The Secretary of State for the Department of Communities & Local Government, Eric Pickles, has granted permission to extend Hermitage Quarry, which will create a new woodland that is double the size of the effected area.
The decision will protect 130 local jobs at the Kent quarry operated by Gallagher Aggregates Ltd, one of Kent’s leading building, civil engineering, aggregates and property development companies.
The Secretary of State’s decision follows a Public Inquiry, which led the Planning Inspector to conclude that there is a need for a steady supply of high quality Kentish Ragstone. He also agreed with the Inspector’s conclusions that there isn’t a suitable alternative site and on the negative socio-economic impacts, in terms of the loss of jobs, if the quarry was forced to close.
Speaking after the decision, Nick Yandle, Chief Executive of Gallagher Group, said: “As well as recognising the pressing need for the material, the Inspector accepted that no other site was available. He also received and accepted evidence that showed that the proposed site is of low ecological value.
“The Inquiry accepted the evidence that 31 of the 33 hectare site is ‘plantation on an ancient woodland site’ – Sweet Chestnut coppice planted in the 19th century. The Secretary of State also agreed with the Inspector that the woodland was of ‘relatively poor quality’.”
The permission allows the quarrying of 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. The workings would be in 15 phases with progressive restoration and tree planting.
Nick Yandle added: “We have always maintained that that there is a strong case for extracting high quality Kentish Ragstone from Hermitage Quarry. The decision confirms our view, and upholds the previous recommendation by Kent County Council, the Mineral Planning Authority.
“This is good for Kent, good for local jobs and, will result in new woodland that is double the size of the effected area, with native species planted such as oak. The future wellbeing of some of the country’s best-loved ancient buildings has also been secured as many were constructed with, and are preserved by using Kentish Ragstone. For this reason the continuing supply of Kentish Ragstone is supported by English Heritage.
“The deployment of the best tried-and-tested quarrying techniques will ensure that the westerly extension of Hermitage Quarry is conducted to the highest possible standards. As a company we have a strong and positive reputation for the quality of our remediation work on land after it has been quarried.”
Although opposed by the Woodland Trust and Kent Wildlife Trust, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England – Protect Kent did not object subject to binding 106 legal agreements on the restoration and long-term management of mitigation commitments.
Nick Yandle concluded: “The headline of ‘Ancient Woodland’ is emotive and an over simplification. If people read a summary of the evidence presented by all parties at the Public Inquiry it is clear that there is a need for the material, there are no alternative sites, the current site is ecologically very limited and there is a substantial programme of ecological mitigation and compensation through additional tree planting.”