Resident Wins, UK Loses Case of the Abandoned Quarry

LONDON, UK, January 7, 2004 (ENS) - A resident of England has won a environmental decision before Europe's highest court against the government of the United Kingdom.

The European Court of Justice has ruled against the UK in a dispute over the reopening of old, abandoned quarries. The ruling strengthens the European Union's environmental impact assessment law.

In a judgement today, a three judge panel said abandoned quarries originating before the EU law entered force must undergo impact assessments before they are reopened.

The dispute was referred to Europe's highest court by the High Court of Justice of England and Wales, Queen's Bench Division, following a case brought by a resident living near the disused Conygar quarry in southwest England.

The resident, Delena Wells, complained that no environmental assessment had been carried out when the quarry's owner was granted permission to resume operations there in 1999.

Conygar Quarry, in the North Somerset area near the town of Clevedon, is a source of Pennant sandstone. The quarry is divided into two sections, of slightly more than 7.5 hectares each, separated by a road on which Wells's house is situated. Wells bought her house in 1984, 37 years after the quarry permission had been granted, but at a time when the quarry had long been dormant. However, in June 1991 operations recommenced for a short period.


View over the town of Clevedon on England's Bristol Channel (Photo courtesy Clevedon Civic Society)
Beginning in 1991, the owner had sought permission to reopen the quarry permanently, and the British authorities, in several stages from then until 1999, imposed 54 planning conditions, but did not require and environmental impact assessment as required under EU law.

"The site is recognized to be environmentally extremely sensitive. The area in or adjacent to which the quarry lies is subject to several designations of nature and environmental conservation importance," the judges wrote.

According to the EU's environmental impact assessment law, adopted in 1985, projects likely to affect the environment can receive "development consent" only after an impact assessment has been carried out.

The UK government argued that the original consent to develop the quarry was granted in 1947 and that, since the directive is not retrospective, it was exempt from the law.

But the court rejected this. The judges said the decision to allow the owners the rework the quarry after years of redundancy was equivalent to granting development consent under the terms of the law, since without it the original consent would have expired.

The UK must "remedy" the situation, the Court of Justice ruled, adding that a national court must decide whether this means closing the quarry or compensating the resident.

Wells may shortly have some millionaire neighbors. The area around Conygar Quarry in East Clevedon again is being considered for development of houses - some that are affordable but others that could carry a price tag of one million pounds.

Clevedon, a town of 23,000, is situated on the the Bristol Channel Coast, and was once a popular Victorian seaside resort.

Developers behind plans to build more than 40 homes at the abandoned Clevedon quarry are to appeal against a council decision to reject the plan in March 2003, the "North Somerset Times" reports.

The Clevedon council claimed the developers' plan, which would include a wildlife area, should be turned down on as adjacent Nortons Wood Lane is too narrow to accommodate extra traffic.

While it is a brownfield site, the UK government guidance encourages the use of brownfield sites for housing development.

The long standing dispute concerning the future of Conygar Quarry has cast a blight over East Clevedon, but the European Court of Justice's ruling today may have cracked that barrier to development.

{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news.}