A council planning department which has repeatedly been accused of siding with big business, overlooking environmental concerns and failing residents has come under fire again for allowing a quarrying firm to continue operations for five years without planning permission.
A meeting of North Yorkshire County Council’s planning committee heard some Catterick Village residents feared inhaling dust blown from the nearby Pallet Hill Quarry could lead to latent deadly lung diseases, or impact on children and elderly people with conditions such as asthma.
The concerns were raised as councillors considered Breedon Trading’s application to extend the 62-hectare quarry site beside Catterick Racecourse and to just 100 metres from homes in Bishops Close and St Paulinus Crescent.
The firm was also applying to extend the operation by eight years to extract a further 371,000 tonnes of mineral.
In a statement to the committee, Catterick resident Helen Wemyss said trucks moving in and out of the quarry were leaving a trail of debris and dust on Leeming Lane and that fine dusts such as silica when inhaled into lungs could lead to immune system issues and silicosis.
The meeting heard while quarrying firms were legally bound to provide their staff with protective breathing equipment, there were no restrictions on how close a quarry could be to homes.
Ms Wemyss said: “I am therefore calling on the council to put the health of local people first and keep quarrying work well away from the areas where people live.”
However, when asked about potential actions to tackle dust concerns, officers said there was already a dust action plan for the site, which would not be updated with the latest application as it was considered to be acceptable.
It then emerged that despite such planning applications being so complex firms must usually wait years to gain consent, Breedon had not lodged a planning application for its proposal until 2017, the year the consent it had been given in 1993 to quarry there expired.
Officers told members since 2017 quarrying had since been allowed to continue unchallenged, despite such operations being subject to numerous regulations due to serious potential consequences.
Councillor Mike Jordan asked whether the authority had launched enforcement action over the long-term major breach of planning consent.
The authority’s head of planning Vicky Perkin said it would not have been “a reasonable approach” to launch enforcement against Breedon Trading as it had lodged an application before its previous permission expired.
She added: “We have had Covid and everything else and there has been a number of issues that have cropped up during the processing of the application that has meant it has taken until now to get the item to members.”
Ahead of the committee approving the scheme, Coun Jordan said he was puzzled why the firm had even bothered applying for planning permission, and said the five years it had operated at the site in breach of consent was “indicative of the way” the planning department operated.