ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners in Somerset have secured the future of an historic woodland after plans to reopen a nearby quarry were partially withdrawn.

Hanson UK (now Heidelberg Materials) put forward four sets of plans back in 2021 to reopen Westdown Quarry, which is just off the A361 between Frome and Shepton Mallet.

Each of the four applications identified different parcels of land which could either be quarried or used for storing soil and other waste materials – one of which was the ‘quarry void’ near the locally cherished Asham Wood.

Local campaigners and Green Party councillors are now celebrating after plans to redevelop the Asham Wood area for quarrying were withdrawn – with a decision on the remaining elements being expected within a matter of months.

Asham Wood covers nearly 141 hectares (347 acres) in the Mendip Hills, lying between the villages of Leigh-upon-Mendip and Nunney to the north of the A361.

The site – which was designated a site of special scientific interest in 1963 – is currently surrounded by several actively working quarries, including the Whatley Quarry which is operated by Heidelberg Materials.

The land was famously used as a location for the classic Doctor Who serial Time and the Rani, which was first broadcast in 1987.

The site was acquired by quarrying firm arc in 1985, but was abandoned in 1998 after planning permission had lapsed.

Hanson representatives promised in early-2022 that if Westdown Quarry was reopened, the wood would be “seamlessly extended” and enhanced through improved access for pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians.

But numerous protesters, including local resident Richard Mawer, said the proposals would cause “significant harm” to the Mendip Hills and go ahead with the UK’s ongoing efforts to combat climate change.

Somerset County Gazette: The floor of Westdown Quarry near Frome.The floor of Westdown Quarry near Frome. (Image: Daniel Mumby)

Speaking in early-2022, he said: “This application will take out around 200 acres of Westdown Farm land and dump the overburden into the disused and regenerating Asham Quarry, in order to quarry around 160 million tonnes of stone over many decades, causing a huge increase in lorry traffic – and all this right next to the ancient and species-rich Asham Wood.

“This will produce an estimated 40 jobs, but in the process will cause significant harm to some of the Mendips’ most nature-rich sites and destroy any chance of Mendip, Somerset and the UK keeping to our net zero carbon targets to stop further climate breakdown.”

Trystan Mabbitt, Heidelberg Materials’ consenting and development manager, laid out the rationale behind the withdrawn in a letter dated May 7, which has been published in full on the council’s planning portal.

He said: “Conscious that remaining reserves in our nearby Whatley quarry are becoming increasingly constrained, we took the step in November 2023 to simplify the scheme with a revised proposal concentrating solely on a scheme within the confines of Westdown, in the hope that this would help resolve queries raised by the council’s legal team about Asham Quarry void’s inclusion in aspects of the scheme.

“This resulted in us effectively putting all parts of the scheme involving the Asham Quarry void (including the significant legacy aspect of our proposed scheme) into abeyance.

“In hindsight it appears that this has been misinterpreted by some. So, for the avoidance of doubt, we are now withdrawing in full the application relating to Asham quarry void previously placed into abeyance.

“It is our firm belief that this move should remove any outstanding ambiguities concerning our Westdown proposals.

“Given that all issues raised by statutory consultees have now been satisfactorily resolved, this should allow for our application to be forwarded to the next appropriate planning committee for determination.”

The three remaining applications will be determined in due course by the council’s strategic planning committee, which makes decisions on planning applications relating to quarries, waste processing facilities, new schools and other essential infrastructure.

The company intends for Westdown Quarry to handle local demand using road haulage on the arterial A361, leaving Whatley Quarry to focus on supplying national infrastructure projects through its mainline rail link.

Somerset County Gazette: Councillor Martin Dimery has welcomed the news.Councillor Martin Dimery has welcomed the news. (Image: Somerset Council)

Councillor Martin Dimery, whose Frome West division borders the quarry, has welcomed the news of the withdrawal.

Mr Dimery serves as a substitute member on the strategic planning committee, and is standing for the Greens in the Frome and East Somerset constituency (which includes Asham Wood) at the next general election.

He said: “We are delighted that Asham Wood is to be preserved. It is an important area of natural beauty and biodiversity.

“Green councillors are united in our opposition to the areas being turned into an industrial waste dump.”