Stowey quarry is a small area of land at the top of an escarpment, close to AONB and with glorious views across the Chew Valley and the Chew Valley Lake (a reservoir owned by Bristol Water).
In December 2011 BANES' previous decision to allow 645,000 tonnes of Stable Non Reactive Hazardous Waste (asbestos) at Stowey Quarry was quashed by the High Court because of procedural failing. A local person, Dave Elliott, had challenged the Council on a number of issues.
Now the quarry owners have re-applied for planning permission for the same quantity of asbestos. The Council allows 21 days for consultation; this period includes the Easter Holiday and so we have to act promptly to try and persuade BANES to reject the application instead of passing it this time.
The applicant would have been aware of the public concern and media interest during the previous challenge, yet they have not made any attempt to meet with and enter into a dialogue or consult with the public during the recent weeks leading up to the re-application. They have had meetings with Banes council. Had there been an opportunity for consultation with the applicant we would have sought answers and reassurances to many of our concerns and questions. This opportunity has not been offered.
Some of the questions we could have asked would have included:
a) reassurance that the Applicant has the knowledge and expertise to run such a risky enterprise. We have wanted to ask him about his previous business history that we have read about.
b) that he has sound financial backing and insurance to cover the site for the next 50 to 100 years and more, in case of spillage.
c) 100% reassurance that Chew Valley Lake will not become contaminated; given the serious future water shortages we are told the UK faces and given it is obvious for everyone to see that there is land slippage around the area below the quarry, we want to ask how he can reassure us when no one seems to be able to say that any sort of liner or container will be 100% safe and reliable in holding asbestos.
d) we wanted to ask about air contamination – we are worried that asbestos dust fibres might escape into the air and the quarry is on an escarpment exposed to winds and with AONB and a footpath within metres of the quarry and several dwellings and villages nearby, this is an important concern.
e) the site does not have mains water. The Applicant proposes to use a water bowser to wash down the asbestos and the fifty lorries a day – we want to ask how can this be an adequate safeguard?
e) the need for the provision. There is reference to the site meeting a national need for the dumping of asbestos, which would entail lorries travelling major distances to the quarry, criss crossing the whole of Bath & North East Somerset and Bristol and Somerset and Gloucestershire and maybe from much further afield. How does this tie in with protecting the environment and reducing road miles. Is there really a need for asbestos landfill at Stowey given that it will be competing with larger sites already taking asbestos in Bridgwater and Swindon with suitable motorway and road links.
f) a new question having read the recent papers, is what is making the Applicant suddenly decide to remove loose stone aggregate currently in the quarry, which has been there for some years. The owners had not removed this before and it makes us wonder if they are trying to increase the volume capacity of the quarry for business reasons, raising more risks to the stability.
g) we simply do not understand and want to ask, why is the proposal to fill the quarry to a point higher than the surrounding land? How could the raised sides possibly retain landfill safely?
Why do we think asbestos should not be dumped at Stowey Quarry?
We do not think there is a need for BANES to have a site for asbestos because there are already sites at Bridgwater, Wiltshire and Swindon, all of which have good road infrastructure. BANES produces only a small amount of asbestos, therefore we think that the only way the quarry owners could make the quarry viable would be to have operators bringing asbestos over long distances. This is not environmentally friendly or sustainable.
We feel that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) (which has been produced on behalf of the quarry applicant for planning permission) minimizes issues, including relating to noise, dust (asbestos fibres) and socio economic factors.
The EIA assesses there to be no effect from increased traffic, but does this by referring to vehicle movement levels which were approved in a previous planning permission, but have never been implemented. We believe this is misleading as there certainly will be a substantial increase of traffic above the current actual levels.
To date the applicant has not produced a hydrogeology report outlining the geology and protection of water courses. This is particularly relevant given that the water from surrounding streams flow into the Chew Valley Lake, which is a reservoir for Bristol and the local area.
There is instability at the site. We do not believe that the Applicants give sufficient attention to this. The site is on top of a hill, compared with most landfill sites which occupy holes at lower levels. The asbestos will be tipped into a liner and it appears that there is no liner which is completely guaranteed. The worry is that there may be insufficient safe sub clays to prevent dangerous leakage if a protective membrane was to rupture.
In addition, the applicants propose raising the height of the quarry above the surrounding land. We do not think this is either appropriate (we assume they want to do this to make more storage space in the quarry – which is small) or safe; there are steep slopes to the West of the quarry and raising the height would seem to increase the risk of slippage.
The quarry is situated at the top of a hill close to the villages of Bishop Sutton, Stowey and Hinton Blewitt and above the source of two streams and another spring which lead into the Chew Valley Lake. The lake is a primary public water supply source supplying water to the city of Bristol and an area as far south as Shepton Mallet and providing over 50 million litres per day of drinking water. The area is predominantly limestone which potentially has any number of subterranean water courses. Bristol Water was consulted on the previous application and objected on grounds of safety. In response to their concerns a further report was prepared which concluded that the risk of pollution entering the lake was "very small". In response to this Bristol Water noted that for this to be true the liner and waste management system at the site would need to be 100% reliable in perpetuity, a guarantee that it seems unlikely that any landfill designer or operator could provide.
If the site was to become operational the Environment Agency would monitor it periodically.
Recent episodes involving sites for disposal of asbestos in Evercreech (Somerset) and Derbyshire (to name only two),
show that mistakes frequently occur. In both cases the operators were prosecuted for failing to contain and minimise the risk of
any potentially harmful asbestos fibres escaping in to the air. Even when such mistakes do occur the Environment Agency's
initial reaction may be to issue one or more warnings (in one case it issued five) before any enforcement action is taken
and even when action is taken the penalty may be relatively small. In short, we do not believe that sporadic ongoing monitoring
would guarantee the safe operation of the site and given the position of the site on a hill, above a major reservoir and above two
villages we believe that this a major concern.
We must protect our streams from any source of leachate or pollutant likely to destroy the purity and natural habitat of all the creatures inhabiting them including this wonderful white clawed crayfish found by a BANES Council worker in the stream near Stowey Bottom.