Following their recent purchase of New Barn Farm Adrian Hatt (of CAGE) and I paid met Grundons yesterday, where we met their estates director, and senior planner. They were very courteous and informative.
The previous option in favour of Smiths of Bletchingdon has expired. The land (all 163 acres) continue to be farmed by the existing agricultural tenants. Grundon stated that they have no interest in acquiring any adjoining land, which means that the overall site is rather smaller than we had previously expected, therefore increasing the potential buffer between the site and Cholsey village.
They have carried out some trial boreholes, and they consider that the gravel IS of good quality, and of uniform spread, although running to silt at the southern end of the site. The gravel is 20 mm or less, which means that no crushing or mixing will be required, thereby reducing the level of mechanisation. The strata is 5/6 metres deep. The farm selling agents suggested a total of 4 million tons, although with the various limitations and stand-offs, the extractable amount will be a good deal less than this.
Their declared intention is to make a planning application for extraction within 12 to 18 months, and before the revised Plan is published by OCC.
They consider that the demand is there, and do not see any advantage in waiting for the plan to be approved, given the long delayed timescale. In addition, it is anticipated that other contractors on competing sites will do the same thing. There is already an application by Hills on the 320 acre Culham site, although it is understood that it has been held up on archaeological grounds.
Grundon’s approach is to carry out local consultation, so as to understand the nature of the objections, and to build in their suggested solutions as part of the planning application. If the local demand is for an enhanced use, rather than just agricultural, then this will be taken into account. They held an in-house seminar recently with their own employees, many of whom live locally, and are therefore concerned about the proposals. They raised the very same issues which we ourselves raised at the meeting. They are well aware of the substance of such objections, and of the planning history, and they consider that traffic movements will come top of the list.
Adrian enquired about possible use of the railway line for extraction. They will be speaking to the railway operators, but would anticipate difficulties with mainline connections, and this does not fit in with local use.
There will be a quiet period now whilst they work on their planning application, carrying out all the required surveys, and consultations. If OCC consider that their application is premature, then they will take note of such advice. Grundon are of course in for the long term, and whilst they are confident in their position now, they will continue to pursue the application in the years to come. If successful, it is, however, impossible at this stage to indicate the length of operational time, but this is likely to exceed 10 years. Their planning application would be more specific in this context.
They were at pains to emphasise that they are operating on their home patch here, and are very conscious of the need to keep up local consultation. This approach would be rather different from say Hansons, or similar multi/national companies who would have less local interest in the outcome. They would also expect to sell the material on a local rather than national basis. They do not, for instance, maintain their own vehicle fleet to deliver the material from the site. They rely on purchasers with varying size of vehicles to come to the site to collect. There would of course also be vehicles delivering inert material coming to the site for infill restoration.
Their standard extraction process involves working areas of five or six acres at any one time, with restoration of that area, when worked, before moving onto an adjacent similar working area. This means that there would be continuing agricultural (or enhanced) use of the surrounding area, rather than one large pit. Perhaps not the lunar landscape we had feared. Grundon have also offered to take people to nearby pits that they currently operate.
Standard objections to new pits of course include dust and noise. In this case, the water table is only 1.5 m below the surface, so that dust will not be a problem. They do not consider that noise will be a significant factor either. Visual impact will be limited by existing tree screens and new bunds. The principal problem is likely to be vehicle movements, and of course they will have to consult with the highways and other authorities. If the Wallingford Road is found to be a narrow but busy highway, flanked by cycle/ footpath, then it is more likely that the main site access would be off the bypass, from which they would construct internal roads. The main operating site with treatment plant would be approximately 5 m in height. It is unlikely that there will be successful housing applications on the nearby Winterbrook land within the bypass in the next few years, so that the gravel application would take time precedence, and not need to take account of any such further housing in the future.
Grundon will be willing to attend parish council meetings, and to hold exhibitions, but would avoid an open public meeting, as they consider them to be counter-productive.
I asked about the type of recompense or benefit which might be derived by the local communities, but they gave very limited examples of previous commitments elsewhere. If Grundon are successful in their application – which is not a “done deal” – I will strive to ensure that the maximum community benefit is procured.
We emphasised that we would be leading the objections to their application, which they understood. They were keen to deal with any issues and questions which we may raise.