When I was Director of Friends of the Earth, many, many years ago, I picked up a lot of knowledge from someone called Andrew Lees, who died, tragically, out in Madagascar in 1994. Andrew was a serious scientist (a zoologist, I think) but he was also very big on instinct.

Before taking on the role of national Countryside Campaigner at Friends of the Earth in 1985, he fought a brilliant campaign to protect a place called Crymlyn Bog near Swansea to stop the local council using it as a landfill site. And then he went on to establish a local Friends of the Earth group in the Norfolk Broads, where he latched on to an iconic cause (protecting the Halvergate Marshes) by identifying the out-and-out baddie that wanted to destroy them – the local Internal Drainage Board. This was done instinctively as much as scientifically. And then he worked his socks off, not just to protect Halvergate Marshes (successfully), but to build a much broader campaign that led to the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Act in 1988, creating The Broads Authority.

Andrew was brilliant – not least because of that reliance on instinct.

If Andrew was alive now, I know that he would be the first to say that what is happening at a place called Wicklesham Quarry, just outside Oxford, falls into that category of ‘seriously important’, not just scientifically but instinctively. And that’s because he would instantly see the national implications of what is, by any other standard, a little local issue.

I feel I’m channelling my old friend here, because I’m absolutely convinced that the Judicial Review of the decision taken by Faringdon Council in its Local Plan (to allow Wicklesham Quarry to be turned into an industrial estate, despite the fact that it is both an SSSI (as was Crymlyn Bog) and one of the richest palaeontological sites in the UK, is in exactly that same absolutely critical ‘category of concern’.

Check out for yourself the press release (reproduced below) put together by Anna Hoare, the inspirational local campaigner who has kept this issue live over the last few years, and see what you think.

And when you’ve had a chance to look at it, take stock of the implications – and then, please, support the CrowdJustice appeal which will cover the costs of the Judicial Review on the 14th/15th June at the Royal Courts of Justice.

Press Release

Local people take battle to protect Wicklesham Quarry to High Court

On June 14-15, the High Court [1] will consider a judicial review brought by local people challenging the Vale of White Horse District Council’s decision to adopt the Faringdon Neighbourhood Plan – which condemns Wicklesham Quarry SSSI, an internationally famous conservation site, to being turned into an industrial warehousing site. [2]

In the case of Wicklesham Quarry, the Council’s decision to approve Faringdon Neighbourhood Plan contradicts its own previous decisions about the suitability of the site for industrial development. It also conflicts with local and county level strategic policies for landscape, biodiversity and geodiversity, as well as those for the restoration of former mineral workings.
The Neighbourhood Plan allocates Wicklesham Quarry for future use as an industrial site – despite the fact that the former quarry:

*Is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its unique fossil record;
*Forms part of the West Oxfordshire Heights Conservation Target Area, an ecological network of habitats and species identified for protection and restoration under Oxfordshire’s Biodiversity Action Plan;
*Has planning conditions set by the County Council requiring that the site be restored to agricultural use, once active quarrying ceased; [3]
*Lies outside the urban area of Faringdon in open countryside and within the National Character Area of the Midvale Ridge.
*Hosts European Protected Species and Priority Habitat

Neighbourhood Plans, introduced under the Localism Act 2011 [4], are promoted as enabling local communities to have their voice heard in local development. However, they can also afford narrower vested interests a route to by-pass planning conditions and designations intended to protect sites of wildlife and conservation value for the wider benefit of the community and society – as landowners and developers can be closely involved in drafting the policies from which they stand to benefit. This appears to be the case with the Faringdon Neighbourhood Plan and its inclusion of Wicklesham Quarry as a proposed industrial warehousing site. Wicklesham Quarry, therefore, stands as a key test case highlighting how ‘Localism’ and Neighbourhood Planning, intended to enable local people generally to have a say in shaping their neighbourhoods, can instead be used to serve individual vested interests

Anna Hoare commented:

“The Neighbourhood Plan process appears to be vulnerable to clear conflicts of interest. Local people should be able to understand the relationship between their council and local developers – and policies must be supported by robust, objective evidence. In this case, transparency and objectivity have been lost. The policy for Wicklesham Quarry is justified in documents produced by the landowners and their agent, who are also members of the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group and Employment Land Group. Yet no attribution of the sources of this evidence is given in the Neighbourhood Plan.

Anna continued:

“It was only through initiating a Freedom of Information Request that I was able to read the unpublished sources of evidence cited. Not only did the claims and calculations not stack up, but the provenance of these documents was concealed. Piecing together clues, I worked out that members of the Steering Group, local ‘stakeholders’ and the owners of Wicklesham quarry were actually the same people – and were also the Neighbourhood Plan’s principal source of evidence for this policy.” [5]

Environmentalist, Jonathon Porritt, former Chair of the UK Sustainability Commission, and supporter of the campaign to Protect Wicklesham Quarry from Development, said,

“Protecting somewhere as special as Wicklesham Quarry should just happen – as a matter of course. But these days, literally no part of the natural world is considered off limits.

This may look like a storm in a small, local teacup, but there is a great deal at stake here nationally in terms of retaining and restoring rare and precious fragments of our countryside; whilst defending the principles of localism so that it reflects the interests of all local people rather than serving narrower, vested interests.”

For eight years the District Council actually rejected persistent attempts to have the site included in the Local Plan for industrial use, but by adopting the Faringdon Neighbourhood Plan, there is now an expectation that the Council will grant planning permission. Hence, local campaigners are turning to the High Court.

Barrister Pavlos Eleftheriadis, representing the case, said:

“The case raises many important points of principle of environmental justice. It will allow the court to examine how far a Neighbourhood Plan can depart from the strategic choices of the broader Local Plan, what effect a Biodiversity Action Plan has on planning policy, how exactly environmental assessment informs such a process; as well as the role and weight of restoration and aftercare obligations when quarrying operations come to an end.”

For further information please contact:
Dr Anna Hoare: protectwicklesham@gmail.com
Tel 01367 240255

Notes to Editors

1. Judicial Review to be heard in the High Court, June 14 – 15, 2017: Mrs Justice Lang DBE ruled that the application for Judicial Review “merits full consideration” in the High Court. The local campaign’s case, initiated by Dr Anna Hoare, challenges the Vale of White Horse District Council’s decision to adopt Faringdon Neighbourhood Plan, on the grounds that the Plan fails to meet the Basic Conditions. As the adopters of the Faringdon Neighbourhood Plan, the Vale of White Horse District Council is the legal focus for the Judicial Review challenge. The application has secured an Aarhus Convention Costs Protection Order limiting any potential adverse costs incurred to £5,000, enabling cases on environmental grounds to go forward with relatively limited funds. Dr Hoare is launching a second Crowd Justice Appeal seeking to raise £20,000 to fund this important test case and sustain the local campaign’s ongoing efforts to ‘Protect Wicklesham Quarry from Development.’

See: https://www.change.org/p/faringdon-town-council-the-vale-of-white-horse-district-council-and-secretary-of-state-sajiv-javid-protect-wicklesham-quarry-from-development
CrowdJustice: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/protect-wicklesham-quarry-from-development/

2 Wicklesham Quarry SSSI, Oxfordshire: Designated for its geological and nature conservation significance under Section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981: “This site is of great historical importance, and is one of Britain’s richest palaeontological localities”. http://www.sssi.naturalengland.org.uk/citation/citation_photo/1001218.pdf

The quarry’s ponds are also a Priority Habitat and breeding habitat of European Protected Species, Great Crested Newts, and forms part of a Conservation Target Area. The Neighbourhood Plan fails to take account of the Quarry’s dual importance for bio and geodiversity. Misrepresenting Wicklesham Quarry SSSI as a ‘brownfield site’ in the Basic Conditions Statement, Faringdon Council has sought to deny the conservation status of the quarry. The policy to turn it into an industrial/ warehousing/logistics site (B2 and B8 planning uses) does not conform with the policies of the Local Plan, the Minerals and Waste Plan, or the National Planning Policy Framework.

3 Restoration post quarrying operations: Wicklesham Quarry ceased active working in 2009-10, and under the planning conditions set by Oxfordshire County Council (the relevant minerals authority), should have been restored to farmland by quarry operators, Grundon, – along with protection of key geological and biodiversity features. However, Grundon applied for extensions to their operations at Wicklesham Quarry on an annual basis, delaying restoration by some 6 years – extensions allowed by Oxfordshire County Council. Following pressure from local residents, Oxfordshire County Council finally issued Grundon with a requirement to cease all operations and restore the site by 30 September 2016. That date passed without any significant restoration having been undertaken and following further pressure from local campaigners, the Council served a Breach of Conditions Notice on the quarry operator Grundon Ltd setting a new deadline of 30th June 2017.

4 Neighbourhood Plans: The Localism Act of 2011 introduced new powers for local people to be involved in local planning and development decisions through creating Neighbourhood Plans and Neighbourhood Development Orders. The stated intention of Neighbourhood Plans is to ‘allow local people to get the right type of development for their community’.

5. Quarry Owners: The land where Wicklesham Quarry is situated and where Grundon has carried out its quarrying operations is part of Wicklesham Lodge Farm owned by Tom Allen-Stevens and his family. Mr Allen-Stevens and his sister also run a commercial property company and business park in converted agricultural buildings on their farm: http://www.wicklesham.co.uk/default.aspx For the last 8 years Mr Allen-Stevens has sought to get the quarry included in the Local Plan as an industrial warehousing site – despite four independent reviews having found that turning Wicklesham into an industrial site is unjustified and/or unsustainable (URS Ltd Employment Land Reviews 2008 & 2013; VWH District Council Preferred Options Report 2009; Faringdon Neighbourhood Plan Sustainability Appraisal 2014). The Vale of White Horse District Council adopted Faringdon Neighbourhood Plan after stating again in June 2016 that it had “seen no persuasive evidence” to allocate any more employment land in Faringdon.