Yorkshire Wildlife Trust condemns North Yorkshire councillors as 'out of step' after quarry expansion passed
An environmental charity has condemned councillors who passed plans to quarry road-building rock just yards from a nationally important nature reserve, despite warnings from eminent scientists it could cause irreversible ecological damage.
Yorkshire Wildlife Trust said the North Yorkshire County Council members who voted to allow Went Valley Aggregates to blast magnesium limestone for up to eight years beside Brockadale Nature Reserve, near Pontefract, had "shown they are out of step with the people of Yorkshire and the nation".
After a five-hour planning meeting at County Hall in Northallerton the charity declined to rule out legal action over the decision, saying it was "reviewing all options, particularly in light of comments some councillors made about the objectivity of the planning officer's report".
The charity's criticism follows the authority being warned that its environmental ambitions and actions were under scrutiny ahead of next May's elections, amid claims it has repeatedly favoured big business developments over wildlife.
The meeting had heard a spokesman for the quarrying firm, which also saw its plan to restore the 9.7-hectare quarry extension approved, emphasise its proposal represented a great opportunity to enhance biodiversity at the site.
He said while the firm understood objectors concerns for the impact on the designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSi) the council had approved its proposed dust management scheme.
He said the type of dust being produced from its operations would be unlikely to impact on the nature reserve and that it would be "contained at source if it possibly can be". The meeting heard the firm pledge to regularly monitor the area for 12 months to see what dust, if any, was being blown towards the SSSi.
The firm's spokesman said it employed 30 people, some of whom were on furlough until Thursday, and supplied 12 local businesses which wanted the quarry to be reopened.
He said: "There is a large, massive shortage of construction materials within the Yorkshire region."
However, the meeting heard numerous objectors question the claim that the limestone could not be quarried at a less environmentally sensitive area, saying national guidelines stated a wholly exceptional case needed to be proven for potentially ecologically damaging developments.
The committee, most of whom were Conservative members, was also repeatedly told the plan flew in the face of the government's green agenda and the pressing environmental crisis.
Leading ecologist Professor Alastair Fitter, who has lectured at the University of York since 1972, said if there had not been an existing quarry at the site the proposal would have been unthinkable.
He told councillors the site was a unique habitat that supported fragile species on one of the tiny remnants of calcareous grassland in the region.
Prof Fitter sad: "It is exceptionally rich in species, its biodiversity is very high. A third of all Yorkshire flora is found there. There is no question that the site is of enormous importance. It is important that you recognise the threat to the site."
Alongside concerns being raised by MPs Yvette Cooper and Nigel Adams, several parish councils listed a litany of objections to the plan, saying for many residents of the area the nature reserve as precious as North Yorkshire's UN World Heritage site Fountains Abbey.
Professor Tricia Storey, of Kirk Smeaton Parish Council, said the proposal represented an "unquantified and unqualified risk" and questioned how the authority planned to monitor and enforce the 47 conditions it said were necessary for the development to be approved.
Councillor Mike Jordan said the 47 conditions were needed because there was "a real danger of something going wrong on the site" and Councillor Caroline Goodrick questioned why the buffer zone between the proposed quarry and the SSSi had been limited to just ten metres.
However, Councillor David Blades said as a keen gardener he had hoped for more site specific information about the potential for damage from the objectors. He said there was no evidence of plant loss resulting from decades of operations at the existing quarry.
He said: "To me the visual impact is already there. There is a massive crater there. Eight years is not much for an extension to the quarry."
Ahead of the committee's chairman Councillor Peter Sowray using his casting vote to approve the scheme, Councillor David Hugill said while residents would suffer "eight years of pain" from the quarry extension, the "substantial and impressive restoration programme" would eventually lead the site to prosper.
Local Democracy Reporting Service