The Vale of White Horse District Council seeks to defend the indefensible
Jan 31, 2017 — As we await the High Court’s permission to challenge the Vale of White Horse District Council’s decision to adopt Faringdon Neighbourhood Plan, the problems facing the Vale have become clear.
The Independent Examiner accepted one of our key original objections - that the policy to safeguard Wicklesham Quarry for B2/ B8 use was ‘excluded development’ for a Neighbourhood Plan (i.e., prohibited under the Localism Act) because it made ‘provision for a county matter’. However, rather than fail the policy, he decided instead to rewrite it. As redrafted by the Examiner the policy is incoherent, and furthermore fails to recognize that the quarry has a five year aftercare condition following restoration.
According to the Vale’s lawyers, Faringdon Council’s policy to ‘safeguard’ Wicklesham Quarry SSSI for industrial use could not take effect for at least six years. In our view this attempt to salvage the policy fails to meet the Basic Conditions, and the matter of ‘excluded development’ is one of the grounds of my application for Judicial Review.
We do not know if Faringdon Council and the quarry’s owners are aware of the argument that the Vale is now putting forward, but it is clear that the District Council’s attempt to defend this indefensible policy is not in line with the aims of the landowners or Faringdon Council. The Vale is now in the unenviable position of trying to defend a policy that it has consistently rejected since 2008, most recently in 2016.
After seven years of seeking to avoid restoring Wicklesham Quarry, the County Council has served Grundon Ltd with a Breach of Conditions Notice, and the new deadline is 30th June 2017.
Ever since the Campaign to Protect Wicklesham Quarry was launched, Faringdon residents have been told that Wicklesham Quarry had no value for biodiversity. Faringdon Council has treated the Quarry’s planning conditions as a mere technicality. Only days before the referendum on the Neighbourhood Plan, Councillors were still claiming that there was no Protected Species in the Quarry!
Now the evidence speaks for itself. Under the Restoration Scheme the ponds must be preserved as a Priority Habitat under S41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act, and as the breeding habitat of a European Protected Species. The Breach of Conditions Notice and documented damage to Wicklesham’s ponds have demonstrated what local supporters have said all along: Wicklesham Quarry is an important site for biodiversity, with species and habitat protected by law. It is part of West Oxfordshire Heights Conservation Target Area, as well as being one of Britain’s “richest paleontological localities”, with many species of fossils that are found nowhere else!
The Neighbourhood Plan fails to take account of the Quarry’s dual importance for bio and geodiversity, and by 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/ logistics site is not in conformity with the policies of the Local Plan, the Minerals and Waste Plan, or the National Planning Policy Framework. These arguments form further grounds of the application for Judicial Review, and I look forward to letting supporters know as soon as word is received from the High Court that we can proceed.
If you have any questions or comments concerning the campaign, please get in touch at: firstname.lastname@example.org.