Battle over quarries in the South Downs National Park

Bignor resident Scott Greenhalgh at the Horncroft site in 2011, where even the tree line would be destroyed   Picture by Jeannie Knight
Bignor resident Scott Greenhalgh at the Horncroft site in 2011, where even the tree line would be destroyed Picture by Jeannie Knight
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The four-year truce between campaigners and sandpit developers in the Midhurst and Petworth area is at an end.

Protestors were fighting proposals for six potential sand quarries at West Lavington, Duncton, Harting, Minsted and near Fittleworth.

It all came to an abrupt halt in July 2011 when West Sussex County Council stopped work on its emerging mineral plan because of ‘uncertainties’.

Among the reasons were the government’s decision to revoke the broader South East Plan which set targets for sand extraction and house building and the need for further discussions with the emerging South Downs National Park Authority.

Now the county council has announced it is producing a joint Minerals Local Plan with the established national park which took over the responsibility for minerals planning on April 1, 2011.

And back in the frame is the West Lavington Hawkhurst Farm site, Duncton Moor, West Heath in Harting and Rogate parishes, Minsted West and Horncroft near Fittleworth.

And this time, sites rejected in 2010 also make a comeback at Severals East and West and Cooper’s Moor at Duncton.

The new player in the game is the national park.

All the sites are inside the boundaries of the park and many objectors will be pinning their hopes on new safeguards.

Midhurst’s county councillor Gordon McAra has already expressed concerns over lorry movements through the town if possible sites nearby are given the go-ahead.

And he said identifying preferred sites in the draft plan, expected to be published next year, would be an’ interesting test’ for the national park’s planners.

“Not only are the proposed extraction sites at odds with the park’s statutory purpose to conserve and enhance the natural beauty and wildlife of the area, but also to protect the residents who enjoy the special qualities of the park.

He said: “The reality would be years of noise and disturbance, massive lorry movements, disturbed wildlife, ripped up landscape and a major loss of amenity to thousands of people.

“If we are trying to enhance the value of Midhurst and the surrounding area, visitors will generate more jobs and more sustainable income than supplying sand to building contractors in London, Croydon and the like.

“If the excavations go ahead, the town will become much less attractive to residents and visitors 
alike and the national park will be perceived by many as having failed in its primary role.”

For the full feature, including details of quarries, locations and the consultation, see this week’s Observer (August 21).