MAC: Mines and Communities

See an artist's impression of the proposed quarry at:

Published by MAC on 2001-05-01

See an artist's impression of the proposed quarry at:

A Background Briefing now follows:

What is the Harris superquarry?

In 1991 Redland Aggregates applied for planning permission to establish Europe's largest superquarry to extract the aggregates for use in construction from the mountain Roineabhal, near Lingerbay on the island of Harris in the Western Isles.

The plan would involve the removal of 10 million tonnes per year for 60 years (an average UK quarry extracts around 200,000 tpa) and the quarry would extend over an area of 459 hectares. The rock would be exported in bulk sea carriers to the south-east of England for use in road construction at home and overseas. A coalition of groups combined as the LINK Quarry Group to object to the proposal on the grounds of the immense environmental and social impacts.

Fifty times larger than conventional UK quarries, at the end of its life the 459 hectare quarry would leave a crater 370 metres above sea level and 180 metres below it, 1km broad and 2km long. The mountain of Roineabhal would be reduced to a sea loch leaving a scar six times the height of the White Cliffs of Dover.

Who is Lafarge?

Lafarge is a French multi-national who took over Redland Aggregates in 1997 in a hostile bid. They are the world's largest cement manufacturer and second largest aggregates company, they operate in 75 countries with a workforce of 77,000 people and annual sales of 14.6 billion euros. Lafarge also owns Blue Circle Cement.

What do the local community think about the superquarry plans?

Original projections by Redland suggested 100 direct and 100 indirect jobs would be created by the quarry. Originally the local community was found to be 62% in favour, and the Western Isles Council voted to grant the planning permission. However, the Secretary of State for Scotland called in the application and a public local inquiry was set up in October 1994, which would become the longest running public inquiry in Scotland's history.

In May 1995, a referendum on Harris with a turnout of 83% found local residents were now 68% against the quarry, and the local inquiry found that only 33 direct and 10 indirect jobs were likely to be created. The Western Isles Council reversed its support for the quarry and voted to reject the proposal by 21-8. The Scottish Executive finally rejected the superquarry in 2000.

So why the court case next week?

Having had the proposal rejected by the Scottish Executive Lafarge began pursuing two different routes in order to secure a superquarry on Harris:

Route 1: As all companies are entitled to do in any planning decision, Lafarge appealed against the Scottish Executive refusal in 2000 to reject the 1991 application for a superquarry. This case is yet to be heard.

Route 2: In 2001 Lafarge began to pursue a case that consent granted by the now defunct Inverness County Council in 1965 for quarrying at Lingerbay remains valid despite Western Isles Council's refusal to include this on its list of mineral sites. This claim resulted in a brief planning inquiry in 2001 a result of which the Scottish Executive Inquiry Reporters Unit decided it was valid but only for an area of five hectares and not the 600 hectares sought by Lafarge. Lafarge appealed this decision and it is this case that will be heard in Edinburgh next Tuesday.

Why has Lafarge's appeal against the 1991 decision not been determined yet? In 2002 the Scottish Executive announced that they will make a re-determination of its decision to reject the 1991 application. However this is regarded as a 'material consideration" in next week's court case concerning the 1965 consent, therefore no decision will be taken until after the current appeal has reported.

What do environmental groups want now?

Environmental groups opposed the first application by Redland for a superquarry on Harris and continue to be opposed to the proposals. The proposal is socially and environmentally unsustainable and cannot be justified. Aggregate demand has not risen as predicted, and Scotland's only other coastal superquarry is not operating at anywhere near capacity.

The people of Harris have been living under the threat of this quarry for more than 12 years with the consequent uncertainty that this has caused for far too long. Lafarge should withdraw from the court actions and halt its proposals for a superquarry on Harris.

More information: Lang Banks on 0131 554 9977 or (pager) 07654 200937

Lang Banks Press & Information Officer
Friends of the Earth Scotland
Tel: 0131 554 9977

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