THE possible harm to Woodsford’s fortified 14th century farmhouse has been at the centre of a planning battle.

The operators of the adjoining quarry want to extend operations but residents, the Thomas Hardy Society and the parish and Dorset Council say it would harm the Grade 1 listed Woodford Castle and its setting.

They have argued that the minerals could be extracted elsewhere at the quarry without any harm to the historic building – but the site operators say that is not the case and they need to expand the business in the way that they want.

The company, Hills Quarry Products, appealed against Dorset Council when it failed to determine the application in time – resulting in several days of hearings at a public inquiry in Dorchester this week, culminating in a visit to the site yesterday.

Experts lined up on both sides over several days – those for the company claiming there would be no harm at all to the castle and its setting, others arguing that varying degrees of harm would be caused if the new application for new silt lagoons were agreed.

Historic England’s experts said in their opinion there would be some harm, backing a refusal of the application.

The public inquiry heard claims of a detrimental effect from the expanded operations on footpaths, views, noise and dust while Woodsford Quarry’s operators said without digging more sand and gravel the county’s supplies of materials for building would be restricted.

Planning inspector Graham Dudley was asked to balance the need to protect the historic site against the ‘public good’ of being able to maintain supplies from the quarry.

The application to form new silt lagoons to serve the existing processing plant at the quarry was submitted in November 2018 and should have been decided by February 7th 2019. Some of the lagoons and protective earth bunds would be just over 400metres from the Castle, which is run by the Landmark Trust and is rated as being in the top 2.5 per cent of Grade 1 listed buildings in the country.

The inquiry heard that the 10-year average output for the quarry has been around 175,000 tonnes which Hills wanted to double, but claimed it had been constrained by the lack of silt lagoon capacity. Work is expected to continue at the quarry until at least 2026.

The figure was queried by the barrister for Dorset Council, Stephanie Hall, who said the evidence was that there had been a three-year fall for aggregate demand in Dorset, not an increase in demand.

Mr Charlie Hopkins, for the parish council, said national planning policies emphasised the need to protect listed buildings and their settings.

“Woodsford Castle is the pre-eminent fortified house in the south west – a remarkable example which has irrefutable associations with Thomas Hardy,” he said, asking the Inspector to protect it from the proposed quarry expansion.

But Richard Wald, for Hills, argued there would be no significant effect on the Castle from changes at the quarry and that planning laws allowed for the application to go ahead: “There is an urgent need for additional lagoon capacity at Woodsford Quarry, without which the Dorset Council will experience a significant shortfall in its 7-year aggregates landbank. Great weight should be attached to the benefits of mineral extraction and there is no shortage of such benefits in this case,” he said.

“The proposal will cause no harm to the significance of Woodsford Castle or any other heritage asset.”