Oxfordshire County Council’s planning and regulation committee granted permission to CD Brooks & Partners to bring in 118 cubic metres of inert waste – materials that do not change over time from building sites or highways projects – as part of a new plan for Castle Barn Quarry, Sarsden, Chipping Norton.
Existing planning permission stated the previous operator would replace whatever was mined with materials on site but too much was taken out, leaving the project 49,200 cubic metres short of being able to complete restoration.
New operator CD Brooks put together plans that will see the land raised to accommodate much more waste but still to below the level of surrounding land while increasing the biodiversity compared with the previously agreed restoration with more wildlife habitats and hedgerows.
The quandary facing councillors and council officers was two-fold – did the added volume of waste coming into the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) make this a major development, therefore bringing much more stringent rules into play, and would the improved biodiversity sufficiently offset harm and carbon footprint caused by lorry trips to bring in the waste?
The committee delayed this decision in November 2021 in order to gather more information on the impact on the AONB’s landscape, biodiversity gains, carbon emissions and where the waste would be likely to go if it was not taken to the quarry.
Officer David Periam said: “Our feeling is that this is a step too far in terms of resolving the issue we have at the site.
“I would have thought in these circumstances the logic would be for the applicant to bring forward a scheme along the lines of delivering that scheme (the previous restoration plan) through imported material as opposed to more.”
Despite a warning from Mr Periam that this could “set a precedent” for similar situations in the future, councillors disagreed.
Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak (Ind, Henley-on-Thames) said: “The lorry movements are no more than when the quarry was being used, we have heard from the officers that the biodiversity gain is good.
“On balance, it is 18 months of uncomfortable (HGV) journeys compared with up to 50 years of biodiversity gain and landscaping gain.”
Councillor Felix Bloomfield (Con, Benson & Cholsey) said: “I seldom go against officer recommendations but in this case I feel I have to.
“I feel it is not major development, I don’t believe harm will be caused to the AONB and the proposed restoration scheme is of higher quality than the one already permitted.
“There is clearly a desire locally for this restoration work to move forward. This will not generate more waste, the waste will still be generated by the building industry and by refusing today we create traffic movement elsewhere across the county and in neighbouring counties, causing far more HGV movement.”
Chair Councillor Geoff Saul (Lab, Chipping Norton) cast the only vote against. Councillor Judy Roberts (Lib Dem, North Hinksey) abstained but the rest of the committee voted to grant permission.