TARMAC Northern's submission of a revised planning application to quarry land near the Thornborough henges ancient monument site increases the stakes in this long-running saga.
The company has already appealed against North Yorkshire County Council's refusal of the original application to quarry 45 hectares. This new application - for 31 hectares - is Tarmac's tactical fall-back position. If it can't have the whole site, seeking permission for a lesser area may be a means of dealing with some of the conservation/archaeological objections. It perhaps is also a signal of the company's intention to take this battle to the next stage - a legal one - should the Government planning inspector dismiss Tarmac's appeal.
The pressure is unquestionably stepped up on the county council, which will in due course decide whether to grant the revised application permission. That process will once more concentrate minds on the status of the setting of the henges and to what extent it is critical to the henge complex as a whole. Does the removal of 14 hectares of farmland closest to one of the three henges make a difference to archaeologists who say the monuments are more than the three circular earthworks and that the surrounding landscape is just as important if we are to understand their significance?
Our understanding of the concerns of the county council and English Heritage is that those 14 hectares will not make a great deal of difference to the conservation argument which, taken to its limit, suggests that an even wider area, including the Devil's Arrows at Boroughbridge, is a vast landscape of prehistoric significance.
It is a fiendishly difficult issue for the county council to deal with. The conservationists have already demonstrated how important it is in their eyes. The issue's importance to Tarmac Northern is now also underlined.