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Gravel Threat Fades? 26 May 2011 Hansons have notified us that they intend to withdraw their application for gravel extraction in the Cassington / Eynsham area

Hansons have notified us that they intend to withdraw their application for gravel extraction in the Cassington / Eynsham area, which was submitted in August 2007 and was due to be determined by OCC next month. The full text follows:

“The decision has been prompted by the economic downturn, which means local demand for sand and gravel can be met from other sites in the county, and the need for further consultation and negotiation before the application could be approved by the county council’s planning committee

“You may be aware that we have recently secured permission to extend our site at Stanton Harcourt and we have mineral reserves at Sutton Courtenay near Didcot, which in the current economic climate will enable us to meet predicted market demand in Oxfordshire for the next few years. Whilst most of the technical issues at Eynsham have been overcome, we do have some legal obstacles that would make it difficult to deliver the proposed nature conservation afteruse in its current form.

“Against this background and with no pressing need for the mineral, we have decided to withdraw the application and use the opportunity to take a broader view of the available mineral resources and opportunities in the Cassington / Eynsham area. OCC recently agreed an interim strategy for releasing sand & gravel resources, with a declared preference for extensions to existing sites in key locations, including the Cassington area.”

County Councillor Charles Mathew points out that the last sentence is incorrect: the OCC Cabinet are yet to agree the draft policy for consultation and have not approached the Government with a robust argument to change the annual Oxfordshire production figures, which at present still stand at 2.1m tonnes pa despite 2009 figures of nearer 700,000 and 2010 figures forecast as some 25% less.

Fred W Wright, Chairman of Eynsham and Cassington Gravel Committee, comments as follows:

“The Gravel Committee, supported by the Eynsham Society and the two Parish Councils, has opposed this application since it was submitted to Oxfordshire County Council in 2006-7. During the intervening time Cassington Road east of the roundabout has become more important for local recreation, with the cricket and croquet pitches and dog walking etc. The threatened land has also returned to agriculture.

“Other key points which may have helped Hanson's decision appear to include - Eynsham is not in the present Minerals and Waste Local Plan; problems with lorries; a minerals conveyor line and cyclists all trying to pass under the old Cassington railway bridge; greater consideration for the local environment and greater transparency; no new extraction using ‘wet digging’ which could cause more dust near the (Siemens) Magnet Factory; an increased number of lakes possibly causing an increased risk of bird strike to military aircraft; proximity to the new houses at Swinford Green; and the great length of time the application has been with the County Council.

“Our conclusion is that we have won another battle but we must still be wary of a future new application after the new Minerals and Waste Framework comes into operation in 2012 or later. Public consultation on its proposals is expected later this year and its submission to Government will then follow. At the present time Cassington, Eynsham and Yarnton are included in it for possible minerals and clay production.

“A present paradox is that mineral companies can destroy a local countryside, but unlike house-builders cannot be compelled to help the local communities with funding for local needs and projects. It has been suggested at a recent meeting with the minerals industry that MPs should be lobbied to correct this with meaningful compensation. However the industry suggestion of 4p per ton seems totally inadequate - under the withdrawn application it would only have raised £80K!

“Since most of the land between Eynsham and Cassington was threatened with minerals extraction in 1991-2, we are very glad that this land has so far been spared and we hope that it will continue to be spared for the next generation.

“Finally very many thanks to all those who have helped to achieve this result over the last several years.”

Cllr Charles Mathew agrees the story is not yet finished. As noted above, the OCC draft minerals strategy concentrates sand and gravel extraction in existing areas - including Eynsham / Cassington / Yarnton; view Oxford Mail report 26 October 2010. With the support of 10 other members, he called in the Cabinet decision of 18 February 2011 agenda Item 8 b(i) as contrary to the interests of Oxfordshire residents - primarily due to:

"insufficient consideration of the issue of sustainability, which would naturally lead to a hybrid solution in the interests of all parties; this implies that too little emphasis has been placed on the problems of crossing the River Thames, since the larger needs for gravel south of the Thames at Grove, Didcot, Harwell and the like should be administered from pits in their local vicinity. This is supported by secondary issues, which together merit reconsideration of the spatial strategy approach, such as spreading the onus, aftercare and infrastructure."

The call in was defeated by 4 votes to 5, meaning that the Core strategy was approved. Cllr Mathew observes:

“If this survives the forthcoming consultation and the Government’s approval, an average of 80% of the County’s annual needs will be provided by the Lower Windrush and Evenlode Valleys when over 50% of the requirement will be south of the river - at Harwell, Grove, Didcot, Abingdon etc - with no account taken of the barrier created by Newbridge or Swinford Bridge nor the manifold other problems such as infrastructure, cumulative effect, flood risk and loss of amenity that already exist and will only get very much worse.”

Cllr Mathew promises to continue battling with OCC to try and ensure that the Core Policy 2030 for mineral extraction is a hybrid one and reflects the interests of residents in his division, as well as those of Oxfordshire.


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