Lafarge Aggregates Ltd (ex Redland Aggregates)
Isle of Harris Superquarry Briefing
This page was originally created when I was one amongst many individuals and organisations who successfully fought against the proposed Isle of Harris superquarry. It is retained both for historical purposes and because I subsequently agreed to serve (unpaid) on Lafarge's Sustainability Stakeholder Panel. An index of the page and its linked pages, including why I sit on their Panel and what it achieves, is below.
Mt Roineabhal (right) from St Clement's Church, Rodel
(Photo: Alastair McIntosh 2003, may be freely reproduced)
By strange coincidence, St Clement is the patron saint of stone workers.
His martyrdom entailed being put to work as a slave in a quarry!
He was one of the earliest church fathers and his sermons
concentrated on social justice and the way that
jealousy undermines community.
The following was issued to media and key MSPs in the Scottish Executive on 11 July 2000, to tie in with Lesley Riddoch’s BBC Radio Scotland phone-in broadcast from Harris. Literally minutes before the programme started, the BBC’s environment correspondent, Louise Bachelor, came into the Edinburgh broadcasting studio where I was waiting. She had with her the Scottish Executive’s press release, which had just arrived, making environment minister Sarah Boyack’s dramatic announcement that Harris is to be considered for Europe’s highest conservation status as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Informed sources tell me that this means the Scottish Executive are actively looking for a way to say “no” to the quarry without subjecting themselves to a legal challenge by Lafarge Redland. Such is a round-about way of doing things, but given the realities of corporate power, it may be an intelligent way.
McIntosh, 01592 891829, (11-7-00)
Section 8:42-49 of the 1998 draft inquiry reporter's report states that 150 tonnes of explosive are required per million tonnes of rock output, which at the maximum of 12 million tonnes output per annum would equate with about 36 tonnes of explosive use per week, or 82,500 tonnes over the quarry's 60-year life in producing an estimated total of 550 million tonnes of rock. As the Hiroshima bomb had an explosive yield equivalent to 13,000 tonnes of high explosive, the Harris proposal (with some variation according to equivalence in the types of explosive used, which is not stated in the draft inquiry report), is equivalent to slightly over six of these.
It has been drawn to my attention that 12 million tonnes per annum equates with more than 82,500 tonnes of explosive. However, this apparent discrepancy is because, at the beginning and end of its life, the quarry would not be running at full production. It is therefore best to base the calculation on total production rather than week-by-week output.
One might ask, "Why, then, bother to show that at peak production of 12 million tonnes per annum it would use 36 tonnes of explosive a week? Would it not be fairer to use the average annual production figure, which is 9.16 million tonnes which equates with the less dramatic sum of about 27 tonnes of explosive a week?" The answer is that the 12 million tonne figure has been widely used in the public inquiry because, being the peak which will apply for most of the quarry's life, that is the figure of most consequence in determining what the likely consequences of blast would be to the surrounding area.
We can't claim to be "against" something unless we understand the arguments "for." Here, and to be used only in context with the above and the broader arguments elsewhere in this website, is my understanding of the pro-quarry supporters' case. The statements that follow may not be cited as if they are "my words" - they are, rather, an attempt to encapsulate the arguments used by others. Many who support the quarry are people of goodwill. Doing this shows respect to them, but let me be quite clear that I consider most of these points, persuasive though they superficially are, to be distorted or based on highly partial information. For example, if you take point 7, it is a cogent point, but only until you ask why Britain recycles so little of its used aggregate, whether demand is for necessary or profligate purposes, and especially, whether aggregate ought come from areas that are already desecrated (such as Glensanda) rather than opening up new pristine and opencast sources. In short, it's always easy to make money shine.
1. The quarry will create jobs for Harris and therefore save a dying culture. And these will be tough jobs for real men - not soft tourism jobs. The inquiry report finds that 33 direct jobs will be created for Harris and a further 10 by multiplier effect. However, this on its own is a gross underestimate. In all, the report concludes that 110 jobs will be created including the ones outside of Harris - most of which will be in Lewis and therefore of benefit to the region. Furthermore, the inquiry report acknowledges that these estimates are conservative, and it is the view of Lafarge Redland Aggregates that the actual number of jobs, including multiplier effects, could be more like double that figure.
2. The superquarry concept has been dubbed by its "father," Mr Ian Wilson, "the catalytic superquarry concept." This is because it will catalyse other industry and this effect will generate sustainable development lasting long after the quarry has finished. As such, the area around a superquarry should be considered as being a "crofting enterprise zone."
3. Redland have a proven commitment to environmental restoration. They give money to environmental charities. Their executives and shareholders have a conscience. They could not live with themselves if they thought they were in the business of "raping the Highlands." In any case, the planning conditions to which they have enthusiastically agreed will not allow them to do this. Neither will they allow unnecessary work to be undertaken on the Sabbath.
4. Fears about ballast water contamination and translocated species have been grossly exaggerated by environmentalists and the fishfarming and fishing industry. Redland have recognised this issue and risen, responsibly, to addressing it by developing the most rigorous standards for ballast water management in the world.
5. Far from chasing away other jobs in tourism, the quarry will be a spectacle that visitors will come and wonder at. Ships coming to collect aggregate will be able to import cargo to the islands cheaply and thereby undercut the high prices charged by the state-subsidised Caledonian MacBrayne.
6. The idea of a quarry as a dusty, noisy, unhealthy place is an anachronism. Modern quarries, of the type that Redland manage, cause so little environmental impact that often the people living nearby hardly know it's there ... until the wage packet thumps down on the kitchen table at the end of the week.
7. This quarry will be 50 times larger than existing large (200,000 tonnes per annum) British quarries. By substituting aggregate usage from smaller quarries, it will help to prevent the further pockmarking of southern England and continental Europe. If aggregate is needed, is it not better to have it all drawn from a small number of places? Yes, demand has slumped since the public inquiry projections were made, but this was only due to the environmental lobby having undermined Britain's road-building programme. Long-term, demand is sure to rise again, and this will make superquarrying a sustainable industry. From both an industrial and an environmental point of view, therefore, superquarries are a visionary concept.
8. The people of Harris really want the quarry. They were perhaps as much as 90% in favour of it initially, and a recent poll by the Coastal Quarry Local Supporters Group support an earlier TV station's telephone poll suggesting that they remain broadly in favour of it. The quarry, as many local people will tell you, "is the only salvation for Harris." Inasmuch as they may have wavered on this, it was only because of misleading and manipulative information put out by environmentalists and theologians who have an antipathy to progress and development. This comes from a romantic attachment to a bygone age of hardship that, as depopulation proves, is something that Harris people no longer want.
9. Redland will share some of their profits with the community on Harris. Probably about £50,000 a year will go into a Community Benefit Fund. In a community of just 2,000 people, that's a lot of money. Redland are already offering scholarships to Harris students who need funds to study away from home.
10. There is nothing "unique" about the natural environment at Mt Roineabhal. Everything there can also be found in other parts of Harris. The post-glacial landscape of South Harris is already a "moonscape," and will not look much different after a quarry has worked it over. In fact, the quarry will improve it by creating 1200' cliffs for mountaineers, a safe anchorage in the lagoon for yachts, nesting sites for seabirds and fresh rock surfaces for rare plants. As for the much-vaunted Golden Eagles that nest 400 metres from the quarry boundary, they too favour the quarry. Redland have promised to feed them ... on environmentalists put through the quarry's primary crusher (only kidding, Mr Lievers).
Since October 2004, I have been working closely with Lafarge in Paris, assisting them in evaluating the superquarry proposal. To the very great delight of all who have campaigned on this issue, they have now decided to pull out of Harris (this was facilitated by, but not caused by, my work with them).
Media coverage from the Sunday Herald of 4th April 2004 and the local newspapers is pasted on a special page in this website - click here.
A huge "thank you" to all who have made this possible, including the Paris-based executives of Lafarge who came, saw and listened.
Paris, April 2, 2004
Lafarge withdraws from Scottish quarry project at Lingerbay and calls for a public debate on long term mineral supply in the UK
Aggregates UK has announced today that it is withdrawing from the proposed
coastal quarry at Lingerbay on the Isle of Harris, Scotland.
It follows the decision in the Scottish Court of Session (9 January 2004) to reject its appeal over the extent of the existing planning permission granted in 1965.
The company is also withdrawing its outstanding appeal in pursuit of its 1991 planning application.
Lafarge says that the problem of sourcing medium and long term supplies of mineral in the UK remains unresolved and calls for a serious public debate about where the building materials of the future will come from.
the world leader in building materials, holds top-ranking positions in all four
of its Divisions: Cement, Aggregates & Concrete, Roofing and Gypsum. Lafarge
employs 75,000 people in 75 countries and posted sales of €13.6 billion in
2003. Addition information is available on the web site at www.lafarge.com
Lead letter in The Sunday Herald (Seven Days), Glasgow, 11 April 2004, p. 10, under the heading, "End of a long campaign".
The vastness of the proposed, opposed and now withdrawn Harris superquarry scheme is exceeded only by the scale of the campaign that fought it over13 long years. Rob Edwards’ stirring article gave, if anything, over-generous acknowledgement of my own role (News, 4 April).
But there are many unsung actors, most of whom kept low profiles.
I would request to add three further points of acknowledgement. Firstly, key community leaders and residents on the island have played absolutely pivotal roles, from politics all the way through to prayer.
Secondly, it was a remarkably successful example of well-co-ordinated NGO action. The NGO umbrella organisation, the Link Quarry Group, included Friends of the Earth Scotland, Ramblers Scotland, RSPB, WWF Scotland, Rural Scotland, Sustrans, NEMT and the Scottish Wildlife Trust. The staff and members of these organisations deserve gratitude.
Thirdly, all parties recognise that Scotland’s planning and political system was not up to handling a proposal of this scale. However, the Western Isles’ MSP, MP and most councillors of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar handled the matter with artful concern. The Government’s own environmental agency, Scottish National Heritage, mounted a principled and fearless stand at massive legal cost.
As your columnist, Muriel Gray, suggested, the people of Harris must now be given the support of the nation as a whole (Seven Days, April 4). In the 1995 secret ballot, 67% of them on an 83% turnout rejected the opportunity of violating a National Scenic Area with a superquarry. Here, then, are a people that have chosen long-term integrity of place over the short-term buck. This enriches all who are sensitive to beauty.
The onus now rests on a wider world to sustain such a community. Everybody can do their bit. Visit Harris. Buy vernacular products like the famous Harris Tweed. And encourage the Scottish Executive and other wheels of governance in their vital efforts to stimulate community empowerment, economic resilience, cultural renewal and environmental sustainability.
Oh, and one last thing, thank you, Redland-cum-Lafarge. You provided a challenge to the cultural immune system. You bowed out with dignity and, by bothering to visit the islands for your final announcement, a personal touch that will not pass unremarked. You leave behind you a community that is stronger – like its mountain.
"Yeah man, you know to me a mountain is a Buddha"
- Jack Kerouac, The Darma Bums, Penguin, London, 1976, p. 67.
Last Updated: 19/04/19