Local conservationists say it’s time to ‘heal the scar in the landscape’
Plans for a wood-chipping plant – currently operating without planning permission – in the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), should be rejected say local conservationists.
A number of conservation organisations are opposing a retrospective application from Edge Renewables which they claim is already harming the sensitive landscape and will fail to ‘heal the scar in the landscape’ that quarrying has created.
Edge Renewables recently acquired the former Lea Quarry North from owners Aggregate Industries but the National Trust, Shropshire Hills AONB Partnership, Shropshire Wildlife Trust, Shropshire Ramblers and the Shropshire Geological Society argue that it is an inappropriate use of the land.
Their key objection is the impact that the development is going to have on the Shropshire Hills AONB and Wenlock Edge Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), designations which should provide maximum conservation protection. The National Trust also owns, manages and provides public access to 700 acres of land along the Edge and is committed to conserving the area and encouraging greater public enjoyment of this iconic landscape.
More than 4,500 people have signed petitions and 216 people have written to Shropshire Council objecting to the controversial application, which is currently being considered by council planners. A decision is set to be made at the 29 January Shropshire planning committee meeting.
The largely retrospective application is seeking permission for log storage, wood chipping and drying as well as utilising existing buildings, which were scheduled for removal once quarrying had ceased, and new buildings, erected without any consent.
Ben Shipston, Assistant Director of Operations for the National Trust, said the charity is campaigning against the application because of the impact the development will have on the natural beauty of the area. He is calling on Shropshire planners to reject the application and to ensure that the original planning conditions to restore the land, which came into effect when quarrying ceased, are carried out.
“The planning framework states that once quarrying ceases, the land should be returned back to nature to essentially heal the scar on the landscape. Indeed, the planning permission for Lea Quarry North includes important restoration requirements and it has been four years since extraction last took place. There’s already an abundance of spectacular flora and fauna including beautiful orchids and European protected species such as Great Crested Newts.”
“The National Trust is supportive of renewable energy, but we strongly maintain that Edge Renewables’ timber storage and woodchip processing operation is an unnecessary and inappropriate use of this land which is located predominantly in the Shropshire Hills AONB.”
“We believe the retrospective application could also set a dangerous precedent for quarries elsewhere that have not yet been restored.”
Mr Shipston said that although Edge Renewables has announced that they plan to gift some of the site to the National Trust, the charity will not stop campaigning.
“We are willing to talk to Edge Renewables. However, we fundamentally disagree that their operation should be located at Lea Quarry North and will continue to oppose their plans.”
Beccy Speight, Director for the National Trust in the Midlands, acknowledged that the Trust had previously tried to acquire the quarries and had worked with the local community on plans to open them up to visitors, so that more people could enjoy the Wenlock Edge countryside.
“It’s widely known that we had been in talks with the former quarry owners since 2008 regarding the possibility of us taking the quarries on to allow public access and recreation. Unfortunately our plans to safeguard the quarries have failed, so it is now even more important that Shropshire Council protects the long term future of one of its most important natural tourism assets and upholds the principles of national planning policy.”
“As a conservation and access charity our priority is to secure the long-term future of this special place, not only to protect its internationally recognised conservation value but to enable open access and enjoyment by everyone.”
George Chancellor, Chair of the Shropshire Hills AONB Partnership has voiced concerns that the planning application could also have a detrimental affect on tourism in the area.
“Cultivating tourism and protecting green spaces is a major concern for people in Much Wenlock and the surrounding area, especially to safeguard long term economic development, job creation and health and wellbeing. The Shropshire Hills AONB alone accounts for around five million annual tourist visits and the paths along the top of the quarry link to important long distance routes through the beautiful countryside.”
“Approval of this industrial development would be a damaging reflection on Shropshire Council’s commitment to sustainable tourism, which has included the AONB achieving the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas and Much Wenlock being accredited as a ‘Walkers are Welcome’ town.”
Robin Mager, Planning and Data Officer with the Shropshire Wildlife Trust, added:
“More than 4,500 people have already voiced their concern about the planning application, showing just how important the quarry is to local people.”
“Past quarrying activity was unavoidable if undesirable, and was subject to conditions to restore the site for nature conservation. It is now time to recognise the true potential of this amazing place which is globally renowned for its geology and is incredibly important ecologically.”
Shropshire Council is still accepting public comments via its website or in writing to Shropshire Council Planning Department, Shire Hall, Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, SY2 6ND, quoting application reference number 12/03034/MAW. There is also an online petition.