Public inquiry into quarry proposals underway

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A public inquiry with far-reaching implications for a Kent quarry, 130 local jobs and some of Britain’s oldest and most iconic ancient buildings, such as the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral, has got underway in Maidstone.

Proposals to extend Gallagher's Hermitage Quarry, which produces the last working reserve of quality Kentish Ragstone, will now be decided by a government Planning Inspector.

The company is seeking planning permission to quarry 33 hectares (80 acres) near Barming, over a 23 year period from 2015. This application includes quarrying 14 per cent of Oaken Wood, the vast majority of which is comprised of dense non-native sweet chestnut coppice. As part of the application, Gallagher Group is proposing to double the woodland footprint and enhance the woodland through restoring native species of tree cover in its original location. The entire area will be the subject of a woodland management plan resulting in an improved ecological environment.

Speaking before the start of the Inquiry, Nick Yandle, Chief Executive of Gallagher Group, said: “This application is good for Kent, good for local jobs and, with time, will see the doubling of the woodland, with native species such as oak. The future well-being of some of the country’s best-loved ancient buildings depend on this application being approved as many were constructed with, and are preserved by using Kentish Ragstone. 

“The deployment of the best tried-and-tested techniques will ensure that the westerly extension of Hermitage Quarry is conducted to the highest possible ecological standards.”

The application was approved by Kent County Council in May 2011, but was subsequently ’called-in’ by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in August 2011. The public inquiry, which started on Tuesday 27th November at Oakwood House in Maidstone, is expected to last approximately three weeks.

Support for the Hermitage Quarry extension has come from English Heritage, which has urged the Secretary of State to take due account of the need for this unique stone and the consequences for the historic heritage should this stone become unavailable.

The proposals have also been supported by Aylesford’s MP, Tracey Crouch, who said: “I am of the opinion that this application is not only necessary to meet the demonstrable need for high quality Kentish Ragstone, but carries clear and defined economic benefits for the local community and will provide long-term employment for many people”.

Gallagher Group’s plans are opposed by the Woodland Trust and Kent Wildlife Trust. However, following a detailed review of the issues relating to the application, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England - Protect Kent is not objecting to the westerly extension of Hermitage quarry, subject to binding 106 legal agreements on the restoration and long-term management of mitigation commitments.

Kent County Council has an obligation to maintain a strong supply of approximately 700,000 tonnes of Kentish Ragstone per year for local construction projects.

At the Inquiry, Gallagher Group will set out the key arguments for the application to be granted and the substantial measures that will be put in place to minimise any disruption to local people and the environment. The Inspector will consider the issues of need for the aggregate, the local economic impact (particularly jobs), the ecological management of the new site, protecting Britain’s heritage, the lack of alternative sites and reducing environmental and financial costs.

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