After three years passing through the planning process, the proposed extension of Hermitage Quarry can now proceed after opponents withdrew their challenge to the Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government decision to grant permission at The High Court of Justice on Thursday 18 September.
The decision, which allows the quarrying of 14 per cent of Oaken Wood, will protect 130 local jobs at the quarry near Barming, operated by Gallagher Aggregates Ltd.
The extensive examination of evidence on all aspects of the application over three years which saw the original application approved by Kent County Council. This was then the subject of a Public Inquiry at the end of 2012, followed by the judgement of the High Court of Justice, means that the democratically determined decision can be implemented.
The quarrying, undertaken over a 23 year period, would be in 15 phases with progressive restoration and tree planting. When completed it would double the affected woodland footprint with native species such as Oak, and not the current Sweet Chestnut coppice.
Nick Yandle, Chief Executive of Gallagher Group, said: “As well as protecting local employment it also means that, in the absence of any alternative source of Kentish Ragstone, we can ensure a steady supply of this important building material for the county, and at the same time create a truly native woodland.
“These planning decisions are determined by weighing the balance of considerations and it is inevitable that not everyone will be happy with the decision, whatever the outcome. In this instance our employees, our customers, our suppliers and people involved in the conservation/restoration of listed and historic buildings are all delighted with the result.
“If people take the time to read the detailed evidence they will see that the ecological outcome of the development will be limited in the short term. Importantly, in the longer term the currently low ecological value will be improved by the planting of double the area of native species trees in place of dense non-native Sweet Chestnut coppice, linking isolated woodland in the process.”
The opponent withdrew their action against the Secretary of State who had agreed with the Planning Inspector that 31 hectares of the 33 hectare site is relatively poor ecological quality Sweet Chestnut coppice planted in the 19th century, creating a ‘plantation on an ancient woodland site’.
Highlighting its commitment to the environment, and in line with expert ‘best practice’ and advice, Gallagher Group is required to carefully transfer the ‘ancient woodland’ soils as part of the restoration programme. There will also be a management programme covering the entire woodland on the Gallagher estate, to enhance its ecological value.