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Here you will find news, articles and photos of an area that straddles the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in north-west Wiltshire.
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28th August 2019 - the title photo shows some surface structures in the area of the access shaft to the old Brewer's Yard Quarry at Rudloe Firs. This quarry is long-abandoned but now there is a new proposal for a slope shaft and associated paraphernalia for Hartham Quarry at the northern side of Rudloe Firs (beyond the woodland). The planning application for this proposal has received Wiltshire Council's designation 19/07824/FUL, representations on same must be made by Thursday, 12th September 2019.
As with much of modern life, there is much more to this application than meets the eye. Let's start with a view designated as 'important' by the Wiltshire Landscape Character Assessment of 2004; such important views are further prescribed in Wiltshire Core Strategy Policy 51.
This view from the A4 close to Rudloe Firs looks across the local area in the region of Bradford Road and Park Lane; Bowden Hill lies in the middle distance with Oliver's Camp on the western escarpment of Marlborough Downs beyond. Although shrouded in mist in this view, Pewsey Vale (with the source of the Salisbury Avon close to Burbage) and Salisbury Plain lie further beyond. A timeless view laid down in the Jurassic and Creataceous periods.
The Wiltshire Landscape Character Assessment mentioned above, in addition to the important views, stated that a separation should be maintained between Corsham and outlying settlements such as Rudloe and Neston. This was further affirmed in Corsham Town Council's Strategic Plan 2014-18 and became known as the 'strategic gap'.
So what happened?
So much for plans and strategies which have been formulated over many years at much ratepayer expense. All these count for nothing if a trump card is held; that card is 'sustainable development', held by government. So now, another question - why mention all this here in an article about a proposed new slope shaft beyond Rudloe Firs providing access to Hartham Quarry?
The original plan from the Hanson organisation for a new slope shaft for its Hartham Quarry followed the termination, by the owner of the Pickwick slope shaft, of the agreement for Hartham Quarry access through the Pickwick shaft. A new slope shaft was proposed in the 15-acre field owned by Hanson, pictured above, adjacent to the Bradford Road.
But then Hanson apparently lost, or was persuaded to lose, interest in the Hartham Quarry enterprise by the applicant for the Rudloe Firs slope shaft project, one Nicholas Matthew Middlemas Johnston. Mr Johnston is the principal director of: Vision Motorsport Ltd, Monks Park Minerals Ltd, Flick Quarry Ltd, WANS6 Ltd, Great Tew Properties Ltd, Great Tew & Bantham Estates LLP, GTBH Ltd, Mullin Automotive Museum Ltd, Stone Processing Sales Ltd, The Johnston Quarry Group Ltd (previously Oathill Quarry Ltd), Bantham Holdings Ltd, Hartham Park Minerals Ltd (previously WANS3 Ltd), Bath Stone Group Ltd and The Bath Stone Company Ltd. It is as a director of the last of these, The Bath Stone Company, that Mr Johnston made the application for the Rudloe Firs slope shaft.
But what about the site of the original slope shaft proposed by Hanson in its field adjacent to the Bradford Road? This field had been owned by The Bath & Portland Stone Firms then by Hanson for many years but then in November 2017, the title of the land was given over by Hanson Quarry Products Europe Ltd to Great Tew & Bantham Estates LLP for the princely sum of £1,204 and a transfer of the land was made to Johnston Quarry Group.
There are mining/quarrying reasons for the location of the slope being a better option to the north of the A4 as this is where the extractable stone lies; the stone to the south of the A4 is cross-bedded towards the west (Rudloe) and not economically extractable. However, in the current climate of housing development in every conceivable corner of west Corsham (and everywhere else), Mr Johnston knows that a 15-acre field adjacent to a principal, arterial route in west Corsham is not stone mine material, it is gold mine material thanks to the government's trump card of sustainable development. He has, by design, a 15-acre greenfield development site on his hands; at £1 million per acre for development farmland in southern England, this is a veritable gold mine. So, should the Rudloe Firs slope shaft gain planning approval, watch out for the following planning application for housing in the Bradford Road.
Should this come about, the 'important view', designated in the Wiltshire Landscape Character Assessment and also asserted in Wiltshire Core Strategy Policy 51, from the A4 across local farmland towards Bowden Hill, the Marlborough Downs, Pewsey Vale and Salisbury Plain will be thoroughly ruined. And so much for Corsham Town Council's Strategic Plan of a strategic gap between Corsham and outlying settlements and the avoidance of a west Corsham conurbation. This will be yet another local example, following those of Stafford, Gibbons, Payne and Watt, of landowners making hay (excuse the pun) at the expense of the local community, local and county councils, local services and the landscape including (ironically) farmland and designated, important views.
'Land is by far the greatest of monopolies. Consider the enrichment which comes to the landlord who happens to own a plot of land on the outskirts or at the centre of one of our great cities. The landowner need only wait while other people work and pay taxes to make the city grow more prosperous: building businesses, installing roads and railways, paying for schools and hospitals and public amenities. All the while the land monopolist has only to sit still and watch complacently his property multiplying in value, sometimes manifold, without either effort or contribution on his part; and that is justice!'. This was Winston Churchill's take on landowners.
Now let's move on to the Rudloe Firs site. The field beyond (to the north of) Rudloe Firs was down to barley this year, the barley straw bales are shown in the picture below which was taken from Rudloe Firs; this is the location of the proposed slope shaft. In the grand scheme of things, I suppose it is just by the by that this scheme would result in the loss of a substantial number of mature trees in the Rudloe Firs woodland.
Here, we perhaps have another example of the landowner shafting the local community as well as a quarry. This field is, or was, owned by Guy Stafford - he of the sell-off of 23 acres of farmland in Pickwick to the iniquitous Gladman organisation (an inquiry into that greenfield development is now scheduled for 2020). In July 2019, Stafford sold part of the field, adjacent to Rudloe Firs, to Mr Johnston's Hartham Park Minerals Ltd thus enabling the shaft (and Bradford Road) scheme. Pure speculation of course but I guess that the cut proposed in this field will not be the only one.
But there's something very odd about the application for this new slope shaft. I may well be missing something as the trappings of company and land ownership are deliberately tortuous (in this country!) but two of the names given on the application as 'Owner/Agricultural tenant' vis Jonathan James Norman Cheetham supposedly of 'Darham', Norfolk and Olda Ann Fitzgerald of Glin Castle, Limerick (I say 'supposedly' above as Darham doesn't exist, this should say Dereham) are not owners and they cannot, surely, be agricultural tenants with each living in a remote part of the realm (or outside the realm in the case of Limerick). So who are these two people?
The story will surely continue; watch this space ...
11th September update ...
With regard to the question of the two supposed owners who do not appear on the Land Registry proprietorship register, Sue Maidment has provided the following information: "The grandfather of Olda Ann Fitzgerald, a Mr Wills, was the owner of woodland at Rudloe before ownership passed to Nick Mason; Jonathan James Norman Cheetham is the land agent that manages the woodland as did his father before him".
A further thought ... as of today, 35 people have objected to this application yet not one of those 35 objected to the previous application for the slope shaft in the Bradford Road, less than a half-mile away.
26th September update ...
More than a tad late in reporting that the deadline for representations has been extended to Tuesday 1st October and a reminder that approval of this planning application would result in a 'double whammy', the second part of which would be an application for housing development at the formerly proposed slope shaft site in Bradford Road.