Groundwater pollution risk scuppers sand and gravel extraction

The risk to a protected aquifer in Hertfordshire was sufficient reason for an inspector to dismiss an appeal involving the extraction of sand and gravel from land in the green belt.

Before examining the merits of the case the inspector had to make a ruling on whether the final reclamation of the site following extraction would involve the deposition of waste. The appellant proposed to fill the site with clay extracted from a quarry and this would be covered by soils. The Environment Agency (EA) claimed that it must be considered as waste, based on the European Waste framework directive 2008/98. This defined ‘waste’ as any substance or object which the holder intended to discard, the inspector noted, but unhelpfully that term was not defined in any legal judgments. Although the proposed fill material would be imported from outside the site he was satisfied that it should be regarded as ‘landfill’ rather than waste since it comprised depositing clay onto the land. It was being procured specifically for the purpose of allowing the void to be reclaimed and was not a by-product of winning the sand and gravel.

Nonetheless, the scheme raised other issues including a strip of land which had been landfilled with waste which included potentially contaminating or polluting material. It was proposed to dig the waste out which could  release contaminants which would pollute the groundwater. More detailed analysis was required in order to ensure that water quality was preserved.

In addition, although mineral extraction was permitted as an exception within the green belt the scheme would not preserve the openness of the area. The site might also be required for the construction of the high speed rail line between London and Birmingham. Allowing extraction of the mineral for a temporary period would not undermine this objective, he concluded, and it was preferable to avoid sterilising mineral deposits. The potential harm to the aquifer was, however, sufficient to dismiss the appeal.

Inspector: Jonathan King; Hearing

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