Concern over Northumberland's quarries in discussion over plan for county

A planning inspector has questioned whether the Northumberland Local Plan can supply enough sand and gravel through current and proposed quarries.

Picture by Alex Banner via Pixabay
Picture by Alex Banner via Pixabay

Meanwhile, there are calls for a proposed new quarry to the south of Alnwick to provide crushed rock to be included in the document’s allocated sites once again.

The comments on supply from Stephen Normington came during discussions on the first of two days of hearings on the section of the plan dealing with minerals, waste and renewable energy, on Wednesday (February 5).

Mr Normington is the inspector for these elements alone, while Susan Heywood has been covering the rest of the examination, which is due to be concluded later this month.

The plan, which was submitted to the Government last May, includes the policies that will guide and determine the county’s future planning applications, details the scale and distribution of new development and includes land allocations and designations.

The role of the planning inspectors is to decide whether the plan is sound and complies with all the relevant legal requirements.

One of these obligations is to ensure there is a supply of key minerals needed to support industry and the construction of buildings and infrastructure.

In relation to sand and gravel, the Local Plan already notes that there is a shortfall of five million tonnes towards the end of the plan period, which runs to 2036, but this has now been exacerbated by the removal of one of the proposed new sites – West Wharmley (two million tonnes) – due to the withdrawal of landowner consent.

There are also concerns from industry that the proposed quarry at Anick Grange Haugh – which is also attracting significant local opposition – would stifle competition by representing 90% of the new reserves (nine million tonnes).

In relation to crushed rock, there is more than adequate supply during the plan period in the current and allocated sites, however, around 80% of the permitted reserves are in the south-west of the county, along with the two sand and gravel sites mentioned above.

Sam Thistlethwaite, of Barton Willmore, representing North East Concrete, told the hearing that this geographical imbalance could be addressed by including the Shiel Dykes site, to the north-west of Newton on the Moor, in the allocations.

His client has been working on this proposal with the landowner, Northumberland Estates, and a planning application is set to be submitted this spring following ‘extensive’ pre-application discussions with the county council.

Able to provide three million tonnes of crushed stone, it was included as an allocated site in an earlier draft of the Local Plan and Mr Thistlethwaite questioned its removal.

He claimed this was solely on the basis of concerns about the access – due to its proximity to the A1 – but Highways England, which is responsible for the trunk road, had not been consulted.

He added that ‘no showstoppers’ had been highlighted by Highways England as part of ongoing consultation during the pre-application process, although the council’s Kevin Tipple said he objected to the suggestion that ‘no issues had been flagged up’.

He did, however, accept that the position was potentially different now compared to when the site assessment took place, due to the progress on the planning application.

The authority’s director of planning, Rob Murfin, added: “Access to sites can generally be resolved based on the amount of resource you are prepared to put into it.”

Dr John Halliday, for the Save Tynedale Action Group, asked if the council had a duty to identify its own sites rather than accept those put forward by landowners or industry. Mr Murfin said that this was difficult, because there needs to be evidence that the sites are deliverable.

Pauline Tweddle, on behalf of Newbrough Action Group, asked about why Northumberland’s shortfall was an issue given the surpluses in neighbouring areas such as County Durham and Tyne and Wear.

Mr Murfin responded that it was as a result of a combination of issues, including the need for all areas to contribute wherever possible and also the environmental considerations involved in transporting significant quantities of aggregates.