Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Concerns over potential extension of gravel quarry

A QUARRY could be extended despite opposition.

Tarmac, which operates the Sonning Works by the River Thames in Eye & Dunsden, has suggested expanding it to an adjacent site downstream towards Shiplake.

The company says the 86-hectare site would produce 3.5 million tonnes of sharp sand and gravel.

It is one of 62 being considered for inclusion in Oxfordshire County Council’s latest waste and mineral strategy, which has gone out to public consultation until October 3.

But the move is opposed by Shiplake Parish Council, which says it would negatively affect the area.

Council chairman Tudor Taylor said: “It would have a huge impact on the landscape for a significant amount of time.

“We don’t know what it would mean logistically in terms of traffic movements but there would be a negative impact on the environment and for road users.

“The problem is if you are extracting sand and gravel you have got to be near a river.

“We were always worried about an extension because the area between Shiplake and Sonning is incredibly sensitive land.

“If you asked a member of the public walking there they would describe it as an idyllic landscape.”

He added: “It seems they will carry on digging up stretches of riverside so they can provide gravel.”

Councillor Taylor said he wanted a review of the boundaries of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in order to include this and other areas.

His council has been lobbying Environment Secretary Michael Gove together with the parish councils for Kidmore End, Sonning Common, Binfield Heath, Eye & Dunsden and Harpsden.

Cllr Taylor said: “The Chilterns area was put forward in the Fifties and has not been reviewed since. 

“The original draft missed out an area which most people would describe as beautiful. Clearly these riverside settings are beautiful and should be designated.

“The timescale for the AONB is quite long term but I am sure all six parishes involved would not want to see any commercial development in what they believe to be a beautiful area.”

Councillor David Bartholomew, who represents Shiplake on the county council, said the the process of choosing suitable extraction sites would take up to 2020 and the resulting strategy would apply until 2031.

He said: “Gravel runs along the Thames. This is the next stage in a very long process to identify future sites and getting an expression of interest to help us move forward.

“Tarmac has expressed an interest as it already has permission for the site it is developing at the moment.

“That site is not going to be finished for another 12 years so the site further along the river bank towards Shiplake is a long way away, it’s not immediate.”

The first consultation on the full draft strategy will be held early next year.

This will examine the environmental, economic and social impacts of the development and the potential negative impacts and other planning issues.

Sam Lankester, estates surveyor at Tarmac, said the new site would not be put into use for at least a decade even if it was approved.

He said: “We anticipate that with the current planning permissions Sonning quarry has enough mineral reserves to continue operations for the next 12 years.

“Following this we would need to find an extension to the site if we are to deliver a continued supply of construction materials to serve local demand.

“We have therefore put forward a proposed location for future mineral extraction in response to the council’s consultation.

“The land is adjacent to the existing quarry to the north-east of Sonning Eye. It will be a number of years before the council decides whether or not the proposed site is appropriate for mineral extraction and there will be multiple phases of public consultation prior to any decision being made.

“While it is very early days, we have already informed local elected members and will continue to work with them as we take this scheme forward.”

Henley MP John Howell said he was “sympathetic to the environmental arguments” and supported lower figures for gravel extraction in line with demand but a robust case for them needed to be put forward.

The council said the extra sites in southern Oxfordshire being considered would provide 28.2 million tonnes of sharp sand and gravel when the county council required only 23.7 million tonnes.

Mr Howell said: “A fundamental aspect of gravel extraction is it should be taking place close to where it is needed.”

A previous extension covering a 81.5-acre site adjacent to Spring Lane was approved by the county council in 2014 and work began in October last year.

Opponents were concerned abut the  effect on the environment, flooding and additional traffic. They included Shiplake, Sonning and Eye & Dunsden parish councils, the Henley Society, the Sonning and Sonning Eye Society, the Chilterns Conservation Board and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England.

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