Matt Western, MP for Warwick and Leamington, has delivered a petition to Parliament in an attempt to prohibit the construction of a quarry on land owned by St John’s College.
The quarry is due to be located near Barford, a village which is home to around 1,500 residents in Warwickshire. If the quarry receives planning permission, it will occupy an area of around 80 hectares. The site is also near a local school.
Mr Western delivered the petition, titled “Protect the health of people who live near quarries,” on February 5th this year.
The petition highlights the increased health risks associated with living near a quarry. It points to the inhalation of silica dust, which can cause scarring in lungs and the development of silicosis, as the central health risk. The petition demands a nationwide buffer of 1 km around any region where people work, live, or study, inside of which quarrying would be prohibited.
Matt Western has also raised concerns about the quarry as part of a speech made in the House of Commons in late 2019, during which he criticised the conduct of St John’s College directly over their conduct in relation to the quarrying site.
Mr Western said: “there is also the role of the landowner, St John’s College, Oxford. I wrote to the president in the late spring and I was not particularly pleased by the response I received. The college is the wealthiest in Oxford—it does not need the money. Why has it put forward this site for development, when it will be so harmful to the lives of all the residents—the children—of Barford and Wasperton? There was a disingenuous claim that it was making the land available for housing development; it was not. This land will be opened up and dug up. Despite being high-grade agricultural land, it will become an eyesore, open for the extraction of sand and gravel. Even the student body at St John’s College passed a motion to stand against the project. There is widespread concern and dismay that a college with the wealth of St John’s should be allowing this to happen. It does not need to be conceding to sell the land to allow this mining. The national planning policy framework states that MPAs should make provision for a sand and gravel landbank of at least seven years of permitted reserves, but, as I have already said, there is sufficient landbank. It currently stands at eight years, but the numbers in the calculation of how many houses are required do not suggest that it is needed at all.”
A spokesperson for St John’s College said: “The College stated in a letter to Mr Western in June 2019 that St John’s College will retain full ownership of the land at Wasperton. Should the County Council allocate the site in its Minerals Plan, then the College would appoint a sand and gravel contractor which would be responsible for submitting a planning application. From the College’s perspective, the contractor will have to pass stringent processes to ensure that it complies with the highest environmental, health and safety and corporate social responsibility standards. Equally, of importance, at the end of the agreement, the contractor will be required to return the land in good order.
“The College had previously offered the land to meet the stated needs of Warwickshire County Council for housing through a planning application with partner Gladman. However, at the end of 2017 Gladman was informed by the County Council that this proposal was refused because of the site’s potential to provide minerals to meet local building needs.”
“We would urge Mr Western to speak to Warwickshire County Council, as Mineral Planning Authority for Warwickshire, which has a statutory duty to produce the county’s Minerals Plan which will set out the spatial strategy, allocated sites, vision, objects and policies guiding minerals development up to 2032. It will be the County Council that will decide, after taking professional advice, whether the supply of minerals is sufficient or not and which sites are preferred for mineral extraction based on a wide- ranging investigation of the environmental impact, safety and capacity of any particular site. We reiterate that as a registered charity and landowner, we have an obligation and responsibility to both the local community and county to respond to a request for sites, via our appointed agents, to be considered to provide sand and gravel for the district councils to build homes for those people needing homes in the future.
“It will be the responsibility of the County Council and potential new sand and gravel operator to address and answer any concerns that have been raised through future planning processes and public consultations.
“Therefore, we continue with Warwickshire County Council’s Minerals development framework timetable. Should our site be selected, we will be seeking full assurances through the planning application and public consultation process that all those concerns raised by Mr Western and those of the residents are fully addressed.”
A spokesperson from Warwickshire County Council said: “The Warwickshire Minerals Plan has been submitted to the Secretary of State and will be the subject of hearings on the 3rd and 4th June at a Public Examination in front of a Planning Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State. The sites and policies in the submitted plan, include the site at Barford amongst several others. After considering all the evidence it will be for the Planning Inspector to decide if the Plan is sound and legally compliant.”