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Responses to Appeals

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Closing Statement
Tuesday 20th February 2024

Horn Crag Planning Appeal APP\W4705\W\23\3332884

Rick Battarbee FRS

Emeritus Professor of Environmental Change
University College London


Having listened carefully to the evidence presented by the Appellant during the Inquiry we continue strongly to oppose the application to re-open Horn Crag Quarry. The principal reasons are:

  • Quarrying will remove Horn Crag as a prominent and valued feature of the local landscape and destroy moorland habitats of great antiquity. It will have an unacceptable adverse impact on the natural environment;
  • The chances of the restoration being successful to achieve either a biodiversity net gain at all or in any reasonable time-frame are slim;
  • The quarrying operations will have negative consequencesfor the functioning of the site as part of the South Pennine SPA and as a stepping stone for pollinators between the Wharfe and Aire valleys;
  • The timescale of any biodiversity net gain is such that it will make no contribution to the urgent national need to halt biodiversity loss in the near future,andmost fundamentally;
  • It will blight the lives and livelihoods of local residents.

An unacceptable adverse impact on the natural environment


Let me start with the nature and history of the site. The site contains two principal elements, a previously worked area along the western boundary and around the quarry face, that is now rewilding and has high biodiversity value as agreed by all parties, and a much larger unworked area characterised by moorland habitats where new quarrying is proposed.

I want to focus on this latter area. Having listened to the discussion on landscape on Wednesday last week I’m prompted to repeat my remarks about the antiquity of the moorland habitats and add to them by going back a little further in time and saying something about landscape history in an attempt to show how, in this regard, landscape and ecology should be considered together.

The shape of the land in this region was created during the last glacial periodby ice moving across the landscape. The maximum extent of ice occurred about 20,000 years ago.

Following glacial recession and then rapid warming approximately 11,500 years ago to temperatures close to the present day, forest trees returned from various glacial refugia to colonise the post-glacial landscape. The trees began to be cleared in the Neolithic period approximately 5000 years agoand were finally cleared in the late Bronze and early Iron Age in the region of Rombalds Moor about 2000 years before present, causing the soils to acidify and moorland vegetation to developgiving rise to the moorland landscape we see today.

Horn Crag was part of that landscape. It became the Middle Moor during Medieval times used as common land for grazing cattle. It is now an outlying remnant of the Middle Moor and of the wider moorland landscape following the Enclosure of the Silsden moors and commons in 1773 (Mason 1985).

Consequently, the area of the site to be quarried is a physical and cultural landscape of great antiquity and value supporting moorland habitats that have persisted to the present day. It would have been characterised not only by common heather (Calluna vulgaris) but also by bell heather (Erica cinerea), cross-leafed heath (Erica tetralix), bilberry (Vacciniummyrtillus), crowberry (Empetrum nigrum), acid tolerant grasses and bracken (Pteridium aquilinum), species that occur today on Addingham High Moor (as part of the South Pennines SPA) and, until recent decades, almost certainly at Horn Crag.

Current condition

Unfortunately, the current condition of the site is not good, the various habitats have been badly degraded by over-grazing leading to the decline of common heather and the shrubs I’ve just mentioned, extending the acid grassland habitat and creating the richer“agricultural land” that occupies the east of the site.

Sheep grazing is especially harmful. Sheep feed on the shoots of the shrubs and deposit nutrient rich dung and urine, encouraging grasses at the expense of shrubs.These changes have occurred in recent decades promoted by financial subsidies that have been available to hill farmers since the end of the second-world war. The impact on upland vegetation has been extensively documented by palaeoecologists and historical ecologists, including by my own research group.

Consequently, the different habitat types that characterise the site are relatively species poor, so much so that it fails to reach the qualifying scores to be designated as a Local Wildlife Site, as we have heard during the Inquiry.

Given its condition and lack of biodiversity it might seem curious to place such a high value on these habitats, but species richness (or biodiversity) is not the only measure of ecological value as I have argued before.

Antiquity and naturalness are key additional aspects of ecological quality. These are attributes valued by society. Again as I have already mentioned in my opening statement an ancient woodland is valued more than a modern plantation, and in the built environment old buildings are offered more protection than a modern housing estate. I find it ironic as I heard in the Inquiry that the Appellant wishes to open the quarry to provide stone to repair heritage buildings but at the same time is content to destroy a heritage landscape to do so.

To finish this point quarrying by definition will remove Horn Crag from the landscape and in the same process destroy these ancient habitats. I find it difficult to understand, if we put these landscape and biodiversity arguments together, why such destruction cannot be described as anything other than having an unacceptable impact on the natural environment.

Chances of successful restoration are slim

I now want to turn to restoration plans and the chances of restoration success. Success in this context and in my view depends on whethergood condition heathland habitat can be fully restored across the site and can be sustained into the future to supportwildlife, especially ground-nesting and other birds,following guidelines for the management of the South Pennine SPA.

Appropriate vision

Achieving such an outcome requiresthe original objective of the restoration plan as initially presented by the Appellant, where the emphasis was on the creation of novel habitats, to be set aside in favour of a plan inspired by the pre-existing condition of the site as an outlying fragment of ancient moorland, with all the qualifying plant species listed above.

I was relieved during the Inquiry to find that the Appellant was content to pursue such a revised objective.

Threats to success

My concern, however, is that this will be difficult to achieve given the limited amount of suitably acidic, low nutrient heathland and acid grassland soil that can be harvested and re-used from the site.

The soil harvesting process is not likely to recover 100% of the soil potentially available, soil organic matter and soil viability will be lost during storage and there is a significant quantity of soil underlying the agricultural land to the east of the site that is unsuitable for re-use.

It is difficult to see a best practice solution for this problem unless the unsuitable soils are mixed in with the higher quality soils as proposed by the Appellant. However, if this were the solution then it would be essential to demonstrate that such mixed soils were suitable from an analysis of their chemistry. Detailed soil mapping and analysis for pH and nutrients would be needed to characterise the different soils, enable them to be separately stored and identify whether mixing poor and high quality soils could be a viable solution.

An alternative or additional solution would be to import soil. However, this would be counter to Condition 13. If this condition were to be waived, as was suggested as a possibility by the Appellant, it would be subject to the problems I have already outlinedin my opening statement including whether such soil could be sourced without destroying equivalent habitat elsewhere, whether its genetic provenance was appropriate and whether the risk of it not including propagules of unwanted species could be guaranteed.

Gorse invasion

The environmental conditions created by the proposed restoration of the quarry are perfect for gorse invasion. Gorse thrives on disturbed ground, it thrives in mild, wet climatic conditions that are increasingly occurring under climate change, and its competitive abilities will be favoured by the changes in site elevation, exposure and aspect that will be brought about through the quarrying operation. It can be weeded during the operating phase of the quarry but it will be a threat to restoration success in the long-term unless adequate after-care measures are introduced and enforced. Establishing a good condition heathland as described above needs to be the first line of defence.

Functioning of the site in the wider landscape

My third concern is the extent to which the function of Horn Crag as an important centre for biodiversity within the wider region will be compromised. This concern expressed in my proof of evidence has not gone away, although I appreciate that the longer-term revised restoration plans, if agreed and adopted, may now align better with the objectives of the SPA.

However, for at least the lifetime of the quarrying operation wildlife will be deterred from using the site and our local community efforts to establish pollinator corridors between the Wharfe and Aire valleys will be undermined.

The urgency of tackling the Biodiversity crisis

Fourthly, there is concern that the operation will do nothing to address the biodiversity crisis that we all face. Long-term net gains are important objectives, whatever long-term means, but there will be no gains during the lifetime of the extraction phase, only losses, and these losses will add to biodiversity losses occurring elsewhere in the local region unless we all act swiftly.

I illustrated this concern in my proof of evidence with reference to curlews and pollinators by pointing out that we have observational evidence that in the last four years alone three local curlew nesting sites have been lost, and we know insect populations are on the decline everywhere.

Wildlife will be lost throughout the lifetime of the quarry and the extent to which wildlife will return beyond the end of quarrying is uncertain. It will definitely not be swift enough to contribute to the societal challenge we all face of halting biodiversity loss by 2030.

On the other hand if the appeal is rejected biodiversity loss at the site could be halted immediately and, with appropriate land management, especially controlling over-grazing, significant gains could be made at the site within a decade.

Local community, blight to lives and livelihoods

I would like now to move away from my biodiversity brief to say something through my role as the Rule 6 party on behalf of local Silsden residents.

The strength of the local opposition to the application and appeal is clear for all to see. In round figures there were 1000 objections to the initial application and there are now over 7500 signatures to the petition.

There are many issues. Landscape is one, and that has been covered by this Inquiry. Whether Horn Crag is deemed to be a “valued landscape” appears to be unresolved, but it is certain that it is valued locally and that should be a principal consideration.

There are many other issues that have not been included in the Inquiry although they remain critical ones locally. Some are covered by “Conditions” but conditions, even if faithfully followed do not remove the problems or the concerns. These include:

  • the movement of HGVs on local lanes that are insufficiently strong and wide to support them and safeguard other road users, including walkers;
  • the worry that quarry operations might lead to problems with potable water supply as has happened in the past;
  • the presence of continuous noise however low, problems of dust and the intrusion of artificial lighting especially during winter months;
    the loss of tranquility and quiet enjoyment of the countryside; and most critically:
  • the potential for mental health issues brought about by all these worries,and not least to property values and the overall desirability of living close to the quarry for the next 20 years.

The reluctance of the Appellant to liaise with residents was noted yesterday. Local residents are concerned that it does not bode well for a successful working relationship and long-term aftercare of the site.

Residents final comments

I want to finish if I may with comments from local Silsden residents. They have been present throughout the Inquiry and they have asked me to include the following statement in my closing submission.

We do not believe any meaningful evidence has been produced showing that stone from Horn Crag is a unique resource required to meet a need that cannot be met from other consented dimension stone deposits.

If the stone would be needed for example for sympathetic building extensions within the area local to Horn Crag the fact that it would first have to be processed 40 miles away and then do a return journey is not sustainable.

The access and egress route via Brown Bank Lane is fraught with dangers. Brown Bank Lane is narrow and steep. Its junction with Bolton Road is not a T Junction, it is a cross roads on a bend with a main road, the A6034, which is very busy. Furthermore, there are two new housing estates (one built – Bolton Gardens) and one consented (but not yet commenced) using accesses with the A6034 near to the Brown Bank junction with the A6034.

If this site is to be worked, then as stewards of the future of this site we are bound to do all we can to ensure that, once the commercially viable stone has been worked out, the site is properly restored and then cared for and managed for future generations.

The nature of this site, the long period of quarrying to be consented (if this Appeal is successful) and the particular front-loaded financial model that applies here (even where phased restoration takes place) are circumstances which strongly suggest a singular need for a restoration bond to ensure the restoration happens.

We can have lots of detailed restoration and aftercare conditions attached to a quarrying planning consent but the reality is that these will be difficult to enforce, especially if the operator is broke or has gone bust (and we need to remember that at the very moment the final restoration and aftercare conditions come into play minerals will have been worked out and the income from them will have vanished leaving a paltry residual land value).

As long as the amount of the bond is right then establishing a bond to guarantee the restoration removes that risk.

We were told that the owner of the land is a member of the Minerals Products Association, and this provides security. However, Members of the MPA cannot take advantage of the MPA Restoration Guarantee Fund without applying and being accepted. There is no evidence of that. Furthermore, membership can be terminated.

Moreover the fund can only be called upon if a) the operator is unable to comply as a result of financial failure and b) if the minerals planning authority has first used every enforcement power available to them to achieve compliance.

There are too many loopholes here which would mean years of delay in trying to resolve whether a payout would be made. Even then, an operator might have the benefit of the fund only to transfer or sell the site to a new operator who does not.

A s106 planning agreement is the place where a bond arrangement could be effectively written. It can create a financial charge on the land for bond top-up payments and would be enforceable as a matter of contract.

A s106 Agreement can also be deployed, and we would say should be deployed, to provide for clear and enforceable aftercare provisions for the 30 year period and injunctive relief if there is any egregious breach of the conditions concerning blasting, the cessation of operations by 31 December 2044 and the cessation of operations should there be contamination of the water supply.