Day Eleven began with the presentation of evidence by Professor John Altringham who is a Professor of Animal Ecology and Conservation at University of Leeds, author of 3 books on bats and over 100 scientific papers on bats, with 30 years of experience. He was led through his evidence by Buckfastleigh Community Forum’s legal representative Mr Charlie Hopkins. Professor Altringham’s Proof of Evidence can be found here.
Professor Altringham started by stating there are 17 species of bats in the UK, all protected. They live on average for 20 to 30 years, reproduce only 1 pup a year and don’t become good mothers until 8 years old. He described the lifecycle and commuting characteristics of the Greater Horse Shoe Bat (GHSB). He noted that GHSBs are large slow moving bats that fly close to the ground, near hedge line and tree line, at about knee level and not above head level. He further put emphasis on the fact that Whitecleave Quarry is an important site as it is used as a strategic fly way for 30% of GHSBs in the area.
He commented upon the data provided by Mr Mellor as inadequate on two key points:
1) the data was collected in October last year before Gilpin removed the trees from dolerite spur in November, which formed the eastern boundary of their commuting route, so the consequences of that removal is unknown. A major concern of Professor Altringham’s is any change in surroundings because GHSBs are faithful to particular routes and like to fly under cover – part of their DNA to behave in this way. Any change in surroundings will affect bats and it’s hard to predict how much change they can tolerate. A strategic flyway with industrial activity is the type of disturbance they would be unlikely to tolerate – light, noise, obstructions, changes to environment, obstruction from vehicles – it will reduce their home range, they will have less food and less alternative roosting sites resulting in reduced reproduction and smaller population.
2) the survey was at sunset so there is no data available on the dawn return. Numbers can differ from dawn to dusk.
Therefore Mr Mellor’s evidence is based upon insufficient data, which led to questioning the design of the mitigation measures which are also based upon this data. Mr Charlie Hopkins pointed to the Methodological Guidance created by the European Commission (ID67) and the steps that need to be undertaken when considering a project that affects a SAC. The first is to conserve the population, to maintain the number of bats we have.
Professor Altringham raised concerns on the mitigation measures in the proposed development. Mr Hopkins asked if there could be the highest degree of certainty, to a level of scientific certainty, that these measures would be successful. And if there was any doubt, there should be alternative solutions put forward. Professor Altringham replied he had not seen any evidence put forward by MVV or Mr Mellor regarding alternative solutions.
When asked about the degree of evidence provided by MVV and his degree of confidence in the likelihood of success of the mitigation measures, Professor Altringham replied that the evidence has not been provided, he doubts the mitigation measures will be successful. Because 1) the proposed measures were untested, it was a complex plan and there was no evidence base to support their success. He called the measures ‘experimental’; and 2) enforcement of the measures.
He stated that if the scheme was likely to have any chance of success, it would have to be implemented in perpetuity and complied with in full. Professor Altringham further raised doubts about the policing measures. His evidence references scientific papers that analyse data from 389 bats derogation licenses and look at mitigation and the impact on bats – the majority of roosts were destroyed. He gave examples of sites not being policed and monitored as set out by the proposed schemes for those developments. 67% fail to submit post-development monitoring reports – he stated monitoring is usually the first thing to be abandoned, often it’s not even started, and if started not done properly.
Finally, when asked if the scheme was sustainable Professor Altringham replied – No, there must be alternatives. Such a rich site with such a large population of bats using it, there must be alternative sites. The site is inappropriate due to the large percentage of protected species. There is a high overall value on the site regarding biodiversity.
The morning then moved on to the cross examination of Professor Altringham by Mr Mark Westmoreland Smith, in which it was emphasised that Natural England and Devon County Council had no objections. However Professor Altringham made it clear that he had disagreed with Natural England about mitigation measures before, citing the Westbury by-pass.
Next was the re-examination of Professor Altringham by Mr Hopkins for Buckfastleigh Community Forum. Here, Mr Hopkins and Professor Altringham re-affirmed the lack of detail found in the proposed mitigation schemes.
The day ended with the examination of chief of Mr Chris Woodhead, a local resident with 45 years of practise as a Chartered Architect and the chief architect at an architectural and planning consultancy in the Gulf states. Mr Woodhead’s Evidence Document can be found here.
He began his evidence with an update of the ROMP status (Review of Old Minerals Permissions), including complaints to Devon County Council re Gilpin’s recent work at Whitecleave Quarry being contrary to the ROMP conditions are now the subject of a current investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman.
Mr Woodhead challenged the definition of amenity in Mr Rugg’s evidence. (Mr Neil Rugg, Principal Traffic Engineer responsible for the Plymouth Office Transport Consultancy team at URS gave evidence on traffic for MVV including its affect on amenity.) He said amenity is about quality not just quantity, about quality of life, and the best definition was the Civic Amenities Act 1967. He referred to one of the 12 core planning principles in the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) paragraph 17 – “always seek to secure high quality design and a good standard of amenity for all existing and future occupants of land and buildings”. He pointed out that an area with character is worth preserving or enhancing.
He raised concerns about the living conditions of residents in relation to visual amenity, noise disturbance and pollution on health and quality of life. Mr Woodhead pointed out that this proposal if granted would set precedence regarding its close proximity to housing. He searched for sites undertaking the same operations as this proposed development and was unable to find one in the UK that is within 200 meters of houses.
He gave more specific evidence regarding the history of the town relating to its relationship with the quarry site, as well as detailing the fact that the B3380 is an integral part of the character of the town and that large amounts of HGV traffic will adversely affect the B3380, which has its own character made up of 5 distinct areas, and the town overall. The entire length of the B3380, from the mini roundabout at the beginning of Dartbridge Road along Strode Road and all the way to Lower Dean, is frequently used by pedestrians (elderly and children)*, cyclists, equestrians, dog walkers – both residents and visitors to the town, including tourists. It is also a well-known route for cycle races. He pointed out that the footpath along the B3380 is within DartmoorNational Park.
Mr Woodhead has many years’ experience working on acoustic projects in his field. With regard to noise and affect on road users, he walked the entire length of the B3380 (on different days of the week, different times of the day and during various weather conditions) using a handheld device to measure sound levels. His results showed that large loaded trucks including HGVs reach 90 to 95 Decibels and when manoeuvring can get to 100+ Decibels. He also investigated the noise levels further away from the quarry and identified that noises get louder not quieter as he went up the hill into the housing estates opposite the quarry. His professional assessment is the quarry shape and surfaces act as an amphitheatre that projects sounds and noise from the quarry into the town.
He concluded with planning policy refers to ‘finding ways to enhance and improve the places in which people live their lives’ – “What does the next generation derive from looking at a concrete slab in the future?”
The inquiry will continue on Tuesday morning at 10 am with the cross examination of Chris Woodhead by Mark Westmoreland Smith and the presentation of evidence by Dr Mike Rogers on the health impact of the proposed development.
(* Locals know everything in Buckfastleigh is easily reached by walking; people walk and cycle from Buckfastleigh to Buckfast, to Ashburton, to Totnes; people walk to/from the Point to Point races held in Lower Dean on the opposite side of the A38; people walk to, from and between tourist attractions; people walk and cycle from Buckfastleigh to Dean Prior Garden Centre, Dean Farm Shop and Dean Forge. People are encouraged, and keen, to walk and cycle and not to drive short distances unnecessarily in their cars.)