Petitioning Faringdon Town Council, The Vale of White Horse District Council, & Secretary of State, Sajid Javid

PROTECT WICKLESHAM QUARRY FROM DEVELOPMENT

The Judicial Review of Faringdon Neighbourhood Plan took place on 14-15 June 2017 at the Royal Courts of Justice. Wicklesham's CrowdJustice Appeals raised £14,825 and I am very grateful for the support I have received from so many people to help bring this important case to court.

The case has left Wicklesham Quarry's future unresolved. The Judge rejected my application, even though he found that the policy failed to meet the basic conditions, because it conflicted with the strategic policies of the Local Plan regarding the location of development. Although this ground was upheld, he refused to grant any remedy. He also found that Faringdon Council's belief that Wicklesham Quarry was a 'brownfield site' was wrong, and failed to have regard to national policy. However, he concluded that this error - which neither the Examiner nor the District Council corrected - would not have made any difference to the Examiner's conclusions, if it had been recognized.

He did not agree that the policy was excluded development because it deals with a 'county matter'. He offered an interpretation of the Examiner's amendment to Policy 4.5B, stating that the landowner must complete both the Restoration Scheme and 5 year Aftercare Scheme, before the land can be safeguarded for employment use. By this means he rejected my complaint that the policy was a 'county matter', and excluded development for a neighbourhood plan. 

None of the environmental grounds of the complaint were upheld- even though the Sustainability Appraisal failed to include the facts that the Quarry is a Conservation Target Area; hosts Priority Habitat and European Protected Species; and is part of the National Character Area of the Corallian Ridge. Nor did it refer to the Quarry's Restoration and Aftercare Schemes. Nonetheless in the judge's view the level of information was  adequate.

The judge's conclusions leave a highly unsatisfactory situation: while acknowledging that the policy was based on a significant error, and was not in conformity with the strategic policies of the Local Plan- he has failed to quash the plan or to declare the policy unlawful. Instead, it has been kicked into the long grass for five years.

Below is the main text of the petition. Unless an alternative strategy is developed, the petition will continue to provide information and updates to supporters.

Wicklesham Quarry SSSI lies outside the market town of Faringdon, in the western Vale of the White Horse, Oxfordshire. It is in an area of high landscape value, the Corallian Ridge, outside the town's development boundary. Planning conditions state it must be restored to agriculture, in accordance with the surrounding countryside. However, it is safeguarded in Faringdon Neighbourhood Plan for use for heavy industry and warehousing (B2/B8).

Natural England calls it “one of Britain’s richest palaeontological localities”. It is an internationally famous geological Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), with a "very rich and unusual assemblage" of over 150 species of fossils, including rare sponges, many of which are known to occur only at Faringdon. It also has fossil reptiles - turtles, ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs and crocodiles. It is a "type site"- which means Faringdon has given its name to unique aspects of Wicklesham's geology: Faringdon fossils, Faringdon Greensands, and the Faringdon Sponge Gravels.

Although the old quarry is no longer being worked, it has still not been restored.* Restoration would involve recreating a fertile soil bed in the quarry base using the original topsoil, and preserving the fossil-rich walls and naturalised plant and wildlife. The quarry's ponds have breeding colonies of toads, smooth and palmate newts, and Great Crested Newts, a European Protected Species. Wicklesham tetrad also has eleven plant species listed as ‘rare’. #  Following restoration, Wicklesham would soon become an exceptionally rich natural habitat, a local community resource and educational and scientific destination, and an important attraction for visitors.

Wicklesham Quarry is part of West Oxfordshire Heights Conservation Target Area (CTA)- for the conservation and restoration of biodiversity. CTAs are the principal focus of Biodiversity Action Plans for protecting and restoring Priority Habitats and Species, and creating landscape scale ecological networks, in order to meet Biodiversity Action Plan targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Wicklesham Quarry lies beneath the viewing point of Galley Hill, at the centre of a network of well-used local footpaths and bridleways connecting Faringdon to the villages of Fernham and Little Coxwell, and the Iron Age fort of Ringdale. This area of landscape is an important amenity to many local people, and connects Faringdon to the open countryside south of the A420 trunk road. It remains a pristine area of the Corallian Ridge, with spectacular views across the Vale - apart from the eyesore of the still unrestored quarry.

Wicklesham's scientific resources are the key to Faringdon's historic landscape setting and coral limestone architecture, mid-way between the chalk downs of the Ridgeway and the Upper Thames.

The owner has been trying to turn the quarry into an industrial/ warehousing site for the past eight years. In order to avoid restoring it, it was used for storing imported sand and gravels until 2016. Four independent reviews have found that turning Wicklesham into an industrial site is unjustified and /or unsustainable (URS Ltd 2008 & 2013; VWH District Council Preferred Options Report 2009; Faringdon Neighbourhood Plan Sustainability Appraisal 2014). In 2016, the Vale of White Horse District Council refused yet again to include Wicklesham Quarry in the 2031 Local Plan for industrial use.

Faringdon Town Council has rejected every independent assessment, even those it commissioned itself, and the Neighbourhood Plan seeks to safeguard Wicklesham quarry as B2- B8 ‘employment land’. This means the landowner would be able to by-pass normal planning safeguards in order to develop the quarry, regardless of local objections.

Supporters of the campaign to Protect Wicklesham Quarry from Development have challenged Faringdon Neighbourhood Plan’s use of evidence provided by local developers, on the grounds that it is inaccurate and misleading. We believe that the plan fails to meet the Basic Conditions.

 The High Court has now heard my case challenging the Vale of White Horse District Council's decision to adopt Faringdon Neighbourhood Plan.  Help me to protect this amazing, irreplaceable site before it's too late! Get in touch with any questions or comments by email to: protectwicklesham@gmail.com.

 * In December 2016 Oxfordshire County Council served Grundon Ltd with a Breach of Conditions Notice for failing to carry out the Restoration Scheme, and set a new deadline of 30th June 2017. The County Council and Natural England have acknowledged that Grundon failed to obtain a Mitigation Licence, and Oxfordshire County Council has photographed substantial damage to one of the ponds.For recent updates to the story of this campaign, - including photographs of the same pond following attempts to trash it - please scroll down the page. 

# Wicklesham tetrad, an area 2km X 2km, with the quarry at its centre, was surveyed in 2000 by the Ashmolean Museum Natural History Society, Rare Plants Group, for C. D. Preston, D. A. Pearman & T. D. Dines, eds. (2002): New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Supported by DEFRA)

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  • Faringdon Town Council, The Vale of White Horse District Council, & Secretary of State, Sajid Javid

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