A Devon couple have won the opening skirmish in an attempt to overturn the enforced closure of their stone quarry in the midst of the Dartmoor National Park.
Leonard Van Leeuwen, and his wife Christine, make their livelihood from Blackingstone Quarry, near Bridford, mining fine quality granite for the stone masonry and funeral parlour trades, London's high court heard on Friday.
And their hopes of staying in business have been raised by Judge Michael Rich when he overturned the environment secretary's decision that the quarry should be closed.
But his solicitor, Mr Tony Beard, warned that Judge Rich's decision was 'just another step in a long procedure' that the couple would have to follow in order to keep the quarry open.
Unless the environment secretary now has a change of mind on the quarry's future, Dutch-born Mr Van Leeuwen and his wife may now have to fight their case through a second public planning inquiry.
Mr Van Leeuwen bought a majority interest in the quarry in November 1992 with a view to re-opening it commercially, the court was told. That was a few months after the county council had made an order 'prohibiting the resumption of mineral working' at the quarry which had lain disused since the 1960s.
Mr Van Leeuwen's appeal against the council's order was dismissed by an environment ministry planning inspector last year, and that decision was confirmed by the environment secretary himself in March this year.
The inspector had concluded that the resumption of any 'substantial' mining operations at the quarry in the future was 'unlikely', despite Mr Van Leeuwen's claim that he and others had already begun extracting granite from the site on a commercially viable basis.
Judge Rich said the environment secretary had failed to give 'any explanation at all' why the work being carried out by Mr Van Leeuwen at the quarry was not considered substantial.
'Neither the inspector's findings nor the secretary of state's acceptance of them include any consideration of what would constitute workings of a substantial extent. The decision is therefore deficient in reasons', the judge ruled.
'I have not found that the decision of the secretary of state was irrational, merely that he might rationally have come to a different decision,' he added.
Mr Van Leeuwen had his planning appeal allowed, the secretary of state's decision was overturned, and the quarryer was awarded the action's legal costs.