Quarry expansion set to go ahead

THE SCOTTISH government has ruled out a last-minute intervention to stop the expansion of Europe's largest quarry, Glensanda.

Tomorrow Highland Council will formally approve the extraction of an additional 400 million tonnes of aggregate, making the superquarry one of the three or four largest in the world.

Campaigners had built their hopes on the SNP government preventing mountain tops being removed from Morvern and blasted into aggregate for building roads in the south of England. The John Muir Trust, named after the pioneering conservationist, is backing locals who are "outraged" that no independent inquiry has been carried out into the expansion and that it has been left to the council to make a decision.

Helen McDade of the trust said: “This is a matter of national importance. It is not a local issue and it should not have been left to a local planning committee to decide. There is no doubt that the Scottish parliament should have looked at this. The long-term impact of this has not been adequately addressed. For instance it is not clear why they need this extension – at current rates of working they have 40 years of life left in the quarry.”

The superquarry has been granted permission to expand its mining area by a third to more than two square kilometres. It has also been granted permission to remove a peak, the Mam, and Lochan Lag A Mhaim. The new mine workings will be visible from Morvern, Lismore, Mull, Oban, Benderloch, Port Appin, Lochaline and Gleann Geal and will have a “dramatic” impact on the skyline according to Dr Douglas Watt of Lochaline, who opposes the extension.

The quarry’s new owner, Aggregate Industries, a subsidiary of multinational Halcim, which acquired the site last year, has told industry magazine Mining Monthly that because of problems with expansion elsewhere it is planning to more than double annual production from seven million tonnes a year to nearer 15m tonnes. The firm says it plans to ship aggregate in specially designed ships to roadbuilders across the globe.

Jeremy Gilchrist, a campaigner from Lismore, said: “The quarry was started by a small company called Foster Yeoman. They only got permission to do this because they were going to be so careful.

“They made a hole in the rock and they were going to come down it, bringing rock out on the way. But now the argument is: Well, there is a big hole there anyway.’ “But the new plans change the way they are working, it is becoming more open cast. This is how they mine rock in America; they are going to take out a peak, lift off the top soil and all the flora and fauna in a whole area.

“Highland councillors didn’t come here to look at what is here already or what is planned. The planning permission says the owners are going to restore it afterwards but that is ridiculous. How can they and how will Highland Council enforce that?”

Duncan Brooks, a crofter on Lismore, said: “This is such a remote area and there are so few people up here to protect it. I am very worried about the environmental impact. The huge tankers that arrive from Europe to load from the quarry pump millions of gallons of ballast water from entirely different oceans and with alien micro flora and fauna into the fragile narrows of Loch Linnhe.

“The run-off from the quarry is like porridge. You can put it in a jar and a month later it’s not clear. “This will destroy virgin wilderness and Scotland has given this the same amount of care and attention as they would an application to build half a dozen bungalows. It would never happen in the central belt.” A Scottish government spokesman said: “Officials wrote to Highland Council in October 2006 informing them that it was not Scottish ministers’ intention to intervene in this application. The application was therefore cleared back to Highland Council for its own determination.” A spokesman for Aggregate Industries said: “We respect our neighbours and understand that a few individuals have shown some concern over the plans. However, we are grateful for the strong and positive relationship we have with the local community as a whole, who have been very supportive of our operations and extension application.”

The Sunday Herald
October 2007