Scrap The Plan

A brief history of mineral extraction in Nutfield

The origins of mineral extraction in Nutfield reaches back as far as the Romans who shallow quarried and dug caves to extract the mineral which came to be known as Fuller’s Earth. It could well be that the character of this mineral was identified prior to this time but it was in Roman times that the mineral first came to notice. What was it that attracted people to the use of this grandly styled diatomaceous earth? The contemporary interest was in its ability to extract oil from sheep’s wool, the oily and matted wool was powdered with the earth which extracted much of the natural oils making the wool easier to full or comb in order to weave into the essential garments of the time.

The use of Fuller’s Earth exceeded the rule of the Romans and it remained in this limited role until the 19th century when its inherent stability and oil seeking nature extended its usefulness in many sectors of life. The material was found to be a stabiliser in the mixing of otherwise unstable explosives which made handling safer without impairing their final purpose. In a less warlike mode Fuller’s Earth became the large component of mainly medical pills as its inert nature rendered it safe as the bulk that carried the medication. It had later an important role in filtration of petro-chemical products and took a role in the processing of such domestic consumables as margarine. Many homes 50 years ago had a bowl of Fullers Earth powder to apply to the scraped knees and other abrasions of young adventurers for whom it was the elixir for quick recovery.

During and after WWII the mineral was classified as being of strategic importance and generous planning concessions were given allowing the extraction of this material, and in 1954 extensive planning permission was granted for the working and winning of Fuller’s Earth and overlying minerals from a large area to the east of Redhill. As a result of this The Fuller’s Earth Company was responsible for numerous workings in Nutfield terminating in the late 1990s by the final exhaustion of accessible and approved sources. In the later stages of local extraction the strategic purpose of the material was largely superseded by its mundane use as a means of removing oil stains from garage floors and as cat litter as its property of holding and deodorising a large bulk of liquid was exploited.

These pictures show earlier quarrying on the Marsh. This horrendous pit is now Glebe Lake; the cottages in the background are Peytons Cottages.

In 1996 a Scheme of Working for the establishment of a quarry, drying tower and all the ancillary plant and roadways on the Mercers Farm site was submitted under the 1954 Planning Permission. There was vigorous local objection, from the newly formed Nutfield Marsh Residents Group, strongly supported by the Nutfield Parish Council and Tandridge District council.The County Council’s officers recommended approval, but the Planning Committee voted to refuse. After a prolonged Inquiry the Inspector ruled against the development on the grounds that no Fuller’s Earth had been proved to underlie the site and the 1954 permission should not be used to extract sand only. The developer appealed and the High Court upheld the Inspector’s decision in 2000.

With the completion of Fuller’s Earth quarrying one might have hoped that the land of Nutfield would have been left to remain the picturesque and natural place it had once been – but this was not to be. As the demand for building and silica sand for foundry work and quality glass making arose during the last half of the 20th century (for the now mainly obsolescent use in television tube manufacture) there was pressure to exploit the rich sand beds which abound in Surrey. The government of the time gave Surrey a large target supply of sand to produce against the then expected demand. This target is now open to grave overestimate particularly in view of the current downturn in building demands.

Ownership of the Mercers Farm site has changed several times over the years, the current owners being J&J Franks. The land owner in the mid 1990s applied to extract this sand from Mercers Farm site based upon the older “strategic” permission granted in 1954 for the quarrying of Fuller’s Earth. At the time the County Council supported the strong local objections to this misuse of the planning process and the inspector rejected the permission on technical grounds. For ten years the matter rested until, with government pressure and certainly in the awareness that there was a modest population to object, Surrey County Council selected Mercers Farm as a favoured PMZ (Preferred Mineral Zone) for soft sand extraction and Chilmead Farm as a reserved area, and despite a host of negative reasons forwarded this territory for extensive and extended future exploitation. We believe J&J Franks will make a planning application to start work at Mercers as soon as the area is confirmed, if not before. Our object is to have the two farms removed from the plan as preferred areas. It is sadly the case that it is often felt that Surrey County Council favours the commercial interests in favour of the voters who put them in power and feels empowered to hasten the event of sand extraction over the many other concerns of both the local and more widespread populations of surrounding villages who will be blighted by the inevitable traffic density.

Reasons for opposition

  1. 1. Defects in the selection and consultation procedure.
  2. 2. Policy of the Coalition Government (See advice from chief Planning Officer)
  3. 3. Transport Road system completely unsuitable for number of HGV’s envisaged.
  4. 4. Degradation of environment – Wildlife, animal and plant, including protected species, leisure activities, cycling – National Cycle Route 21 crosses Nutfield Marsh Road - dog-walking and others. SCC email dated 25 June 2010 states that “The (Surrey Minerals) plan sets out how demand for these minerals can be met without causing significant adverse effect on residents and the environment” (my italics)
  5. 5. Cumulative effect – presence of very large landfill site very close
  6. 6. Very significant increase in number of dwellings close to proposed quarry over past five years – Mercers Farm and especially Watercolour – still enlarging
  7. 7. Noise, pollution, dust – health hazard from particulate matter especially diesel exhaust..

With grateful thanks to Keith Bouracier and Dr John Sowton of the Nutfield Marsh Residents Group for the above information.

The Quarrying Threat Today

The leader of Surrey County Council Andrew Povey, interviewed on the BBC Politics Show back in February 2010, blamed the then Labour Government for the Minerals Plan and said SCC was powerless to stop it. He stated if the Government changed and SCC was given a chance to review it, that would be a ‘valuable freedom’. Not only has the Government changed but the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Rt Honourable Eric Pickles MP, has given SCC that very freedom to reassess their Minerals Policy.

At the time of writing (August 2010) SCC has refused to withdraw or review the Minerals Plan. This is despite overwhelming opposition from very many individuals, local groups, and parish and district councils. Our newly elected MP Sam Gyimah has shown himself to be fully supportive of the local communities who will be affected and his appeals to SCC to withdraw the plan have also been ignored.

The Nutfield Marsh Residents Group is only a handful of local residents who live on the Marsh. We now have the much needed support and backing of Nutfield Parish Council and Nutfield Conservation Society for which we are enormously grateful, and together with them and other local groups we will continue to fight the quarrying threat. Remember, if the Minerals Plan in its present form goes ahead, the surrounding roads from Redhill through Nutfield, Bletchingley, Godstone and on to Oxted will be seriously affected by the incessant movements of large HGV lorries.

We would welcome your comments, feedback and suggestions on this website, or please add your name pledging support for our cause.