Planning matters

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Where the cold wind blows. Meeting the need for natural building materials
Lichfields has been successful in obtaining a positive determination from Kirklees Council for a proposal by Johnson Wellfield to extract a million tonnes of sandstone over a term of 20 years from a new 24ha mineral working area at Crosland Moor, Huddersfield. Stone-built properties are a familiar feature of the northern landscape, no less so than in the former mill towns of the West Riding, where the wealth of the area derived from the local manufacturing industries was displayed in the form of magnificent civic, commercial and community buildings.  The local quarries from which dimension stone for those buildings was extracted are often long since exhausted.  However, new stone workings now operate to meet today’s demand for the high quality ashlar sandstones known in the trade as ‘Yorkstone’;  they are used in high specification architectural and masonry applications, often for heritage projects, not only in the immediate area but also throughout the UK. Johnsons Wellfield, based at Crosland Hill, Huddersfield is the UK’s leading producer of natural Yorkstone building products[1], extracted from its Crosland Moor minerals workings and located in the locally-occurring Rough Rock sandstone outcrop.  With its presence in Huddersfield for over 150 years, Johnsons Wellfield’s history is interwoven with the local built vernacular.  More recently, its high quality ashlar masonry products have been used locally, with considerable acclaim, as part of Huddersfield University’s new Oastler Building, and for paving in the St Georges Square adjacent to the town’s suitably impressive Grade 1 listed railway station. Further afield, the company’s stone has been used recently in paving along the Thames Embankment, at the National Cenotaph and within Westminster Abbey. St Georges Square, Huddersfield Image courtesy of Myers Group Ltd To maintain its leading position, Johnsons Wellfield has made significant investment in new stone processing technology to meet challenging customer requirements. Advanced robotic masonry equipment now enables the manufacture of both intricate and specification-perfect architectural features, placing the firm at the forefront of this business sector. An established, skilled workforce of over 100 employees makes this happen, in turn significantly contributing to the local economy. Ashlar Block Processing Image courtesy of Myers Group Ltd Without a guaranteed and continuous supply of suitable stone block, the raw material in the ground from which the building products are derived, production would ultimately cease. Johnsons Wellfield- like all other minerals operators - therefore need to plan ahead and ensure that there will be continuity of supply of permitted reserves to sustain its business into the future. It can be a significant step between identifying suitable resource and converting this into a permitted minerals reserve, particularly given that minerals can only be worked where they occur.  In preparing a scheme for a planning application, there are often tensions between the sensitivities of the local environment (such as historic and conservation area assets and Special Protection Area designations), nearby settlements and justifying the need to extract an available and viable minerals deposit which outcrops in a particular location.  Potential objectors may say why here, why not somewhere else? Faced with exhaustion of their present minerals reserve, Johnsons Wellfield identified a new 24 ha extraction area located nearby, and secured the ownership rights to it. The Crosland Moor site offered a proven resource of a million tonnes of ashlar block, capable of sustaining Johnsons Wellfield’s needs over the next 20 years. The challenge was to design a scheme which met policy considerations particularly given its countryside location, on an unallocated site within the Green Belt.   A team experienced in preparing minerals planning applications was assembled by Lichfields to address the sensitivities presented by the proposal, not least: the proximity of the neighbouring settlement and conservation area of South Crosland; the upland landscape context; and biodiversity interests. Taking on board feedback from a community consultation event, a number of options for the development were considered through the process of environmental impact assessment and a scheme was designed which incorporated mitigation measures, thereby  minimising potential impacts from arising from the extraction of stone and site restoration. Such measures include: the restriction of hours of working; the implementation of  dust suppression measures and the application of noise controls to mobile plant used in the extraction process. An important design consideration was to ensure that the supply of ground water serving historic water troughs and spring-fed domestic water supplies located in the local area were not affected by the proposed development. The design of the scheme of phased extraction, screen bunding and restoration, together with state-of-the-art operational controls and the restriction of associated heavy goods vehicles movements mean that the operation will be low key in operation and will result in biodiversity enhancement throughout and beyond the restoration phases. Whilst the proposal was to return the site back to productive upland farmland following the completion of extraction and restoration, the statutory authorities required the inclusion of meaningful biodiversity enhancement within the scheme. Within the scheme, this takes the form of provision of habitat for hare and the creation of a wet scrape which will be of value to invertebrates. The site will ultimately be restored back to agricultural pasture in this countryside location, employing the existing configuration of drystone walling and gating, suitable for onward sale for farming in perpetuity.  An undertaking to create a new public footpath across the restored site will add much needed connectivity to the local network.  Extract from the Scheme of Phased Extraction The proposal has now been determined positively by the Kirklees Strategic Planning Committee,  with members having balanced the level of public support for the scheme (which reflected the need for the continued local employment of a skilled workforce) and the significant investment in manufacturing technology and the local economy coupled with concerns over the potential impacts of minerals extraction such as traffic, dust and noise over the permitted term. Development is due to commence on-site in 2019, following the discharge of pre-commencement planning conditions and the completion of working at Johnsons Wellfields existing minerals operation which the Crosland Moor site will replace. Lichfields provides: planning; technical team coordination; environmental impact assessment; economics and community engagement services to the project. [1] https://www.johnsons-wellfield.co.uk/

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Election manifestos set out policy on fracking

Election manifestos set out policy on fracking

Jonathan Standen 02 Jun 2017
With the steady emergence of proposals to explore and extract unconventional gas by fracking (hydraulic fracturing), the mainstream UK political parties have set out their positions on this controversial form of development when considering future UK energy supply. With the election campaign back in full flow and the main political parties having all issued their manifestos, each has confirmed their own stance towards the extraction of this source of energy by fracking. The election promises are made against the backdrop of a changing pattern of energy supply which is seeing the emergence of lower carbon options including solar energy. Reported in the national press at the time, the National Grid has confirmed that 21 April was the first full day of coal-free power in 135 years. This was achieved through the generation of electricity from an increasingly varied range of power options. It reflects the changing face of the UK’s energy supply chain and follows on the heels of reporting in October 2016 that in the preceding six months, the electricity generated by solar panels had outstripped Britain’s ageing coal-fired power stations for the first time. The last Government had aimed to reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050 (from the 1990 baseline). The Conservative manifesto takes a supportive stance towards fracking, whereby: “The discovery and extraction of shale gas in the United States has been a revolution. Gas prices have fallen, driving growth in the American economy and pushing down prices for consumers.” "The US has become less reliant on imported foreign energy and is more secure as a result.” "We will therefore develop the shale industry in Britain.” “We will only be able to do so if we maintain public confidence in the process, if we uphold our rigorous environmental protections, and if we ensure the proceeds of the wealth generated by shale energy are shared with the communities affected.” The manifesto also sets out proposed changes to the consenting process: “We will legislate to change planning law for shale applications. Non-fracking drilling will be treated as permitted development, expert planning functions will be established to support local councils, and when necessary, major shale planning decisions will be made the responsibility of the National Planning Regime.”  In addition, the Tories propose that a new ‘Shale Environment Regulator’ would be set up, taking over responsibility for the fracking-associated roles currently performed by the Health and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The Labour party in its manifesto undertakes to “ban fracking because it would lock us into an energy infrastructure based on fossil fuels, long after the point in 2030 when the Committee on Climate Change says gas in the UK must sharply decline”. The Liberal Democrats in their manifesto oppose ‘fracking’ “because of its adverse impact on climate change, the energy mix, and the local environment”. The Scottish National Party in its manifesto says: "We have blocked underground coal gasification and a moratorium means fracking cannot take place in Scotland." The Green Party manifesto states: "We will introduce a ban on fracking, phase-out the £6bn-a-year fossil fuel subsidies, bring forward the coal phase out date to 2023 (at the latest), divest public funds from the fossil fuel industry, and ensure a just transition for those communities dependent on fossil fuel jobs." Plaid Cymru makes no specific mention of fracking but in 2015 supported a moratorium. Meanwhile on the ground, the development of unconventional gas opportunities continues to be challenged through the courts. In a decision in October 2016, the then Communities Secretary Sajid Javid agreed with his Inspector’s recommendations, to allow appeals for the development of exploration facilities for unconventional gas by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) at sites at Roseacre and Wharles on the Fylde, overturning the earlier decisions of Lancashire County Council to refuse planning permission for the exploratory developments. The decision has however been challenged on two occasions, latterly in April this year in the Court of Appeal, where Mr Justice Dove rejected objectors’ judicial review actions. It is understood that papers have again been lodged by an objector with the Court of Appeal to reconsider this decision. Planning permission for similar development in North Yorkshire was granted in September 2016, for Third Energy to frack at Kirkby Misperton, near Malton. This decision was unsuccessfully judicially reviewed in November last year and the operation is now underway, although not without objectors based locally and at a nearby objector encampment known as the ‘Kirkby Misperton Protection Camp’ blockading the well site in April. IGas received a resolution to grant planning permission in November 2016 from Nottinghamshire County Council, subject to a Section 106 planning obligation, for an exploratory site at a former MoD site in north Nottinghamshire. Following the decision, Stephen Bowler, CEO of IGas, said: "We are at a critical juncture in the future of our energy mix and supply, as we move away from coal towards lower carbon sources." In Scotland, where there is a moratorium on shale gas extraction, it is ironic that INEOS’ first US shipment of shale gas was received at Grangemouth Refinery in October 2016. This is the beginnings of a trade route which is likely to trigger an expansion of Scotland’s largest industrial complex. INEOS has previously obtained fracking exploration licences within the Central Belt, but has so far been blocked from implementation by the Scottish Government moratorium. It is thought that the most populated part of Scotland - the Central Belt - may contain substantial amounts of shale gas, oil and coal bed methane, where exploration could prove to be controversial. With the snap general election countdown now in its final phase, we wait with great interest to see if unconventional gas firmly becomes an established component of the UK energy supply mix over the term of the next parliament. Image credit: Daniel Foster

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