Residents and conservationists who have spent years battling plans to expand a quarry by an area the size of 18 football pitches, bringing it close to a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), have spoken of their delight after councillors agreed to return to the site.
The long-running controversy surrounding Went Valley Aggregates and Recycling’s quarry near Kirk Smeaton looks set to go on after North Yorkshire County Council’s planning committee voted to examine in person the environmental impact of blasting 4.9 million tonnes of road building rock in the shadow of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Brockadale Nature Reserve.
While campaigners have said the proposal would cause “catastrophic” damage to the reserve, the firm has questioned the evidence for the claim and highlighted how continuing operations there would boost the local economy.
The committee, whose decision to approve the quarry extension in May sparked widespread consternation amid concerns over planning officers’ impartiality, met at County Hall in Northallerton to reconsider their conclusion at the request of the authority’s chief executive Richard Flinton.
Mr Flinton, who has been given extraordinary responsibilities to approve councillors decisions made during online meetings during the pandemic, said the entire meeting needed to be re-run “for transparency and public confidence in the planning process”.
The meeting heard the decision created a bizarre situation in which councillors, who must consider planning applications with an open mind, were being asked to consider a proposal which they had decided upon just two months ago.
However, the councillors were advised as long as they were willing to weigh up arguments on both sides and consider any fresh evidence they could take part in the meeting.
The meeting heard experts were set to give evidence about the potential consequences of the quarry extension to an area of designated ancient woodland, which the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust has claimed “has potential to damage a nationally important SSSI”.
Council officers said the proposal remained to quarry magnesium limestone followed by a scheme to restore the area with “engineered fill” from a nearby waste treatment facility and although Kirk Smeaton Parish Council had requested councillors visit the nature reserve, such a move would be unnecessary.
Officers told the committee “nothing of significance had changed at the quarry since the last visit took place”.
The committee’s chairman Councillor Peter Sowray agreed, saying visting the nature reserve would not make any difference in changing councillors’ views.
He said: “I think all members appreciate the value of Brockadale. No one wants to decry how importat it is in the world of nature conservation. We have a duty of determine this application. It has been going on a long time.”
Nevertheless, councillors then revealed their previous site visit in February last year had involved being driven into the quarry in a coach and walking along a road, which had completely ignored the nature reserve.
Councillor John McCartney, who accused planning officers of lying at the May meeting, said when visiting the site councillors had been unaware of the environmental issues.
He said: “The site visit was an amazing 539 days ago. Pictures do not tell a story. Breathing in the air, walking on the grass will emable all members to know what we’re talkig aout when we make this decision.”
After members voted to defer a decision on the scheme and visit the site, Professor Tricia Storey, chair of Kirk Smeaton Parish Council, said she was “delighted” and that it was “right and just” the committee visited the nature reserve as well as the quarry.
A Yorkshire Wildlife Trust spokesman said the voice of the hundreds of people campaigning for the nature reserve had been heard by the committee.
He said: “We’re extremely excited by this development. We hope that this is the start of North Yorkshire County Council following the wishes of Yorkshire’s people and embracing the direction set by Government to value and conserve nature.”