VOTE: Villagers join forces to oppose plans for sand quarry

A new year is bringing fresh conflict between residents of five parishes and a landowner over his plans for a sand quarry.

People living in Fittleworth, Bury, Sutton, Barlavington and Bignor are expected to turn out in force tomorrow for a public meeting to discuss a revised planning application submitted by Sir Sebastian Anstruther’s Barlavington Estate.

The proposal to bulldoze woodland at Horncroft, in Bury parish but close to Fittleworth, to make way for sand extraction, was first unveiled in April last year and was met with noisy protests.

Last September it was due to go before the planning committee of West Sussex County Council – the minerals authority until the South Downs National Park Authority takes over the role on April 1 – but has been constantly delayed.

Now, the county has received a revised application, essentially reducing the area of the quarry.

But, say objectors, that has had little effect on the amount of sand to be dug or the lorry movements – averaging 36 a day – associated with it.

They claim the removal of the 25-acre Mansby Field from the site – a former piggery and next to a bridleway – is a minor concession despite a promise of more tree planting to provide screening.

The revised application would still mean an extraction figure of 1.5 million tonnes from the remaining 25 acres at Horncroft Warren, at 75,000 tonnes a year, over the same 20-year period.

Tomorrow’s meeting at Fittleworth Village Hall at 7pm has been called by Fittleworth and District Association, a group formed some years ago to protect the environment of the area, and the Horncroft Campaign Committee.

Scott Greenhalgh, co-chairman of the committee, said much of the Barlavington Estate’s case outlined in its revised application was about the need for sand.

But it was ‘in cloud cuckoo land’, he claimed.

“The county council has just released its annual monitoring report for minerals and waste which shows demand for sand and gravel declining from 408,000 tonnes in 2008-09 to 287,000 tonnes in 2009-10, a continuation of the steady decline in demand over the past ten years,” Mr Greenhalgh said.

“This not only reflects the weak economic environment, but also the success WSCC has had in encouraging recycling of aggregates which increased to some 620,000 tonnes, reducing the need for primary aggregates.

“With 5.9m tonnes of reserves, including the recently-granted West Heath sandpit extension at Harting, West Sussex now has a landbank of 20 years on 2009-10 demand and around 15 years of the average demand for the past three years.

“This level is far above the previous seven-year landbank target. There is, therefore, absolutely no need for new sand and gravel quarries in West Sussex.”

The Observer contacted Sir Sebastian Anstruther about the revised application, but he said he did not wish to comment at this stage. His planning agent, Ashley Spanner, was not available.