Following the Localism Act of 2011, Faringdon has had the opportunity to set out its own priorities for employment land, to fit in with the allocation of housing that has been assigned to the town by the District Council. That process is included as an important part of the Faringdon Neighbourhood Plan.
A study by the Faringdon Chamber of Commerce has shown there is about 33% less land available for jobs in Faringdon than there should be. That’s largely because land where the town’s businesses should be is being allocated for housing. This creates an imbalance and is turning Faringdon into a dormitory town.
The situation will get worse as Faringdon’s population is due to grow by around a third. With the potential to deliver hundreds of jobs and
specifically address the deficit of large employment sites,
Wicklesham Quarry has been included for employment use in the Faringdon
Would it bring more heavy traffic onto the A420?
When Wicklesham Quarry was active, there was already a fair amount of lorry movements into and away from the site. A traffic assessment carried out in 2008 considered the net impact on traffic on the A420 as a result of the quarry changing from a working quarry to a business park. This concluded there would be a minimal change in the number of heavy lorries using the road. What’s more, siting Faringdon’s industry to the South of the A420 would ensure the associated heavy traffic would not snarl up Park Road, which is now getting increasingly busy.
Would it affect the landscape of the town or surrounding countryside?
No. Much of Wicklesham Quarry lies around 10m below the surrounding surface level, and it’s already well screened with mature trees. You’d have a job to see the buildings that could house the businesses that would make Faringdon thrive.
Would development threaten the site’s ecology or geology?
Far from it. We’re committed to protecting the colony of newts, regardless of the fact that the quarry is a naturally unsuitable environment for them, and that’s a statutory requirement anyway.
As for the site’s overall ecological value, this will start from a very low baseline, once the site has been restored. It’ll take commitment, time and considerable resource to bring it to a level that’s befitting. So it makes sense and would bring better results if this work is focused towards the quarry’s outer perimeter against the protected walls and funded as part of a wider development plan.
The quarry’s status as an SSSI means we are prohibited from doing anything that would jeopardise its geological value, and it would contravene the core principles of any right-minded landowner to do so. Natural England has been consulted as part of the neighbourhood plan and accepts the quarry’s use as employment land, providing the quarry walls are preserved. It’s also asked that managed access to the important fossils in the quarry walls is provided, which could be readily accommodated by its use as an employment site.
Would the site flood?
The quarry base, although low, lies well above the water table, and ground-water monitoring has shown it’s a low-risk site for flooding.
What other measures are there to ensure it’s a responsible development?
The Neighbourhood Plan is a strategic document, so will not grant planning permission to start building in the quarry – any application would still have to follow the usual planning process. The Plan safeguards it for employment uses, but requires that development will only be supported on this site if no other suitable sites closer to the town centre are available, providing there is demonstrable need and subject to the following criteria:
i) appropriate transport mitigation is provided; and
ii) appropriate provision is made within the site for pedestrians and cyclists; and
iii) the proposed employment development does not have a detrimental impact on the relationship between the site and the wider landscape in which it sits; and
iv) appropriate ecological mitigation and enhancement measures are incorporated into the proposals; and
v) any development would not result in demonstrable harm to the geological special interest of the site; and
vi) employment proposals should incorporate measures to provide access to the protected site for the visiting public.
The above conditions have been included following consultation with Natural England to ensure the site is protected from unsuitable development.
So why is there opposition to the plan?
Residents of Little Coxwell parish have been the main objectors to the plan to develop the site. Wicklesham Quarry lies wholly within the Faringdon parish, and none of these residents live within a mile of the site. Nor can they see it, because Galley Hill lies in the way. So they would not be directly affected.
But concerned parishioners of Little Coxwell are cautious that overturning the current planning condition to return the site to agricultural land will create an “unwelcome precedent”. This may mean the new quarry site, located just outside the village, will also be developed. Unlike Faringdon, there is no justifiable need for employment land provision in the Little Coxwell parish, which explains the concern. Members of the parish council are also wary of the perceived risk that interested parties may seek to use planning policy to their own material benefit against the wishes of their fellow parishioners.
While the concern is understandable, it’s a clear indication that both planning policy and landowners should always be guided by the priorities of the parish in which the land in question is located. Any requirement to develop land for employment use should only be done with the consent and in consultation with the community within that parish.
What non-business benefits can the site bring if it is developed?
There’s evidence that shops and other local amenities suffer in towns where the large majority of its working population are forced to commute to work. Providing more jobs within Faringdon would therefore provide shops with more daytime footfall and other local services and amenities with more custom. It’s this daily interaction that lies at the heart of a thriving community, and that’s what the neighbourhood plan aims to achieve.
We’re now working with the Oxfordshire Geological Society on a plan that will provide good access to the quarry for the long term. This includes a 10m non-development exclusion zone around the quarry walls.
So if the site is developed, no more than three quarters of the area will be built on, with resource channelled into ensuring the rest provides a rich local resource that preserves and celebrates the geological heritage.
The aim is a development plan that’s not only sympathetic with the quarry’s SSSI status, but makes the most it. Only through developing the land can we channel resource into ensuring Wicklesham Quarry lives up to its status as an internationally recognised site, as well as providing the much-needed jobs for Faringdon.