The threat of sand quarries across the Midhurst and Petworth area has returned after the initial report from a government planning inspector.
Jonathan Manning has indicated he is likely to call for the complete removal of the soft sand strategy from the emerging joint Minerals Plan produced by South Downs National Park and West Sussex County Council.
In his initial notification following examination hearings last month, Mr Manning said it was due to concerns it was ‘not justified or consistent with national policy’.
Following discussions at the hearings he believed the best way forward was for a ‘focused single issue soft sand review of the plan’ to be completed after the adoption of the rest of the joint minerals plan.
“This would ensure the plan can be adopted in a timely manner, without the potential for significant delay.”
It will come as a shock to campaigners who fought for more than a decade against threats to seven sites in the Midhurst and Petworth area, including sites at Hawkhurst Farm, West Lavington and The Severals near Midhurst.
They had been hoping their battles were over when in March last year the county council and the national park published their draft minerals plan ditching all sand quarry sites inside the national park.
Instead only Ham Farm at Steyning, outside the park, was allocated for soft sand extraction.
As campaigners try to digest what the inspector’s initial view will mean for their areas, chairman of Bepton Parish Council, Howard Ewing told the Observer: “We would be very concerned if this meant the sites at the Severals came back into play.
“There are very serious environmental, conservation, habitats and traffic issues which should rule out the Severals sites in planning terms, not to mention make them non-viable.
“Bepton Parish Council will watch the next stages with interest.”
At West Lavington where there was a huge outcry when the Hawkhurst Farm site appeared in the list of potential sites as far back as 2010, there is now new concern.
Chairman of the parish council Mike Thomas said: “We should all be very concerned. It goes back on what the national park is all about which is to protect, enhance and develop the environment without making big holes in it.”
Midhurst town councillor Gordon McAra, who voiced fears about the preferred sites in 2014, added: “The possibility of the government ordering the national park to make sand quarries available is appalling.”
Speaking on behalf of those who opposed quarry plans at Minsted West, Michael Crawford said: “Residents are disappointed to learn following the examination of the Joint Minerals Local Plan the appointed inspector does not appear to have accepted the national park authority’s carefully prepared strategy to provide for future needs of soft sand from sources outside the national park, so protecting an area of national importance.
“They will be interested to see and understand the full reason for this view when the inspector’s full report is made available next year. In the meantime, residents will be asking the park to redouble its efforts to show alternative sources of soft sand would be available elsewhere in the South East, including possibly sea won sources, and their strategy does comply with national planning policies.
“Any wider review giving rise to uncertainty is considered unnecessary against the current background of dormant and unrestored sandpits in the park, including Minsted.”
A spokesman for the South Downs National Park Authority said: “The Minerals Plan inspector has confirmed he is likely to recommend the deletion of the soft sand strategy from the draft joint West Sussex Mineral Plan and recommended the authorities undertake a separate single issue review of soft sand.
“We are encouraged no other major issues have been raised at this time. We will work closely with West Sussex to progress the joint Mineral Plan to adoption. Both authorities will now need to consider what action needs to be taken to address the inspector’s recommendations on the separate soft sand review.”
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