This September, members of my local community discovered that a 65 hectare site located just of the A10 in fields between Harston and Haslingfield, and including a popular riverside bridleway, had been submitted to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Joint Minerals and Waste planning team as a possible site for mineral (sand and aggregate) extraction and waste disposal.
Our horror was universal. Many of us walk these fields daily, and have delighted in the annual wildflower displays and our sightings of otters, water voles, barn owls, terns, and many other species. Residents of Harston were appalled that the extraction plan predicted up to 80 lorry trips a day traveling in and out on the A10, in that section almost entirely residential and already choked with traffic due to existing new developments along it.
People tagged me in the social media uproar, because they knew I was a greenie and had already tried to organise a community purchase of another nearby meadow.
My immediate reaction, though, was conflict. Obviously, like my neighbours, I didn’t want this to happen. But objecting on the grounds that we didn’t want a mine in our backyard left a bad taste in my mouth. After all, the amazing “progress” of the developed world so far - our sprawling cities, our transport networks, our endless economic growth, our tracts of single family homes - has all been ennabled through mineral exploitation, as this article succinctly points out. As long as we believe in the story that continued endless growth and development is necessary, we must also accept that endless resources are necessary, and given that most of the resources we currently extract from the ground go back into landfill, and are not recycled or reused, that means endless new sources of virgin materials. (Even if we were reusing everything, by the way, that couldn’t keep up with growth). In other words, if it’s not our backyard, it will be someone else’s, and that someone else, especially if it’s an overseas source, may not have the high environmental standards, for protecting and restoring extraction and landfill sites, that we do.
Try this exercise. Look around whatever room you are in and try to identify the materials that all the things around you are made from. Ceramics, glass, plaster and metals? They come from minerals extraction. The glass over that picture in your living room was once sand, maybe from under the sea or extracted from the soil of a pretty meadow. Similarly the pigments used in the artwork - many come from mineral sources. The screen of your TV as well as its components. Everything in your phone, tablet or laptop. The metal frames of your furniture, fittings of your light fixtures, handles on your doors - that comes from mining. Your jewelry, your plates, your knives and forks, your toys, your souvenirs, your impulse buys. Every time you replace them or buy more, you’re probably buying things made from virgin materials, ripped from the ground or dredged from the sea. Now multiply your purchases by the 60 million people in the UK, the 250 million in the US, the 500+ million in the EU. Are you surprised that we are running out of resources, and that the wolf of consumption is now at your back door?
Nevertheless, I did submit an objection to the extraction plan, with signatures from 64 local citizens. You can see what I wrote here. I included all the reasons my neighbours and I objected: loss of a treasured amenity; increased traffic and health risks from diesel lorries; threats to the local wildlife and river quality. But I also tried to present a challenge to the agenda of growth. Growth is what we now have to get rid of. What we need is de-growth - to shrink the amount of land and resources given over to development and switch to a circular, waste-free system, where we value materials as they should be and never throw them away. Where we change what we value away from things and accumulation and toward conservation and a genuine feeling of community which understands that some can’t have too much while others lose it all.
By the way, the current state of the submission is that the planning authority informed me it was not taking public comment on individual land submissions at this stage. This is because submission does not mean acceptance. The authority will be reviewing submissions and deciding upon which, if any, they would like to move forward on in Spring 2019, at which point the public will be invited to comment. To be informed of their decisions, you can register on the planning portal.