Jo Dimitri is a Project Manager at the National Trust. Since joining the Trust in August 2011, she has been focussing on a project exploring the exciting potential of Wenlock Edge Quarries for conservation and getting more people outdoors, as well as being involved with initiatives at Benthall Hall and Attingham Park in Shropshire.
The National Trust is committed both to protecting special places and to enabling people to get outdoors and closer to nature. It’s for these reasons that we’re taking the unusual step of blogging against a planning application that we believe threatens a very precious part of the Shropshire countryside.
Wenlock Edge is an iconic feature of the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The Trust owns, manages and provides public access to 700 acres of the limestone escarpment including land adjoining Lea Quarry, one of the Wenlock Edge quarries which form part of the stunning landscape of the Edge.
Wenlock Edge quarries are special in so many ways – globally known for their geology and exceptionally important ecologically, the disused quarries have started to develop a spectacular flora and fauna that make the Lea North quarry and parts of another site (Lilleshall quarry) Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The quarries also hold significant historic and cultural importance. The local area has a rich quarrying heritage and AE Houseman, Mary Webb and Ralph Vaughn Williams have connections with Wenlock Edge. The position of the quarries holds a link to the existing countryside network, through a complex of bridleways, footpaths and an old railway line.
In 2009 the quarry owners approached us about acquiring the site when they stopped working there. Since then we’ve been working closely with the local community and other interested parties, including the Shropshire Hills AONB Partnership and a range of conservation and access organisations, to form a vision for the future of Wenlock Edge quarries with restoration, conservation and recreation at its heart. Bringing together the views of over 500 people, the plans also showed the potential for economic development and job creation.
Over the summer, a planning application by a renewable energy company, called Edge Renewables, was submitted to Shropshire Council seeking retrospective permission for its wood chip production facility, including changing the use of former quarry buildings, retention of new buildings (erected without planning consent), and storage of timber at the old Lea North quarry. The National Trust – ordinarily supportive of renewable energy – in this instance felt we needed to oppose industrial development in this sensitive site. In recent weeks, the planning process has become even more critical to safeguarding its future because Edge Renewables has now bought Lea Quarry North.
We believe that the current operation is an inappropriate use of land that should have a protected status, in line with the government’s new planning framework. The previous exploitation of the land for its limestone was temporary, and the original planning permission for quarrying included important conditions for the land to be returned to nature. In this context, it is difficult to think of the quarry as truly Brownfield land, especially now that flower rich grassland and European protected species have started to reclaim the site and its spectacular (SSSI) geology is attracting people from around the world for study and enjoyment. The land needs to be properly reinstated, or we risk not only this beautiful place, but undermining the future of other quarries that have not yet been restored but where restoration is part of the planning approval.
Renewable energy should be encouraged, but not be at any cost. We must think for the long term about how we care for our special places and strike a sustainable balance between access, environmental and economic considerations. There are far less special places to store and process logs (the Trust has even suggested some of its own land), which will not undermine the integrity of our countryside or the huge public benefits it brings. From a purely economic perspective there is also a great case to make for the countryside. According to the Shropshire Hills AONB Partnership, tourism in Shropshire generates around £457m a year from around nine million visits and supports around 8,786 full time job equivalents. The AONB accounts for over 5 million of those visits.
Concern is shared by many in the local community. Hundreds of local people have already spoken out against this application – 180 people have written to the council to object to the application and there is a petition with over 3500 signatures.
Why not join in the public debate on Edge Renewables’ planning application? You can sign the pledge and the petition, find out more about our vision for Wenlock Edge and comment online, quoting the application reference 12/03034/MAW.