A large number of residents turned out last Saturday, and braved the treacherous roads to make a strong statement to the decision makers of the Staffordshire Moorlands.
It is clear from the structure of the application and from earlier evidence provided by Officers of the Applicants that it is intended that this application is not a free- standing application but a part of a future wider scheme that the Applicants intend to make to develop Moneystone Quarry as a tourist leisure park. The representations made below and any decisions or recommendations reached by Planning Officers and/or the Planning Committee of Staffordshire Moorlands District Council should be viewed against that wider context.
In so far as the extant application does not set out the detail of that larger application it is submitted that it will be impossible for application SMD/2014/0682 to demonstrate compliance with the detailed provisions of the Authorities Core Strategy Policies and the contents and principles embodied in the Churnet Valley Master Plan [CVMP]. Neither does it demonstrate compliance with the principles of The Aarhus Convention Treaty so far as it relates to the Environment and/or Health, nor to the NPPF and the principles of the Localism Act 2011.
In the representations made below it should be noted that where appropriate they quote the CVMP and as applicable identify the relevant paragraphing. Emphasis has been added as appropriate.
1. The failures referred to below affects the human rights of those entitled to make representations and protect their rights under the Human Rights Act to a family life. The actions of the SMDC planning officers in entering into a prolonged and secret series of meetings with the applicants from approximately 2009 up to the present day and a refusal to disclose the details of those meetings amount to a denial of essential information that undermines the human rights of residents who would wish to make informed decisions about the present application and the linked application SMD/2014/0432.
It is noted that [quote] ‘A number of meetings with the Local Planning Authority [LPA] at varying levels have already taken place and these representations follow these discussions.’ [ HOW letter 22/01/2010 to Head of Regeneration Services SMDC]. The same letter states ‘We are aware that the Core Strategy for the Staffordshire Moorlands is now in an advanced stage and that a consultation exercise was undertaken on the Submission Version of the Core Strategy in May/June 2009. Whilst the Core Strategy is at an advanced stage, we are very keen for the Core Strategy to provide sufficient flexibility to enable the Moneystone Quarry site to come forward for future redevelopment without having to overcome significant policy boundaries which may be set by the Core Strategy.’ At page 2 of the letter it says ‘ The overall intention of the representations is…to promote Moneystone Quarry as a potential tourism and recreational hub…..‘ It is plain that Planning Officers ‘at varying levels’ have written the SMDC Core Strategy [and it is submitted the subsequent CVMP] in a manner that is both secret and intended to advocate the application[s] now made. As such these actions fall outside of the principle role of planning officers, acting as public servants [see SMDC Constitution] to act in the best interests of the public they serve and not to advocate for the private commercial interests of an applicant in ways that the evidence demonstrates. It is submitted that such actions demonstrate a clear intention to harm the human rights of residents.
2. The application is in breach of the provisions of the SMDC Core Strategy and the Churnet Valley Master Plan as set out more particularly herein.
3. The Application is governed, inter alia, by the provisions of the Aarhus Convention Treaty and its direct applicability in English Law under European Law, specifically in relation to any issues of the environment and/or health and is not so compliant.
4. The development site is part of the ‘rich and varied cultural heritage, the development of which has been greatly influenced by the diverse landscape and geology of the area’ and is part of ‘this unique rural historic character that has been mapped as part of the Staffordshire Historic Landscape Characterisation project 2006’ [see para 2.0.7 CVMP 2014]. As such it should be protected by the principles enshrined in the Core Strategy and the CVMP and not developed in the way proposed by this application. The site is also a ‘Special Landscape Area’ and when restored in accordance with the extant restoration plan will be a green field site. In 1996 the then quarry owners working with SCC Mineral Authority on a restoration scheme in a document entitled ‘The restoration vision’ promised residents that ‘ Our aim was to come up with an exciting plan which allowed progressive restoration of older working areas to blend them with the surrounding landscape and to create a variety of new habitats for plants and wildlife‘. We are looking at the possibility of a bat cave once the tunnel on site has become redundant’. The vision continued to stress that the site should not be ‘left with an alien landscape which would not be in keeping with the surrounding Staffordshire countryside.’ It is submitted that the current proposed development plans would produce just such an alien landscape. Residents are entitled to expect that they will get what they have been promised for very many years.
5. To grant the present application would be, or would inevitably result in, a breach of the Development and Management Principles set out in the provisions of paragraphs 8.1, 8.2, 8.3 and 8.4 of the CVMP more specifically set out herein.
Under a heading of ‘A Vision for the Churnet Valley’ at paragraph 4.1, SMDC acknowledges the Churnet Valley [of which Moneystone is an integral part] [is] ‘high quality landscape which is treasured by both the communities who live and work in the area and visitors to it. It will sustain its unique qualities of a diverse and varied environment which is rich in wildlife, heritage, landscape and tourist attractions’ and ‘will be [and already is] widely recognised, locally, regionally and nationally for its high quality landscape and its heritage and wildlife interest’. On the basis that what is not broken should not be fixed it is submitted that to grant the current application would be in breach of the Authorities own policies and it’s commitment to protect the Churnet Valley.
8.Para.2.1.1 CVMP [The] Weakness of promoting this development;
- ‘lack of physical linkages’
- ‘reliance on the private motor car due to the rural nature of the area, limited capacity of the highway network which is of poor standard ………. congestion at peak times [especially at nearby Alton Towers] due to visitor traffic.’
- ‘The rural nature of the area limits the opportunities for physical transport improvements and reduces the viability of new services.’
- ‘Limited access by public transport’
- ‘Topography and physical barriers can be [and are] restrictive to movement.’
- Lack of maintenance of heritage assets.’
- ‘Narrowness of [the] lanes.’
- The application site is ‘not an existing coherent visitor destination.’
- ‘Future development at Moneystone Quarry would cause loss of small scale landscape features further affecting the character of the local landscape.‘
- There are ‘biodiversity sites in close proximity which could potentially be vulnerable to future change.’ This is particularly the case as evidence shows that the Applicants have proved poor ‘stewards’ of the site allowing the deterioration of the Whiston Eaves SSSI, neglected the hydrology of the site, failed to provide bat, bird and badger surveys, failed to meet the criteria required by Natural England with regard to the Great Crested Newts and the European sand lizards present on the site.
- Planned and already extant expansion at Alton Towers Resort ‘may have an adverse impact’ on the road net work to and from the site and it is the stated ambition of the Applicants to link in to the Alton Towers Resort market.
- ‘Environmental sensitivity such as the Whiston Eaves SSSI.’ It is noted here that the requirement to maintain the ground water levels at the SSSI [which is a condition attaching to the land restoration applicable to extant planning permissions] is not currently being honoured. [For fuller details see letter dated 3/10/14 from Matthew Griffin SCC Planning, Policy and Enforcement of the many failings and non-compliance.]
- ‘Potential increased pressure on natural resources from [the] development.’
- ‘Sensitivity of [the] heritage asset of the Proposed development.’
Identified Challenges Paragraph 5.1.6 CVMP
- The CVMP notes in the evidence base to its CS and the CVMP that ‘there is little evidence of sustainable tourism being adopted [by the tourism industry].’ That being so the current application is unlikely to be ‘sustainable’ and as that is a requirement of the Localism Act 2011 and the N.P.P.F. there is no proper evidential basis upon which to grant this particular application. It should also be noted that the quoted comments are formally part and parcel of the SMDC’ CS and CVMP and must therefore be complied with.
- The same documentation notes that ‘Selling sustainability to business [such as the Applicant] and consumers purely on environmental grounds has not worked.’
- N.B. It should also be noted that the Aarhus Convention Treaty is binding in English Law on environmental and health issues and that the current application is non-compliant with its provisions.
- ‘An alternative to car based tourism is a challenge.’ It should be noted that the Chief Executive of SMDC signed off on an official report that stated the Staffordshire Moorlands exceeded the national average of CO2 emissions. The current application is bound to add to an increase of such emissions being dependent as it is [and shown on the face of the application and further acknowledged by the Applicants limiting the current outline application to issues of access] on an increased use of the private motor car.
Paragraph 5.1.14 ETC. CVMP
- The CVMP is committed to the ‘Overarching principle of sustaining and enhancing the natural, built and historic environmental quality of the area, its settlements and hinterland.’ If that is truly the case it will reject this application as being non-compliant with that ‘overarching principle’.
- How does the application demonstrate that it ‘ensures that [the] communities of [Moneystone, Whiston and Oakamoor] are at the heart of the future of the CV,’ when those communities have expressed in the clearest possible terms that they reject the applicant’s proposals. It demonstrates that the applicants have no intention of putting the views of those communities before their own narrow, selfish commercial interests.
- How would granting the application demonstrate ‘respect, enhance and protect [this] positive aspect of the CV?’ It does not do so.
- The Special Landscape Area that is the application site once restored in accordance with the statutory restoration scheme is a ‘sustaining and enhancing existing assets of the CV and its ‘qualities help make the area unique.’ On the other hand the application seeks to destroy those assets and is therefore contrary to the policies of the CVMP and the CS.
- The application does not ‘ensure the nature and scale of development it proposes is appropriate to its locality.’ It is not and the policy goes on to state that ‘this means limited OR NO development is appropriate for this part of the CV.’
- Granting this application would destroy and not ‘support existing local enterprises’. On the other hand, if granted this application would ‘cause harm to the essential qualities of landscape, ecology [and] heritage.’
- The CVMP contains the provision that its policy will ‘only permit ‘minimal change……..to protect sensitive areas.’ This application amounts to the planned destruction of a Special Landscape Area and its established sensitive areas. To grant the application would amount to a breach of ‘the KEY REQUIREMENT OF THE [CVMP] POLICY’ and as such it should be rejected.
- The application does not demonstrate ‘a strong emphasis on supporting [the existing] heritage.’ It should be rejected.
- The application shows that it has a ‘significant shortfall in terms of the environmental impact and in particular the impact on the need to travel and [the] potential to increase the use of the private car.’ As a result it does not meet the test of ‘sustainable appraisal of options’ that are part of the underpinning evidential base of the CS and the CVMP.
- To grant this application would not demonstrate that SMDC was acting in accordance with its own expressed policy ‘to resist development which would be [and will be demonstrated to be] harm[ful] to the character of the local landscape.’ Residents are entitled to expect that SMDC will uphold this policy.
Paragraph 6.8.4 TRANSPORT
- ‘There is to be identification of key transport nodes from which to travel by more sustainable modes, with improvements where necessary to car parking.’ [N.B. This is a future requirement and it is noted that the area of Moneystone, Oakamoor, Whiston Frogall and Kingsley is to be the subject of a detailed and separate traffic survey that yet to be commenced but has already been agreed. Until it has been done and the findings are applied to the Transport Policy it would amount to a breach of residents human rights. They have been given an express commitment in the CVMP that this process will be undertaken.
- The CVMP provides that ‘it aims to conserve, enhance and celebrate the heritage of an area of high landscape value’. To grant the current application would be a breach of that policy.
- ‘The sensitivity of the landscape, biodiversity, heritage and access issues are major factors and the key focus should be on conserving and enhancing the landscape and biodiversity of the area’. The current application does not meet the provisions of this policy and should be rejected.
Paragraph 6.5. CONSTRAINTS
- The CVMP policy is to ‘ensure development does not generate unacceptable volumes of traffic on the existing road net work and that major highway works are avoided.’ This application would breach that policy.
- The development ‘is unacceptable to the vast majority of locals.’ [It is noted that over a period substantially in excess of one year the applicants have failed to engage with Staffordshire County Council Highways Department about concerns that the Highway Department have expressed about the applicants plans for the site so far as it relates to traffic congestion issues. This unwillingness has contributed to the view of locals that the application is ‘unacceptable’]
- The application does not ‘Promote the use of sustainable modes of transport to reach the site’.
- The development is not ‘in-keeping with the scale and nature of the [existing] landscape character.’ Nor does it ‘ensure that any future development is located in a way that does not impinge on the small scale landscape or the open visible landscape.’
- The application is not as required by the CVMP ‘low key’ and ‘of a nature, character and style that is intrinsic to the character of the area.’ The area is of open farm and meadow land and it is noted that extant planning conditions attaching to adjacent land owned by the applicants require it to be restored to meadow land. The applicants are already substantially in breach of that requirement.
- The application does not contain ‘active conservation of the site to protect the SSSI’ and the applicants duty to meet the water table at the SSSI is not being met.
- The application fails to meet the requirement that ‘the protection and enhancement of the natural beauty of the CV IS THE OVER RIDING REQUIREMENT OF ANY DEVELOPMENT’
- Further the application proposal and associated infrastructure measures are/will be ‘detrimental to the sensitive ecology and geology of the area.’ [ SCC Environmental Officer has already raised concerns about adjacent sensitive areas]
- Cotton College is a ‘designated heritage asset’ and in accordance with SMDC policy it ‘shall be protected and maintained in a good state of repair.’ The current application is very likely to cause harm to parts of this heritage asset. It should be rejected.
- The application fails to meet [any] ‘appropriate degree of evaluation and/or mitigation commensurate to the level of impact and significance of the heritage asset.’ The above referred to letter from SCC date 3/10/14 lists some but not all of the ways in which this application will damage the Special Landscape Area which is a heritage asset.
- The application is antipathetic to the CVMP aim to ‘develop healthy sustainable communities.’
- As the applicants have failed over a prolonged period to engage with SCC Highways officials over their plans the application does not meet the policy requirements that ‘aim to support and increase sustainable travel means.’ Instead the application seeks to exacerbate already difficult traffic conditions. If granted the application would give rise to ‘excessive traffic that will harm the valued characteristics of [this part of] the CV.’ Neither does the application ‘seek to minimise the impact of traffic [in this] environmentally sensitive location.’
- The application fails to fit within the aims and aspirations of the Staffordshire Tourism Study  [STS 2011] that ‘seeks to take a co-ordinated planning and sustainable development approach.’ The STS 2011 is an evidential base for the SMDC Core Strategy and the CVMP and as such forms an integral part of those policy documents. The application has to be viewed in the context of SMDC’ binding obligation given to an Independent Inspector to revisit the CS again by 2016. and against its already adopted policy of seeking AONB status, a process in which it is already actively engaged. The STS 2011 recognises that ‘AONB status would be an ideal way to view matters.’ To ignore that approach and to grant this application in contravention of the principle STS 2011 sets out would, it is submitted, be a breach of human rights and ultra vires of SMDC’ powers.
- At a recent exhibition at Whiston Village Hall related to what was then the forthcoming application now SMD/2014/0682 to build a leisure complex at Moneystone Quarry, Mr. Peter Swallow, Director of the Applicant company, revealed that it is the intention of the Applicants to sell off a significant percentage [40% was mentioned] of the ‘lodges’ to private buyers. This amounts to the development of private dwellings in the Special Landscape Area and is contrary to the SMDC Core Strategy, the Churnet Valley Master Plan and the Strategic Housing Land Allocation [SHLAA] process.
Laver ‘s recently submitted planning application for Moneystone Quarry raises serious concerns regarding inevitable increases in traffic on Whiston Eaves Lane at its junction with the main A52 road outside the Sneyds Arms. The situation presents potential safety issues for all road users.
The following photographs show the dangerous layout of the junction and in particular the very poor visibility for vehicles attempting to pull out of Whiston Eaves Lane onto the main A52
A request for support from members of the public concerned about tourism related traffic congestion in the Staffordshire Moorlands.
Some of our councillors don’t appear to accept that existing levels of tourism generate considerable traffic issues at busy times in the Churnet Valley across a variety of routes and hot spot locations, including, Tittersworth, Rudyard, The Roches, Oakamoor and Alton. For some time now Whiston Action Group has been gathering video and photographic evidence of existing traffic congestion throughout the Churnet Valley, showing that encouragement of further traffic pressure on our fragile road infrastructure is inappropriate.
WAG intends to expand and develop the evidence base of what increased tourism is already doing to our roads in the Moorlands, and seeks the support of members of the public. In this day and age of mobile camera technology it is easy to take a photo of any clogged roads you see whilst you are out and about.
WAG asks that you miss no opportunity to take those photos AND IF YOU HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY TO DO SO SEND THE PICTURES DIRECTLY TO COUNCILLOR SYBIL RALPHS AND ANY OTHER COUNCILLORS YOU WANT.
Please keep a note of the date, time and venue of the photos and let WAG know so that the data can be collated. There will be no need to forward the pictures to WAG as long as you preserve your own copy in case it is needed later.
This is an ongoing project and applies throughout the Churnet Valley for the next twelve months. Your contribution can help WAG fight inappropriate council proposals that are likely to exacerbate an already unacceptable situation.
Council plans to develop an old industrial site are being challenged by residents who claim that the council is ignoring a serious threat to public health from high levels of arsenic and cadmium contamination.
Local people claim that despite a professional study alerting Staffordshire Moorlands District Council (SMDC) to major contamination concerns, no follow up action has been taken. Instead, the Council is proposing to build houses on the site. Residents say development proposals are being pushed through without adequate regard for public health.
In May 2011 a company called Taylor Young, as part of a study looking at possibilities for development of the old Bolton Copper Works at Froghall, discovered evidence of dangerous contamination from previous industrial processes. Although the evidence of contamination was clear, the limited work undertaken by the company and presented to the Council, was unable to specify precise locations and concentrations of contaminants. Their report recommended to the Council that a more comprehensive examination of the site was needed to establish the precise detail of the contamination.
An extract from the Taylor Young report stated:-
“Whilst the additional archaeological study has begun to highlight key issues, it raises fundamental issues of gross contamination, buried structures and ground water contamination. Further more detailed and extensive intrusive ground investigation to confirm general and local sub-soil and groundwater conditions, and nature form and extent of remnant sub-structure, is required.”
Last year, in an effort to assist the Council, local residents gathered information from ex-employees and people living near the contaminated ground, many of whom had valuable information to offer. A detailed dossier of evidence was forwarded to SMDC by the Foxt Action Group. Public expectation was that the Council would initiate an urgent investigation, but nothing appears to have happened.
Instead SMDC is currently asking the public to comment on its own proposals to develop the site and has published precise locations including a 50 bed hotel and 50 houses. Residents are alarmed that decisions are being made on where to build houses without even knowing where the concentrations of contaminants are.
Nick Cresswell of Whiston Action Group said:-
“They’ve got the cart before the horse. Can’t councillors see that the contamination has to be dealt with as a priority before any consideration is given to development? How can they plan to build houses without knowing what public health dangers they are likely to unleash? They’ve had a report and information from local people flagging up that there are real dangers on this site, but seem more intent on pushing forward with development than dealing with the problem. Residents want to see a full investigation of the contamination and it must be by an independent body. We’ve already had a recent problem on a separate issue with this Council commissioning a supposedly independent Transport Study that turned out to be handed to a company with close associations with a main developer. That must not happen again. We want a truly independent report commissioned on the Bolton’s public health risk as soon as possible.”
Members of the public wishing to comment on the Council’s draft Churnet Valley Masterplan that includes development at Froghall and other sites across the Churnet Valley have until 11 November to send in their comments. Details can be viewed on the Council’s website at:-
The commissioning of a transport company to write an independent report for SMDC has provoked reaction from Whiston Action Group because of the company’s close association with a major developer in the area.
Earlier in the year the Council presented a range of development options for the Valley. The public expressed an overwhelming preference for minimal development, a view at odds with the aspirations of developers.
Before writing the Churnet Valley Masterplan, the Council needed an independent report on the difficult topography and inadequate road infrastructure in the Churnet Valley, issues that are an obstacle to development. The Council selected the “Atkins” company, who wrote a Transport Study that now supports the Council’s plans.
As the Transport Study was such a key document, and needed to be truly independently written, it is very surprising to find out that SMDC chose the “Atkins” company, as Atkins have had a long association with the main developer in the Churnet Valley, namely Alton Towers. Alton Towers have contracted Atkins for many years to do traffic reports in support of their planning applications for new rides and accommodation extensions, a relationship well known to the Council Planning Department.
The general public may justifiably have concerns that a company so closely associated with a main developer has been selected by the Council to do a supposedly independent study.
Nick Cresswell, WAG’s Communications Officer, said:-
“WAG has examined the completed Atkins Transport Study and is concerned at the considerable bias shown in favour of the developers. The study content fails to adequately address key issues relating to Alton Towers that one would expect to be at the forefront of a truly independent study i.e. traffic issues, particularly injury collisions, on the approach routes to Alton Towers. Instead the study focusses on a catalogue of relatively obscure and inconsequential issues, such as suggested traffic delays at Bottom House crossroads of all places, that are not recognised by the public as genuine problems at all. The report has little credibility as an independent study and I would like to know who on earth selected a company so closely tied to Alton Towers. The only way forward is for the report to be re-commissioned, through a truly independent company.”
WAG welcomes the following request from Karen Seaton of the Churnet Valley Conservation Society, seeking your support for a petition aimed at achieving Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty status for the Churnet Valley.
Karen Seaton CVCS Spokesperson says:
“We are not so sure that people are aware that the Staffordshire Moorlands District Council Core Strategy was recently rejected by the Government Inspector, who found more than 70% of the points within it to be unsound. We feel that there is a very serious risk that, with the council floundering to complete their strategy documents, time may slip away and we will miss this important opportunity to protect and recognize the valley. We are asking people to contact Staffordshire Moorlands District Council and support us in two requests we have made to them:
1. During the next public consultation phase for the Churnet Valley Master Plan include a simple question: Would you be in support of designating the area as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty?
2. Should it be apparent that the electorate of the area do wish to obtain this important designation for their area, that the District Council fully embraces the potential and opportunities AONB designation offers.
We are undertaking a four week long petition and contacting a range of people and organizations across the county asking that they support our call, and we are asking as many people as possible to contact their County, District, Town and Parish Councillors and ask them to pressurise Staffordshire Moorland District Council into action. “
The Churnet Valley Conservation Society would be happy to discuss this further and I would be pleased if you could support or campaign for the designation of the Valley as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The petition is available across the area in shops, libraries, pubs etc. An on-line petition may also be found at https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/staffordshire-moorlands-district-council-support-area-of-outstanding-natural-beauty-status-for-the-churnet-valley
Or follow the link from https://www.churnet-valley-conservation.org/
Staffordshire Moorlands District Council are encouraging tourist development at the old Bolton’s Copper Works at Froghall, but local residents have serious concerns about the level of contaminants left over from the industrial processes, including dangerous substances such as cadmium and arsenic.
In 2011 Staffordshire Moorlands district council commissioned a study that identified serious risks, but the study was superficial and did not go far enough to reveal the full scale and extent of the problem. The true levels and distribution of the dangerous chemicals and heavy metals across the extensive site are still not understood. Disturbance of the site through any development could cause significant risk to public health and the environment, through air born dust and with potential leaching of contaminants into water courses, if remediation work is not done properly.
Last year Foxt residents made a public appeal for information about where contaminants are buried. The public response revealed a wealth of information about the site, detailing what types of contaminants have been buried and where. The information paints a dark picture of a dangerous legacy for future generations left behind by a previous industrial age when the dangers of such substances were either not known or were ignored.
Link to Foxt Action Group report:-
Modern health and safety measures were introduced to combat such situations but we only have to look at the Corby Steel Works cleanup disaster in Northamptonshire to know that District Councils cannot be trusted to comply with the stringent requirements for site clean up. At Corby disturbance of contamination resulted in child birth deformities in the town through which the contaminated waste was transported, caused by air born pollution from the lorries. We don’t want the same thing to happen at Froghall.
John Williams of the Foxt Action Group said:-
“The response to our survey raised major concerns about the level of contamination and we are still in the process of gathering information to build up as detailed a picture as possible. As local residents we are doing what we can to help protect the public. We passed our report to Staffordshire Moorlands District Council last year but there hasn’t been much action so far. In the interests of public health a full specialist’s study of the site is urgently required so that we all know what the dangers are, and what it will cost to put the site right before any development takes place. We don’t want any cost cutting putting the public at risk as happened at Corby.”
What can you do to help?
- If you have knowledge about contamination on the site please get in touch with John Williams on 01538 266682 or by e-mail at email@example.com
- Ask your local councillors what they are doing to prevent birth defects in Froghall and the surrounding area.
The independent Government Inspector, Mr Patrick Whitehead, has at long last provided residents with the first genuine opportunity to have their say on the future of the Churnet Valley.
During a three day hearing this week at Moorlands House, Leek, the Inspector scrutinised the Staffordshire Moorlands District Council’s Draft Core Strategy Document to see if it is fit for purpose. The inspection was rigorous and follows an avalanche of public criticism of the Council’s plans during the consultation phase, when thousands of comments were made by local residents, the main issues being the so called “tourism corridor” and housing development allocations.
The scale of public interest was so great that the packed public hearing had to be moved to a larger room at one stage. The Inspector heard evidence from Whiston Action Group representatives challenging excessive and unsustainable proposals for tourism development at Moneystone Quarry and other locations. The hearing heard about the inadequacies of the road infrastructure to cope with existing tourism problems stretching from The Roaches in the north down to Alton in the south. The scale of development proposed by the Council was considered ill thought out, inappropriate and unsustainable. Witnesses argued that better tourism, involving encouragement for small locally based businesses is required, not large scale tourism developments by outside commercial interests. The Peak District National Park is already suffering from an excess of unsustainable tourist numbers and wishes to off load that excess to the Moorlands, despite the serious risk that the Churnet Valley will fall victim to the same problem. Calls for the Council’s proposals to be scaled back considerably to a level that the area and residents can cope with were listened to with evident sympathy by the inspector who has taken the significant step of inviting objectors (mostly represented by WAG) to re-draft the key Churnet Valley Tourism section of the Council plan (Policy SS7), discuss their ideas with the District Council to achieve agreement if possible and then for him to review progress with a revised policy in two weeks.
WAG welcomes that recognition of its concerns and those of other objectors and is currently in the process of coordinating views to arrive at a revised draft policy for discussion with the District Council before responding to the Inspector’s invitation.
Over the next few weeks, the Inspector has said that he will be reviewing his proposed modifications to the Core Strategy before deciding whether the changes that he would wish to see can be incorporated satisfactorily or whether they are of such significance that he must return the Council’s Core Strategy for complete revision.
Nick Cresswell, WAG Communication Officer, said:-
“After two years of frustration with a District Council that does not listen to local residents, WAG is pleased to see the intervention of an independent public enquiry and looks forward to the day when an eventual plan will be produced for the future of the Churnet Valley that genuinely reflects the needs of residents.”
WAG’s open public meeting at Whiston Village Hall on Friday evening (02 Nov 2012) attracted over forty members of the public, not only local residents but people from villages throughout the Churnet Valley and other parts of the Staffordshire Moorlands, demonstrating wide ranging interest in concerns raised by WAG. An opening statement emphasised that WAG’s rigorous evidence based approach is intent on passing on conclusions based on facts – not opinions or gossip. Presentations were given by several speakers on a variety of issues, the most contentious being the Core Strategy Submission; Village House Building Proposals; Laver’s failure to restore Moneystone Quarry in accordance with the legally binding restoration plan, and public health concerns regarding the contaminated site at the Old Bolton Copperworks.
The District Council’s Core Strategy document, consider by many to be neither legally compliant nor sound, is currently being considered by the independent Planning Inspectorate. The inspector, Mr Patrick Whitehead, is to hold a Pre-Hearing Meeting at 10am Tuesday 11 Dec 2012 at the Bethel Suite, Tape Street, Cheadle, where he will set out the procedure and arrangements for his formal examination to be held in February of next year at Leek Council Offices. Anyone who made representations about the Core Strategy is encouraged to attend.
The Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA), submitted as a last minute addition to the Core Strategy, raised many eyebrows. The document, compiled by SMDC officers in liaison with only landowners and developers, identifies and prioritises specific plots of land with housing potential in and around many villages in the Staffordshire Moorlands. Both during and after the meeting numerous attendees expressed their dissatisfaction with the complete absence of consultation by the District Council on this important issue. The document has been submitted with the Core Strategy without public input.
On 11 Sep 2012 Laver Leisure circulated a letter to households in Whiston, Oakamoor and surrounding villages stating their intention of submitting within two weeks proposals to Staffordshire County Council to change the longstanding and legally binding requirement to restore Moneystone Quarry to farmland. No such application has been submitted and consequently, in the absence of any further communication from Laver to residents, a state of uncertainty exists within the community as to Laver’s future intentions.
The audience was surprised to learn that the Old Bolton’s Copper Works site is not recorded on the District Council’s contaminated land register, despite the council’s own specially commissioned Taylor Young Report identifying high levels of contaminants and a serious public health risk. In addition, a portfolio of evidence gathered from ex-employees pointing out precisely where contaminants are buried has been submitted to the council, who can have no excuse for failing to act. However, it is perhaps re-assuring that following representations from the Foxt Action Group the concerns have now been registered with the Environment Agency, with an investigation pending.
On a more positive note, there was considerable support for WAG’s Quiet Lane initiative, aimed at overcoming some of the tourist related traffic problems of increasing numbers of vehicles inappropriately using the Churnet Valley’s narrow country lanes. WAG has already received supportive comments from Karen Bradley MP, and now County Councillor Mike Worthington has been nominated by the Highway Authority to deal with the matter. WAG’s public survey of 100 road users demonstrated unanimous support from both residents and visitors. WAG’s proposal for a pilot scheme along The Red Road between Oakamoor and Alton, with suggested funding from Alton Towers monies committed as a condition under their last planning consent, is currently under consideration by Councillor Worthington. The pilot scheme would be a first step in achieving a network of Quiet Lanes in the core of the Churnet Valley, so that cyclists, horse riders and walkers could safely share our narrow lanes with slow moving vehicles driven with care and consideration.
Overall, a high level of enthusiastic support was received from attendees and after the meeting, Harry Blood, Chairman of Whiston Action Group, commented:-
“I was very pleased with the turnout, particularly the interest and support shown by newcomers, as we continue to challenge inappropriate decisions that will affect our communities in the Churnet Valley for years to come. The importance of keeping locals in the picture on future plans for the Churnet Valley is exactly what the Government is expecting local councils to do. Sadly that message is largely ignored by SMDC. WAG is clearly filling a local need which is why the meeting went so well.”