Straitgate inquiry hears concerns about loss of trees

Further evidence has been heard this week in the planning inquiry into the proposed 100-acre quarry at Straitgate Farm near Ottery St Mary. The applicant, Aggregate Industries, is appealing against Devon County Council’s refusal of their planning application last December. 

Philippa Davies 

Last week the inquiry began with local councillors outlining their objections. The county councillor for the Otter Valley, Cllr Jess Bailey, Ottery town councillor Roger Giles and West Hill parish councillor Amanda Townsend addressed the hearing. Their concerns included flood risk caused by the quarrying, potential risk to the quality of water supplies, and the potential traffic danger on the B3174 if the quarry went ahead, caused by more heavy lorries using the busy road. 

The inquiry then heard a large amount of technical evidence on the impact of the proposed quarry on water quality, water flow and flood risk. Hydrogeology experts appointed by all three parties – Devon County Council, Straitgate Action Group and Aggregate Industries – were cross-examined by the respective parties’ barristers. 

On the fifth day of the inquiry there were discussions on the impact of the proposed quarry on protected species living on the site, in particular bats and dormice, and mature trees. 

The inquiry heard evidence from Devon County Council’s tree consultant Michael Steed and its ecologist Miss Christine Mason. Aggregate Industries’ consultant was Stuart Wilson of SLR Consulting. 

Cllr Bailey said: “Although I had previously robustly objected to the proposed quarry focusing on road safety and trees, I took the opportunity to ask a question of Aggregate Industries’ consultant about two particular trees. I am most concerned about the plight of the magnificent oak trees at the entrance to the proposed quarry on Birdcage Lane and I sought clarification on their future.  In response to my question Aggregate Industries insisted that the root protection areas could be preserved in order that the trees can be retained.” 

Speaking afterwards, Cllr Jess Bailey said she was ‘not at all convinced’ by this evidence. 

She said: “I completely agree with Mr Steed for the county council who suggested that there is no justification for felling any 200-year-old oak trees, let alone two, and that the scheme should be refused on this basis or consideration should be given to alternative access”. 

The hearing is expected to finish on Friday, October 14, with the result announced at a later stage.