CAMPAIGNERS have hit out after it was revealed gravel extraction in Oxfordshire could jump by 40 per cent to more than one million tonnes a year.

Oxfordshire County Council’s draft strategy, approved by cabinet on Tuesday, would see 1.015m tonnes extracted annually for the next 15 years.

The figure rose by 41 per cent a year, from 715,000 tonnes, after a consultation this year with specialist gravel extraction consultancy firms and neighbouring county councils.

Residents of four southern Oxfordshire villages are already fighting a proposed 160-hectare site between Clifton Hampden, Appleford and Long Wittenham.

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Swindon-based aggregates firm Hills says five million tonnes of gravel could be extracted over the 20-year lifespan of the site – 250,000 tons a year.

But Clifton Hampden resident Ian Mason, 52, said: “Nobody wants to live next to a dusty, noisy gravel pit with lorries going past all day.

“The blight starts on your property value when there is potential extraction in your area.”

Each county council has to calculate its own figure for sand and gravel extraction to help meet the need for aggregates in the construction industry.

Officers speaking at the meeting on Tuesday said raising the figure would increase the chance of the strategy being approved by a government inspector.

It is not yet clear where the extra gravel would be extracted and if new pits would have to be dug.

There are 10 active and permitted gravel sites in Oxfordshire, including Lafarge Tarmac, at Caversham, Hanson Aggregates, at Sutton Courtenay, and Cassington’s Hanson Aggregates.

Mr Mason said the new draft strategy came as a shock after the cabinet rejected a previous proposal to increase the extraction target last November.

Councillors then agreed to use a 10-year rolling average of gravel extraction as a predictor for how much it will need in coming years, but the figure in the new draft strategy has exceeded it.

Cabinet member David Nimmo Smith justified the higher figure saying: “We don’t want to be in a position of prejudicing being a growth county.

“We need to meet supply and demand.”

Officers said at the meeting that the rolling average was a starting point, but that they had also considered the fact 100,000 houses were due to be built in Oxfordshire in the next 15 years.

Dorchester resident John Taylor said: “The county council has completely ignored parish councils and communities.”

County councillor Anne Purse, deputy director of the council’s minerals and waste cabinet advisory group, said: “Digging up gravel makes money for businesses but it’s a loss for everyone else; it’s a loss of countryside, quietness and peace.”

She said: “We have to be sure this is the right amount because if it isn’t we will be doing such a disservice to the people of Oxfordshire.”

The draft strategy was approved by five votes, with three absentions, and has to be approved by a government inspector next year.

The extraction process

  • In open cast gravel and sand extraction, diggers are used to excavate wide areas of land that have sand and gravel-rich soil
  • These sites are often near rivers as the water can be used to wash the aggregate
  • The materials extracted are widely used in the construction industry, for example in making cement, and quarries often have cement plants on site

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