Letter: Backyard ballast

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The Independent Culture
Sir: For the last few months south Oxford has been living through a nightmare. It could happen elsewhere.

A private company has established an industrial work-site adjacent to our local park and only 200 yards upwind of an open-air swimming pool, houses, a nursery school and a day centre. It is within the City of Oxford and in the Green Belt and does not have planning permission. Across all parties, both city and county councils and Oxford's two MPs have opposed the development, but to no avail. For this is one company that does not need planning permission.

Where we used to sit by our peaceful lake looking across to the countryside, we now have an excavator towering over a ballast heap, 1,000 feet long by 50 feet wide and rapidly growing towards its target height of 15 feet. A throughput of 200,000 tonnes of granite per year will be unloaded from trucks on to the stockpile and then back from pile to trucks.

The drone of the excavator, the crashings of the grab and the scrape of metal on metal cannot be shut out of houses. But this private company is immune from prosecution for noise nuisance.

The company is Railtrack, which has "permitted development rights" of breathtaking scope.

At present the matter rests with the Secretary of State. He can support the community and its elected representatives and require such a development in a sensitive site to be properly assessed. Or he can suppress the democratic voice.

This is one of 13 "virtual quarries" across the UK and no doubt part of a logistically sound ballast supply scheme. But it should be in an industrial area and not in anyone's back yard.