Should The Harris Superquarry Go Ahead Essay

Should The Harris Superquarry Go Ahead? Essay, Research Paper

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

1927A detailed geological survey identified the deposit of anorthosite.

1965Planning permission was given in principle to quarry the rock. The

remit covered a larger site than is planned today.

1966Some small scale quarrying took place but found an on site rock crushing

plant and a deep harbour were necessary for economic viability.

74-76Outline planning permission was given for quarrying, shipping and

loading facilities but this was never acted on.

1977The Scottish Office issued National Planning Guidelines. Harris was

identified as one of 9 potential sites. (The Scotsman 18/7/93)

1980Ian 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)

1981Outline planning permission was given for quarrying but it was not on a

large enough scale to be economically viable.

1988The Scottish Office asked the Western Islands Island Council to develop

a policy on mineral extraction. This has still not been done.

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

1991Consultants 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.

1992The 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)

1993A 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)

1994A 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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