nursery and great crested newt ponds.

SHEWQ members have expressed their disappointment about the decision, which came after a meeting of councillors on Thursday (June 6).

Indra Francesco, from the campaign, said: “We are devastated. A beautiful place and irreplaceable ecology is about to vanish off the face of the earth as a result of this decision.

“It’s a sad day for democracy.”

Chris Townsend added: “The current planning system is heavily weighted in favour of industrial activity, via a set of outdated legal perimeters.

“Only the applicant can appeal a decision, the community can’t. In the event of an appeal, the council still has to pay significant costs, regardless of whether they win.

“In Somerset Council’s current funding crisis, maintaining democracy can come at what some representatives regard as an unacceptable financial risk.”

Former teacher, Simon Pugh-Jones, added: “Despite (this) loss, the campaign is really proud of the work we’ve done together. The legal research we commissioned resulted in the saving of Asham Void, itself a remarkable symbol of resilience.”

The threatened land at Westdown farm Picture: SHEWQ

Frome councillor Martin Dimery (Green) was allowed to speak at the meeting of Somerset Council’s Strategic Planning Committee as a representative for the area.

He announced his annoyance that an original decision to let the East Somerset Planning Board consider the application first was reversed by the Somerset Council.

He said: “Quarries cause air born pollution; the dust endangers health and biological diversity.

“The addition of more lorries both on the narrow lanes and trunk roads will have a significant environmental and safety impact.

“This contradicts the net-zero policies of Somerset Council.”

Cllr Michael Dunk, the Green Party’s committee member, said he had “never known an application where so much of the detail has been deferred”.

He added: “Heidelberg has 40 years’ worth of stone left in Whatley Quarry. Why do they need to reopen Westdown?”

Cllr Shane Collins, the Frome East representative, said: “Too many councillors on this committee are from outside of the area, with little idea of how this application will impact the local community.

“It blows a major hole in the Lib Dems’ Somerset climate emergency targets. ”

Heidelberg said the recommencement of mineral working at Westdown would result in the creation of 56 full-time jobs, made up of 40 staff and 16 contractors.

They predict a further 34 indirect jobs will be supported, relating to the purchasing of a variety of goods and services, including specialist engineering assistance for plant maintenance and contractors for services such as fencing, provision of mobile plant and more.

To read more about the decision, visit the Somerset Council planning website

SHEWQ members protesting the plans at the nearby Nunney Castle Picture: SHEWQ

 

 

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