The Environment Agency, Natural England, Somerset County Council’s own ecology experts (Somerset Ecology Services) and Somerset Wildlife Trust have all objected for a second time to plans from Hanson for a highly damaging new super quarry in the Mendips in Somerset. Somerset County Council’s Regulation Committee is expected to make a decision on the planning applications shortly.
The new quarry would be located right on the edge of ancient Mendips woodlands and the four statutory consultees are deeply concerned about the project’s impact on wildlife. The plans come at a time when research has revealed that the UK is one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries – in the bottom 10% globally and last among the G7 group of nations*.
Somerset County Council (SCC) has also received over 500 objections from local communities, and over 2000 people have signed a petition, against the plans.
Hanson submitted planning applications in May 2021 to Somerset County Council to ‘re-open’, but in reality to significantly expand, Westdown Quarry onto over 100 acres of farmland. The quarry, near Nunney, has been disused for over 35 years. It is next door to the ancient Asham Wood in the Mendips – a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation. The plans also include dumping oolite waste from the land into the old Asham quarry, the 79-acre Asham Void, burying 35 years of natural regeneration. The total application area for extraction is 168 acres.
In early 2022, SCC asked Hanson for more information which it submitted in June. All four statutory ecology consultees have since reiterated their previous objections.
In its second objection, published on SCC’s planning application website, Somerset Wildlife Trust said: “The Trust is still unable to be supportive of the proposal to reopen Westdown Quarry. There is considerable uncertainty over future pressures on this very valuable landscape due to general known challenges highlighted in the climate and ecological emergencies, more specifically as a result of the devastation caused by Ash dieback, and localised, in the context of current and future planning applications. As an organisation that strives to protect and restore nature in Somerset we maintain that this development is in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The super quarry is likely to result in:
** A probable 33 per cent increase in quarry HGV traffic
** Dust, noise and likely damage from vibrations to homes from quarrying and traffic
** Material impact on habitat of Asham Wood, home to protected animals such as otters, dormice, bats and owls
** Potential risks to the water table posed by pumping water out of the quarry
** Light pollution
** The extraction of an estimated 160 million tonnes of carbon-rich rock, probably into the next century, contrary to the national climate emergency, Environment Act and Somerset County Council’s own Climate Emergency Plan.
Richard Mawer of the Stop Hanson Expansion at Westdown Quarry campaign group, said: “The plans are likely to badly affect the Asham Wood habitat and we very much share the continuing concerns of the four statutory consultees. A new super quarry at Westdown would be a massive industrial project and the cumulative effects on local people and the environment of all the quarrying projects would be huge. But the good news is it’s not too late to stop the damaging plans for Westdown Quarry. People can find tips on how to get involved on the campaign website.”
There are already four quarries near to Westdown, including Whatley and Torr super quarries. Somerset County Council has already approved a planning application to reopen one of these (Bartlett’s) and there are two more applications in the pipeline over the next two years.