Blackhill Quarry: EDDC’s left hand (Planning Dept) and right hand (its Economic Development Manager) at war over Clinton Devon site

The initial response by EDDC to the planning application to extend the industrial site at Blackhill Quarry was negative:

17.0191.PREAPP_redacted

However, subsequently EDDC changed its collective mind, as it so often does, and Dr Robert Murray – EDDC’s new Economic Development Manager (replacement for the somewhat controversial Nigel Harrison) now supports Clinton Devon Estate’s plans to extend industrial use of the site:

17.3022.MOUT Economic Development Response

However, each of Dr Murray’s points can (and should be) challenged as a correspondent details below:

“Further response to 17/3022/MOUT Blackhill Quarry

A response from the Economic Development Manager of East Devon District Council Dr Robert Murray gives support for the Blackhill Engineering proposed development within the AONB of Woodbury Common. (Planning Application 17/3022/MOUT)
However, the report includes many statements which are incorrect, and misleading.

Within the introduction summery Dr Murray states:

“The outline application seeks to accommodate (entirely within the industrial site) and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of an established and growing local business.”

This statement is not correct as the area which the expansion area is proposed to be built is outside the already approved engineering area (7/B/80/0620/22 dated 16/09/1980) and relates to land used for the processing of gravel and sand that had temporary planning rights from Devon County Council (the mineral Authority) with a clause that the area is required to be returned to the natural landscape of the heathland once processing and extraction has been completed.

This is also contrary to the view of Mr Gavin Spiller Principal Planning Officer for Western Planning Team at EDDC who wrote in Oct 2017 to Clinton Devon Estates regarding the proposed business units at Blackhill Quarry:

“In this instance, the Local Planning Authority recognise the previously developed nature of the site, however, in the glossary of Teams section of the Local Plan (which echoes those contained in the National Planning Policy Framework) previously developed land specifically excludes land that has been developed for minerals extraction or waste disposal by landfill purposes where provision for restoration has been made through development control procedures. Accordingly, the land would be greenfield”

A further statement Dr Murray makes in the following paragraph:

“Recently acquired by the SC group, Blackhill Engineering is a growing local business of almost 70 rears.”
Again, this statement is misleading and incorrect. Blackhill Engineering units where built following the granting of planning permission in 1980 for the regional workshop for the then tenant of the quarry for ECC (English China Clay). It was only following a change in tenants to AI (Aggregate Industries) in 1995 that the restriction for use for the quarry tenants’ own workshop was removed and full commercial use was permitted unrelated to the quarry.

Therefore, the commercial use at Blackhill Quarry could only have started in 1995 and therefore 23 years in operation, far less than the 70 years quoted.

Within the same paragraph Dr Murray states:

“The scheme requires no transport access modifications or landscape change”

Again, this is incorrect. The site in question has permitted development for Mineral extraction and processing only. Therefore, the access and landscaping is not as described as hardstanding and approved access, but temporary access and hardstanding which is required to be returned to the heathland area of Woodbury Common.

Dr Murrays Further comment in the Consultee Representations

“…. A change of use to B” industrial use is unlikely to have an impact on the qualifying features of the European designated site, or CWS (County Wildlife Site)”

The clear designation of this area is not Industrial land as Dr Murray implies but a part of Woodbury Common that until 2017 had a restricted permission to extract and process minerals. The total area around the quarry is designated as a SSSI (Special Site of Scientific Interest) and like other areas of the common which had temporary military or mineral uses have been returned to heathland, and included in the SSSI designation. Therefore, once the quarry and processing area has been re-landscaped would most likely to be included within the SSSI designation like these other areas within the pebblebed heaths.

Dr Murray then misrepresents a letter from Devon County Council by stating that they do not object.

Devon County Council are not a consultee on this EDDC Application, but where the agreed Authority for the previous Minerals extraction and therefore wrote explaining that the land proposed for Industrial development is on land agreed by DCC with an enforceable legal agreement to return this area back to the common.

Their final Paragraph explains their position:

“To clarify, Devon County Council as Mineral Planning Authority would not wish to raise any objection to the proposal so long as adequate complementary habitat to replace the lost heathland is provided elsewhere and that this is secured by condition or legal agreement. In such a scenario it would not then be reasonable for the County Council to seek to enforce the provisions of the legal agreement insofar as they relate to this small parcel of land”

Therefore, their conclusion is if the Applicant provides another suitable area as replacement complementary habitat they will not enforce the legal agreement. Unfortunately, the applicant has not provided evidence that they will provide any habitat replacement.

Dr Murray states on page 2 states:

“The submitted Statement on the Business Case and Economic Needs (Bell Cornwall Dec 2017) goes some way to highlighting the economic benefits of the proposed scheme, but falls short of a full economic impact assessment….
…. It fails to provide a fuller picture of the salient wider economic benefits which would follow from the proposed scheme”

Therefore, as the developer and their agents have not provided a full economic impact assessment that is generally required in these cases why is this application being considered until such a time that a full assessment has been made?

Dr Murray states on page 5 states:

“Recent constraints targeted at both Greendale and Hill Barton employment locations further reduce our ability to accommodate such valuable commercial development opportunities”

It is assumed that he is referring to the EDDC Villages plan that has a proposal to encircle both these large business parks with an “employment boundary”. This was agreed within the East Devon Local plan (approved only in 2016) that further growth at these 2 sites should not be further expanded into the countryside. This was because both are in unsustainable locations and distant from residential housing and public transport requiring employees to use their private cars which is against the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework)

Both the Business Parks have never been in the local authority’s strategic policy for employment zones and grown as “exceptions” to the Local Plan Policies over the last 30 years.

The location of Blackhill Engineering existing site and the proposed extension are in similar unsustainable locations as Greendale and Hill Barton and require workers to commute in their own vehicles along unsuitable roads.

The Application for an extension to Blackhill Quarry would be against the NPPF and our local plan creating a third large industrial area within the countryside.

Further on Page 5 Dr Murray states:

“There is a clearly identified need for the subject business to expand with such positive recent trading (567% increase in annual turnover) taking their existing facility beyond capacity. The SC Group would not be seeking to take this substantial investment forward if they were uncertain of their ability to secure new employees….

Again, the above statement seems to conflict with the letter from Gavin Spiller following “pre-application advice in October 2017.

The letter states

“Pre-application advice is sought for the proposed erection of an additional industrial building to support the existing business being operated from the site together with the erection of 5 additional industrial use by other businesses”

The landowners Clinton Devon Estates asked for Pre-planning advice in Oct 2017 to build one unit for Blackhill Engineering and 5 additional buildings for “other businesses” but by Dec 2017 just 2 months later, a justification was submitted with the outline planning application that all the buildings where required for Blackhill Engineering.

This seems most odd that the advice given by the EDDC Planners in Oct 2017 was not to support the 5 speculative buildings but 8 weeks later there was a business justification to expand the whole area for Blackhill Engineering!

The final paragraph from Gavin Spillers letter regarding pre-application advice:

“…… it is considered that an application for the proposal to which the pre-application enquiry relates would not comply with the provisions Strategy7 and Policy E5 of the EDLP. However, should appropriate justification be submitted to support expansion of the existing business and additional building for their use may be able to be supported as a departure from policy given the economic benefits of retaining an existing employer.
The five speculative industrial buildings would not receive officer support”

Dr Murrays final comment:

“The economic case in favour of this proposed development on their existing site is particularly compelling. It is strongly recommended to our Planning Colleagues for approval”

It therefore can be seen that there is a conflict between the Economic Development Manager and the Planning Team at the Local Authority.

However, as Dr Murrays document shows the economic case presented has inaccuracies and should not form part of the evidence for a justification to:

• Ignore the condition regarding the restoration and aftercare scheme for planning application 10/0473/CM.
• Ignore Strategy 7 Development in the Countryside
• Ignore Policy E5 Small Scale Economic Development in Rural Areas
• Ignore Policy D1 Design and Local Distinctiveness
• Ignore Policy D3 Trees and Development Sites
• Ignore EN16 Contaminated Land
• Ignore Policy TC7 Adequacy of Road Network and Site Access

Until there is sound correct and true “Economic Impact Assessment” and adequate complementary habitat to replace the lost heathland is proposed and agreed by the landowner and the local authority this application should not be considered.

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