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Essay/Term paper: Should the harris superquarry go ahead?

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Should The Harris Superquarry Go Ahead?

Rural Economic Development
Kenneth Mercer BSc
Rural Resources III
16th December 1994




There is considerable environmental opposition to the development of the Harris
superquarry. This is unlikely to stop the development on its own, but if the
Scottish Office decides that the project can go ahead environmental
restrictions are likely to be imposed on the operation to minimise, as far as
possible, the impact. The reasons for the development centre round the need
for economic development to bring jobs and prosperity to this remote area. The
life of the quarry is expected to be around 60 years and provide an initial 30
jobs, rising to 80 as the quarry reaches peak production. The question is if
a superquarry is the best solution to the problems of a remote rural area.
What will happen when the jobs come to an end and would another form of
investment not be more appropriate to their needs? Would the presence of a
quarry restrict the choice for further development? Could an integrated
approach be adopted and a 2nd generation quarry planned? The decision of
whether or not to go ahead cannot be delayed indefinitely as Norway and Spain
are looking at developing their own. If it is to go ahead then an early start
will give Harris a stronger position in the market.


This report examines the controversy and key issues surrounding the superquarry
at Rodel, Lingerbay on the southern coast of the Isle of Harris (Figure 1) and
attempts to find an acceptable solution. The quarry will hollow out the heart
of the mountain but leave enough of a shell to leave the skyline largely
unaffected. The whole question of whether or not it should go ahead or not is
the subject of the current public enquiry in Stornaway. A decision must be
made soon. The market for aggregates is limited, Norway and Spain (Section 3.1,
1991) have their own sites and are also looking at the potential for developing


(Glasgow Herald, 20/10/94)


3.1 History

1927 A detailed geological survey identified the deposit of anorthosite.

1965 Planning permission was given in principle to quarry the rock. The
remit covered a larger site than is planned today.

1966 Some small scale quarrying took place but found an on site rock crushing
plant and a deep harbour were necessary for economic viability.

74-76 Outline planning permission was given for quarrying, shipping and
loading facilities but this was never acted on.

1977 The Scottish Office issued National Planning Guidelines. Harris was
identified as one of 9 potential sites. (The Scotsman 18/7/93)

1980 Ian Wilson, a Scottish entrepreneur specialising in minerals, persuaded
Ralph Verney, the advisor to the environmental secretary, to recommend a large
scale study on the potential of superquarrys in Scotland. The Scottish Office
commissioned Dalradian Mineral Services - Wilson and Colin Gribble - to write a
report on the prospects. It was published in 1980 and listed 16 potential
sites including 5 key sites, one of which was Rodel. Many of the mineral rites
were bought by Wilson before he published the report, the rest he acquired
later. He sold his idea for the Harris superquarry at Rodel (Figure 1) to
Redland Aggregates, and if the quarry goes ahead, he will receive a royalty for
each tonne of rock removed. (New Scientist 1994)

1981 Outline planning permission was given for quarrying but it was not on a
large enough scale to be economically viable.

1988 The Scottish Office asked the Western Islands Island Council to develop
a policy on mineral extraction. This has still not been done.

1989 Government Planning Guidance Notes predicted a demand for crushed rock.

1991 Consultants Ove Arup surveyed the potential for sites and identified 12
in Norway, 1 - 2 in the north of Spain and less than 4 in Scotland.

Redland Aggregates submitted a new planning application to the Western Isles
Island Council.

1992 The Scottish Office issued a draft report which recognised the potential
for Rodel but found that socio-economic benefits needed to be balanced with
environmental consequences. (The Scotsman 18/7/93)

1993 A poll was sent out to 1822 islanders asking them to vote on the issue.
1109 replied, which amounted to a 60.9% response. The results showed that the
majority of the Islanders were in favour of the quarry. The votes cast were as
follows: For, 682 (62.1%) and Against, 417 (37.9%). There was a strong
regional variation though, the further from the site the people were, the more
in favour they tended to be. (Glasgow Herald 17/6/93) A week later this poll
resulted in the Western Islands Council voting in favour of the planning
application by 24 votes to 3. (Glasgow Herald 25/6/93) Western Isles Island
Council held a Special meeting in Tarbet. (The Scotsman 18/7/93) The
Department of the Environment concluded that England could not meet its own
demands for aggregates. (New Scientist 1994)

1994 A Royal commission report concluded that the demand for aggregates for
road construction would be considerably cut by reducing our current dependence
on road transport. It recommended that if coastal superquarries were to be
granted planning permission then it should be a legal requirement that the
quarried rock should be transported by sea. It further concluded that the
recycling of construction materials would remove the need for superquarries and
reduce the distance over which aggregates would need to be transported. (Royal
Commission 1994) By September the Highlands and Islands Enterprise had given
its general support to the project and the Highlands and Islands Development
Board had approved a grant and loan totalling £250,000 to the company set up
by Ian Wilson, Harris Minerals Ltd. (Glasgow Herald 30/9/94)

3.2 The reasons for the selection of Lingerbay

The reasons for the selection of the site were mainly economic:

* The mountain consists of an estimated potential of 6 million tonnes of
anorthosite. As far as the aggregate industry is concerned this rock is a top
quality product, suitable for a producing a wide range of aggregates, gravels
and sands.

* The mountain is situated by a deep glacial sea loch which is required
for the access of the 30,000 tonne ships which will remove the rock. Unless
the rock can be directly loaded from the site to the ships the quarry will not
be economically viable. The loch is deep enough to accommodate the deep
harbour (24 meters) required.

3.3 The need for economic development

Lack of employment drives people out of the countryside. This creates problems
as it results in an ageing population and a higher dependant to worker ratio.
This has a dramatic effect on the cash flow of the area - As pensioners have
less to spend than a paid worker, there is less money spent in the local shops
and pubs. This means in a cut in services - Less profits result in less
provision. This is the downward spiral of rural depopulation and deprivation.
Deprivation exists if welfare drops below an agreed standard. This definition
goes further than the problem of finance. Education, public transport,
healthcare, housing and recreational services are all covered by the above
definition. In remote rural areas the general level of these services are
clearly lower than the national average. (Midwinter, A and Monaghan 1990)
Harris now has a population of 2,200 which represents a decline of 41% over the
last 40 years, for those who remain 33% of households have no adult in work.
(The Guardian 8/11/94) Ian Wilson claims that the creation of the
superquarry will bring prosperity to the dieting corners of the Highlands and
Islands and is the economic development necessary to reverse this decline.

3.4 Other incentives

Redland Aggregates has conceded annual donations to a local trust fund if the
quarry goes ahead. This would rise to a sum of £100,000 as the quarry reached
full production. (Glasgow Herald 16/6/94)

Ships could provide a cheap piggyback for distributing local produce. (New
Scientist 1994)

3.5 The environmental concerns

* Ships ballast water could introduce foreign species of sea life. This
is a concern because without predatory biological control any introduced
species could multiply rapidly and put the local marine ecosystem at risk.
(New Scientist 1994) There is particular concern over the introduction of
toxic phytoplankton species. (SNH 1994)

* The area is home to otters. They are protected by the 1981 Wildlife and
Countryside Act and some would be displaced by the development. (Scottish
Field 1993)

* The potential for a collision with oil tankers will be greatly increased
due to the extra traffic involved. (Friends of the Earth)

* Although not a SSSI the site beats the qualifying mark of 300 points and
is the home of 149 species of bryophite (Mosses and liverworts) 7 of which are
rare. (The Scotsman 10/10/94) These are particularly vulnerable to dust.
Heather and bog mosses, an integral part of the ecosystem, could be sensitive
to increases in calcium and soil pH levels. (SNH 1994)

* Harris is designated as a National Scenic Area and should be preserved.
(The Scotsman 10/10/94)

* Development of a quarry could also restrict some types of other
development. Harris has an exceptional asset of a pollution free environment.
This is recognised by Scotia Pharmaceuticals who plan the development of an a
micro-algae farm on Harris. This development is under threat because they
could not risk any chance of contamination to a product destined for the
medical industry. (The Scotsman 3/10/94)

3.6 Making the quarry more palatable

Redland Aggregates has indicated that non resident workers would have to leave
the island at weekends to minimise any conflict with the locals. This would be
written into their contract of employment. (The Scotsman 13/10/94)

A 2nd generation superquarry would have a dual purpose, it would provide rock
for quarrying but this would be part of a construction programme. The end
result would not be just a hole in the ground but could be designed to fill
some other use, for example produce HEP.

4.1 The case for development

The Scottish Office approves. (Section 3.1) Rodel is the best site in
geological terms. (Section 3.2) The quarrying and shipping would be badly
needed economic catalysts to the area. (Section 3.3 and 3.4) There is a
limited demand for aggregates and Spain and Norway are developing their own
plans. If the Harris quarry is delayed too long then it will have to face this
extra competition.

4.2 The case against development

The area is an NSA and development would cause environmental concerns. (Section
3.5) There are other alternatives - especially the recycling of construction
materials. (Section 3.1)

4.3 The probable outcome

There is no doubt that Harris could benefit from economic development, but what
would become of it when the rock runs out or if demand falls? My personal
feeling is that the rock should be left alone. The contamination of a pristine
environment is too high a cost to pay. Clean Industry which could benefit from
this resource would be a more appropriate development but due to the support of
both central and local government, the islanders and Ian Wilson I feel planning
permission will most likely be given.

4.4 A suitable compromise

If the development is to go ahead then I would like to see a second generation
development. (Section 3.6) This would give the quarry a secondary use and
could provide long term benefit to the community when it has reached the end of
its productive life. The operation should also have strict regulations on
extraction procedure to reduce, as far as possible, any environmental impact.
The Western Islands Island Council should be ordered to develop a policy on
mineral extraction and include plans to phase in other development as the
quarry nears the end of its life. The last thing Harris needs is to be left in
an economic vacuum when the rock runs out.


Friends of the Earth, Superquarries versus sustainability, Recruitment leaflet

Glasgow Herald, (17/6/93), Harris majority backs superquarry

Glasgow Herald, (25/6/93), Isles' £50 Million quarry finally given go ahead

Glasgow Herald, (16/6/94), Quarry firm to pledge £100,000 to Island trust

Glasgow Herald, (30/9/94), Enterprise at odds with heritage

Glasgow Herald, (20/10/94), First shots fired in quarry inquiry

The Guardian, (8/11/94) Native chieftain brings magic of the stones across the
Atlantic to help Hebrides see off threat to mince mountain into chippings, Page

Midwinter, A and Monaghan, (1990), The measurement and analysis of rural
deprivation, Report for COSLA, February 1990

New Scientist, (1994), Rush for rock in the Highlands, 8/1/94

Royal Commission, (1994), Transport and the environment-18th Report, HMSO,

The Scotsman, (18/7/93), Moving mountains to see how the land lies

The Scotsman, (3/10/94), Drug firm says quarry could hit expansion

The Scotsman, (10/10/94), The cruel dilemma for the people of Harris

The Scotsman, (13/10/94), Island curbs on superquarry contract staff

Scottish Field, (1993), Otter disruption, October 1993

SNH, (1994), Lingerbay press pack


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