CONTROVERSIAL plans to mine millions of tonnes of sand and gravel in Swallowfield have been defended by a Farley Estate boss.

Construction company CEMEX is hoping to excavate the land at Bridge Farm despite opposition from residents, who worry the works will cause disruption and damage to the surrounding area.

But Natalie Gaibani, Chief Operations Officer at Farley Estate and daughter of landowner Viscount Bearstead, played down residents’ fears.

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She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “We have had to review our operations because we had a dairy farm which has not made money.

“The gravel mining is not something we want to do but it is something that will leave the farmland restored at the end of it.

“It is not building houses, it is not doing anything permanent.

“If we could afford to keep the estate as lovely fields then we would.”

Residents have also raised concerns about the financial position of CEMEX after the company posted losses of £664 million and £738 million in the last two years respectively.

Ms Gaibani claimed a number of companies approached the estate to inquire about mining works, but CEMEX stood out for the farm’s bosses.

“CEMEX had the best record for restoration for what they leave behind.

“That’s the most important thing to my family.

“The point is to put it in an inoffensive place.”

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Writing in the latest edition of the Swallowfield Parish Newsletter, Ms Gaibani suggested Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) planning chiefs could make a decision on the plans, which have been pending consideration for more than 16 months following a public consultation, in September 2019.

She now admits a 2020 committee decision is more likely and remains hopeful officers and councillors will come together to give the plans the all-clear given the high number of homes being built around Wokingham borough.

She said: “These extra homes will need extra gravel so if they can bring it from here it is not an extra movement, it is a movement that goes less distance.

“Nobody wants lorries to be travelling the length of the country. It is better to have them near to where they are going to.”

Should the plans go ahead, CEMEX would pay the estate a fee up front for being allowed to dig up sand and gravel, and would also pay an amount per tonne sold.

The owners of the site did not want to sell the land as they hope to be able to use it as farmland in the future, and also due to fears space could be turned into ground for developers to build more houses on.

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Assuming plans are given permission by WBC, the extraction of 3.6 million tonnes of sand and gravel could last more than a decade.

A public consultation on the plans saw WBC receive nearly 300 comments from residents, with some claiming they would not have bought a property in the area had they known about the proposal when discussions first began in 2004.

Swallowfield homeowner Alan Marvin told the LDRS: “We have had this planning application marked out for more than 2 years.

“It has stopped people being able to sell their houses, downsize and move away.

“There is no reason for this appalling delay for two years.

“It is a beautiful part of the countryside and there is no need for it to be dug up.”

Ms Gaibani said she knew the application was “controversial”, but that the estate would not let the area turn to ruin.

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She urged the public to get in touch with the estate if they had any questions or comments about the project.