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 Superquarry Scheme Rejection Saga

This page contains various superquarry updates


Scottish Executive (Parliament) REJECTS Proposed Lafarge Redland Aggregates Ltd Harris Superquarry; Lafarge then force reopening


On 3 November 2000 the Scottish Executive rejected Lafarge's bid to open a superquarry in the National Scenic Area on the Isle of Harris. The company announced they would appeal. On 18th March the Executive stated they would not be contesting the appeal. The basis of their rejection, they had decided, had been insufficiently robust in law. It is said that this does not mean they have accepted the proposal, but it does throw the issue wide open, once again. Full documentation of the history of what has happened with the superquarry, including the corporate sharpshooting and intense pressure on a small community which included a police complaint about an alleged attempt to corrupt political process, is given in my book, Soil and Soul: People versus Corporate Power (click the tab above for further details). This page contains reports relevant to this latest twist in the saga, as follows:


  1. BBC's report on quarry rejection

  2. Scottish Executive's press release and full reasons for quarry rejection

  3. The saga reopens - my comments

  4. The Herald's report on reopening of the issue

  5. The Stornoway Gazette's report on the reopening, with local reaction

  6. Lafarge knocked back on 1965 backdoor quarry bid

  7. Main superquarry briefing page and index on this website



Superquarry Rejection: report from the BBC's News Website, 3-11-00


Plans for a controversial superquarry on Harris have been rejected by the Scottish Executive.

The decision was announced by Environment Minister Sam Galbraith.

He refused Lafarge Redland Aggregates' application to extract and transport rock from the site, saying that any economic benefits would not outweigh the adverse impacts on the area round Lingerbay.

The decision, which has delighted environmental campaigners, comes more than nine years after the plans were first lodged.

The controversial proposals were the subject of Scotland's longest public inquiry.


And two weeks ago a judge ordered the Scottish Executive to make a decision on the application following a legal challenge by Lafarge Redland Aggregates.

The company asked the Court of Session in Edinburgh to force the executive to make a decision after the then Environment Minister Sarah Boyack referred the plan to Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

Ms Boyack was told to make a decision on the plans within three weeks after Lord Hardie said the delay was of "scandalous proportions".

Announcing the decision on Friday, Mr Galbraith - who took over the environment brief after Sunday's cabinet reshuffle - said the scenic quality of the area was more important than economic and social considerations.

Impact 'underestimated'

He also said that the public inquiry reporter, who recommended go ahead for the scheme, seriously understated the impact of the proposed development.

The quarry company had applied to extract 550m tonnes of aggregate from Roinvenall mountain over a 60-year period.

It was predicted that the project would create about 200 jobs.

The biggest development of its kind in the UK, it would have removed half the mountain and created a new sea loch.

Opponents of the superquarry on South Harris are jubilant, and environmentalists have congratulated the minister.

But supporters of the scheme have been left disappointed, maintaining that it was the island's best hope for the future.

The Scottish National Party's Highlands and Islands spokesman Duncan Hamilton welcomed the fact that a decision had finally been taken.

"The Court of Session judgement a few weeks ago was absolutely correct when it described the delay as being of 'scandalous proportions'," he said.

"The people of Harris have been treated with disdain throughout this process and the fact that the Scottish Executive had to be dragged into court to be forced into making a decision is a matter of profound concern."

He said the focus must now to turn to efforts to provide other forms of employment on Harris and the Western Isles.

"The loss of the proposed 200 jobs related to the quarry development must be made good in other sectors," he said.



Scottish Executive (Parliament) Press Release on Quarry Rejection

(with full reasons for superquarry rejection)

 SE2846/2000, 3 November 2000



The Scottish Ministers today announced their decision to refuse planning permission for the proposed development of a superquarry at Lingerbay, Harris.

The decision was announced today by Environment Minister Sam Galbraith in response to a parliamentary question by Rhoda Grant MSP for the Highlands and Islands.

The reasons for this decision are set out in a letter to the applicant, a copy of which has been sent today to all parties who attended the public local inquiry into this proposal.

Any party aggrieved by the decision may appeal to the Court of Session within six weeks. Given the possibility of such action can be added to the reasons given in the decision letter.


1. Lafarge Redland Aggregates Ltd propose to establish a quarry at Lingerbay to facilitate the extraction of an estimated 550 million tonnes of igneous rock (anorthosite) for construction aggregate over a period of 60 years. All export of aggregate would be by sea through an on-site port facility.

2. A planning application was submitted to the Western Isles Island Council on 25 March 1991. On 27 September 1991 the then Secretary of State issued a Direction requiring the Council to notify him should the Council be minded to grant planning permission. On 24 June 1993 the Council informed the Secretary of State that they were minded to grant planning permission. A Direction was issued on 6 January 1994 calling-in the application for the Secretary of State's determination.

3. A public local inquiry was held between 1 October 1994 and 6 June 1995. The Reporter submitted her report to the Secretary of State on 29 April 1999. The Scottish Executive assumed responsibility for considering the Reporter's report, and determining the application, on 1 July 1999.

4. On 12 July 2000 Scottish Natural Heritage was asked to provide scientific advice about whether or not any part of the application site should be identified as a Special Area of Conservation. On 2 August Lafarge Redland Aggregates sought judicial review of that action and a hearing took place between 11 and 13 September.

5. Lord Hardie, in answer to the petition, ruled, on 18 October, that:

  • the respondents (the Scottish Ministers) are in breach of their statutory duty by failing to determine the Lingerbay planning application within a reasonable time.
  • the decision by the respondents to refer the classification of the site to SNH for advice in the context of the determination of the planning application was ultra vires and,
  • the respondents have acted in breach of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of the delay in determining the application and the reference to Scottish Natural Heritage in the context of the planning process.

6. The letter announcing the decision is attached.

Dear Mr Sales



1. This letter contains the Scottish Ministers' decision on the application for planning permission, lodged by Messrs Redlands Aggregates Limited (now trading as Lafarge Redland Aggregates Limited) with the Western Isles Islands Council on 25 March 1991, for the extraction, processing and transport by sea of anorthosite from land near Rodel, Isle of Harris, and to construct the relevant facilities. The Scottish Ministers have decided to refuse to grant planning permission.

2. The application was notified to the then Secretary of State, by Western Isles Islands Council, on 28 June 1993, in accordance with the Town and Country Planning (Notification of Application for the extraction, processing and transport by sea of anorthosite from land near Rodel, Isle of Harris and to construct the relevant facilities) Direction 1991. In terms of Section 32 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972 the then Secretary of State directed Western Isles Islands Council, on 6 January 1994, to refer the application to him for determination. The Direction was given "in view of the existence of a number of important national issues that need to be considered by the Secretary of State (for example, the environmental implications of such a development in a National Scenic Area)".

3. The application was subsequently considered at a public local inquiry, held between 11 October 1994 and 6 June 1995 by Miss G M Pain MA DipTP(Lon) MRTPI. A copy of the report of the inquiry is enclosed.

Evidence at the Inquiry

4. Evidence relating to the consideration of the planning application is at Chapter 1 of the report and a general description of the site and surroundings is at Chapter 2. The planning history of the Lingerbay site is at Chapter 3 whilst legal submissions about the validity of the 1965 planning permission are reported at Chapter 4.

5. The evidence led by the parties to the inquiry is reported between Chapters 5 and 23. Written submissions are summarised at Chapter 24 and details of proposed conditions and the Agreement under Section 50 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972 are at Chapter 25. Those who attended the inquiry are listed in Appendix 1 to the report.

Consideration by the Reporter

6. A compilation of the Reporter's findings of fact is at Chapter 26 of the report. Her conclusions and recommendation that the application should be approved, subject to the recommended conditions, is at Chapter 27.

Post Inquiry Correspondence, Evidence etc

7. The Scottish Ministers have received post inquiry correspondence from a number of individuals and bodies, both supporting and opposing the proposed development Supporters have highlighted, amongst other matters, the number of jobs the proposal is expected to create and the benefits this will have for the economy which, in turn, should assist in reducing the outflow of the economically active population from Harris. Objectors have argued that there is evidence that alternative supplies of aggregates are readily available and that demand is now low, primarily because of a reduction in road-building. Amongst other issues raised are the procedures to be followed with regard the development of harbour facilities at Lingerbay and the proposed revision of the English planning policy document "Mineral Planning Guideline No6", the argument with regard to the latter being that any grant of planning permission in the absence of a revised MPG6 would be premature and not in the best interests of the local economy or the environment.

8. Correspondents have also drawn attention to legislative changes arising since the close of the inquiry, including the introduction of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997; the Harbour Works (Assessment of Environmental Effects) Amendment Regulations 1996; and the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Scotland) Order 1997. Attention has also been drawn to the issue of a number of new and revised planning circulars, guidelines and advice notes, in particular SODD Circulars 12 and 34 of 1996; 25 of 1997 and 4 of 1998; National Planning Policy Guidelines (NPPG) 4, 14, 15 and 17; the consultative draft version of revised NPPG1; and Planning Advice Notes 50 (with Annexes) and 51. Also noted were Western Isles Islands Council's proposed policies contained in the draft Harris Local Plan (not yet adopted) and the draft Minerals Policy Alteration to the Western Isles Structure Plan (not yet submitted for the Scottish Ministers' consideration).

9. The Scottish Ministers sought advice from Scottish Natural Heritage on 12 July 2000. As you are aware, that reference was the subject of a successful judicial review. In light of that case, the Scottish Ministers have not considered the advice received from SNH.

10. The Scottish Ministers take the view that arguments about alternative supplies and low demand should not influence their consideration of this case. The viability of a particular project, in terms of supply and demand, is a matter of commercial judgement and regard should not be had to such matters when determining a planning application. The Scottish Ministers are of the opinion, however, that had planning permission been granted it would have been appropriate, and indeed sensible, to require that a bond was in place to ensure that restoration of the site could take place in the event of default by the developer. In this respect they note that a legally binding agreement has been concluded between the applicants and Western Isles Islands Council which includes provision for a restoration bond for the sum of £1million. The Scottish Ministers note that the Reporter has found this to be acceptable and see no reason to disagree with her view.

11. The construction and operation of the proposed harbour facilities would involve a number of overlapping jurisdictions involving different consents, licences and orders. The planning aspects before the Scottish Ministers only involve land use above the low water mark. The Scottish Ministers understand that the applicant's intention was to apply for a Harbour Empowerment Order under Section 16 of the Harbours Act 1964. Responsibility for Harbour Orders was, at 1 July 1999, devolved to the Scottish Executive. The Scottish Ministers note that the applicant would also have to consider the need for an environmental assessment under the Harbours Act 1964.

12. The relevance of the English MPG6 to this proposal is discussed between paragraphs 20 and 30 of this letter. Based on the reasoning as set out in those paragraphs, it is the view of the Scottish Ministers that any review of MPG6 is irrelevant to the consideration of this application. The Lingerbay application should be assessed against the Scottish guidance, including NPPG4. The Scottish Ministers also note that the local plan and the alteration to the structure plan are still at the draft stage and have not yet been adopted/approved. Accordingly they take the view that the content of these documents should be afforded less weight than the extant development plan.

13. In summary, the Scottish Ministers have had regard to all correspondence received, and evidence arising, since the close of the inquiry and have taken into account those new statutory provisions, new and revised planning circulars, and other new and revised guidelines and advice notes which have come into force since the close of the inquiry. They do not, however, consider that any of these matters raise any new issues or contain any new material which would affect their conclusions on this application.

The Scottish Ministers' Decision

14. The Scottish Ministers have carefully considered all the evidence presented at the inquiry, including the written submissions, the Reporter's Findings of Fact and her conclusions and recommendations thereon. Subject to the following, they accept the Reporter's Findings of Fact and agree with her reasoning and conclusions, so far as relevant to this determination, and adopt them for the purposes of their own decision. They do not, however, accept the Reporter's recommendation.

15. At Finding of Fact 3.13 the Reporter indicates that the "1981 permission has been partly implemented and remains in force until March 2001". However, at Finding of Fact 4.49 she states "I consider that the determination as to the validity of the 1965 decision is not a matter which is before the Secretary of State". The Scottish Ministers agree with this statement and consider it is equally applicable to the matter of the 1981 permission. Whilst the issue of these previous consents may have been regarded as a material consideration in the determination of the current proposal, a ruling as to the validity of those consents is not a matter before the Scottish Ministers. Accordingly they do not accept the final sentence of Finding of Fact 3.13.

16. At Findings of Fact 11.193 and 14.318 the Reporter states that "Section 262C(4) of the 1972 Act requires that special attention be paid to the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of National Scenic Areas". Section 264(2) of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 (which replaced and repealed the 1972 Act) requires that, where any area is designated as a Natural Heritage Area (NHA) special attention shall be paid to the desirability of preserving or enhancing its character or appearance. The Scottish Ministers note that whilst the provision to which the Reporter refers has now been repealed, statute has saved the requirement to "preserve/enhance" provided the NSA designation is not cancelled.

17. Findings of Fact 19.114 to 19.119 deal with the potential disturbance of otters and the Reporter's conclusions on this issue are at paragraph 27.36.

18. The Reporter takes the view, on the evidence available to her, that there is a local population of at least 6 otters over a 15km stretch of the coastline, with one active holt in the designated quarry area and on Lingerbay island and that there could be as many as 11 otters in the Lingerbay area apart from the island. The Reporter finds that there will be disturbance to the local otter population at Lingerbay but that in terms of the relevant provisions of the EEC Directive and its implementation in the UK regulations the development will not be detrimental to the maintenance of the population of the species at a favourable conservation status. She also finds that if planning permission is granted any disturbance will not be unreasonable. The quarry would destroy one active otter holt and the otter population might decline by between 1 and 6 individuals. Whilst, from the evidence available to the Reporter, there may be room for debate about the precise effect of the development on otters, the Scottish Ministers do not have evidence to suggest that this would be radically different from that which she predicts.

19. The Scottish Ministers take the view, however, that the Reporter has misdirected herself about the European law relating to otters. In particular she mistakenly refers to a Directive 82/72/EEC, which does not exist. Instrument 82/72/EEC is not a Directive. It is the Council Decision through which the EEC adopted the Berne Convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats. The Reporter then refers to Article 6 of 82/72/EEC, although that instrument does not have an Article 6. The Reporter also refers to Lutra vulgaris instead of Lutra lutra; the latter is the species which is protected by European law and which is believed to be present on the site. However these differences have not led the Scottish Ministers to disagree with the Reporter's recommendation.

20. Findings of Fact 11.199 to 11.213 relate to Government policy principles contained in Mineral Policy Guideline No 6 (MPG6) (England and Wales) and National Planning Policy Guideline No 4: Land for Mineral Working (NPPG4) (Scotland). Findings of Fact 12.165 to 12.195 also relate to these Guidelines and Findings of Fact 14.281 to 14.331 are also of relevance. The Reporter's conclusions with regard to the application of these guidelines are set out between paragraphs 27.49 and 27.69.

21. Paragraph 66 of NPPG4 sets out criteria for the selection of additional superquarries and paragraph 19 describes the two tests which require to be met if planning permission is to be granted within a NSA.

22. These tests were subsequently amended by the publication, in January 1999, of National Planning Policy Guideline 14: Natural Heritage (NPPG14). This indicates that development which would affect designated areas of national importance (which include NSAs) should only be permitted where:

  • the objectives of designation and the overall integrity of the area will not be compromised; or
  • any significant adverse effects on the qualities for which the area has been designated are clearly outweighed by social or economic benefits of national importance.

23. The significance of the change to the second test is that it provides clarification that it is the effect on the designated area (NSA etc), rather than the development site (as may have been implied by NPPG4), which should be assessed.

24. In considering the first test the Reporter is of the opinion that the proposed development generally meets NPPG4 paragraph 66 criteria. But she takes the view that the inherent physical scale, changes in the landform, and industrial characteristics of the proposed superquarry would inevitably be so significant that the underlying objectives of the NSA would be adversely affected. Accordingly she concludes that the proposal fails the first of the two NSA tests. The Scottish Ministers accept the Reporter's conclusion.

25. In considering the second test the Reporter finds that the relevant national mineral policies are those contained in MPG6 (England and Wales) and NPPG 4 (Scotland). Whilst she finds that the policy content of MPG6 does not apply to Scotland, she also finds that the Government's objective of reducing the supply of aggregates from primary land-won sources in England, the projected increase in aggregate imports into England, and the clear references to the possibility that remote quarries in Scotland could contribute to meeting demand in the South-East of England, combine to make MPG6 a material consideration in the determination of the Lingerbay proposal. She concludes that if imports of aggregate from abroad are to be avoided, then there is a national interest in securing superquarry development in Scotland.

26. The Reporter concludes that the Scottish 1994 NPPG4 "Land for Mineral Working" and its English counterpart the 1994 MPG6 "Guidelines for Aggregates Provision in England" are material considerations which must carry considerable weight in the determination of this application. NPPG4 contains specific guidance in relation to the principles of superquarry development and for minerals development generally, including specific policy for such development proposals within a NSA. There is support in principle for up to four coastal exporting superquarries in Scotland, including that existing at Glensanda, which would contribute to the reduction in the amount of traditional land won aggregates used in England, and contribute to potential employment opportunities in remote rural areas.

27. The Scottish Ministers do not agree with the approach adopted by the Reporter in dealing with this issue. Furthermore they do not agree with the Reporter's conclusion on the basis that MPG6 does not apply in Scotland. It is not, therefore, a material consideration for the purposes of their determination. In addition they note that she considers MPG6 to be the counterpart of NPPG4. This is not so. NPPG4 provides the general policy background for all mineral working in Scotland. MPG6 deals only with "Aggregate Provision" and the apportionment of demand and supply to the various English Regions. NPPG4 does not deal with that level of detail. The Reporter also states that NPPG4 makes provision for Scottish superquarries "which would contribute to the reduction in the amount of traditional land won aggregates used in England" (paragraph 27.48). NPPG 4 makes no such statement.

28. In several other instances the Reporter refers to the need for aggregates being "primarily related to the market in South East England" (e.g. paragraph 27.59). In addition she refers to the fact that the exploitation of minerals in the UK can assist with the balance of payments, either through export or import substitution. However since this policy is contained in MPG6, which does not apply in Scotland, it is not relevant. In any event the Scottish Ministers are of the opinion that the planning system has no control over the eventual market to be served and that production from Scottish superquarries cannot be directed exclusively, or even partly, to English markets.

29. The Reporter's consideration of the second test, therefore, presents some difficulties in so far as, in the Scottish Ministers' opinion, she has made inappropriate connections between Scottish policy as contained in NPPG4 and English policy in MPG6, even though she does state that the policy content of MPG6 has no currency in Scotland. Accordingly, the Scottish Ministers take the view that, in the context of the second test and in relation to her recommendation, the Reporter has come to the wrong conclusion.

30. The Scottish Ministers' disagree with the Reporter's recommendation based on her reasoning and conclusions with regard to the second of the tests set out in paragraph 19 of NPPG4, i.e. that mineral extraction should only be permitted where any adverse effects on the environmental qualities for which the site has been designated are outweighed significantly by the national benefits that could accrue from the mineral extraction (as subsequently amended by NPPG14 referred to in paragraph 22 above). The term "national benefits is defined at paragraph 20 of NPPG4 which states that these could include the public interest in securing economic developments of national importance, or employment creation and balance of payments considerations. However these differences have not led the Scottish Ministers to disagree with the Reporter's recommendation.

31. At paragraph 27.76 the Reporter concludes that, overall, the proposed development would be in the national interest and that the harm to the National Scenic Area (NSA) during the lifetime of the quarry would be offset by the economic benefits of the proposal, both nationally and locally in the Western Isles. The Reporter appears to base this view on her conclusions, at paragraph 27.69, where she states that if imports of aggregates from abroad are to be avoided, there is a national interest in securing superquarry development in Scotland. And also at paragraph 27.69 where she states that there is a national interest in securing economic development, and therefore employment, in remote rural areas. The Reporter further notes, at paragraph 27.70, that the percentage of this very large NSA that will be affected is very small both in terms of the actual area of the quarry and its ancillary facilities and its visibility from other parts of the NSA.

32. The Scottish Ministers have however noted that the Reporter has made a number of Findings which could lead to an alternative conclusion. At Finding of Fact 11.213 the Reporter states "the evidence does not permit a finding that refusal would seriously prejudice the legitimate national interest in the continuing supply of aggregates sufficient to support national economic growth" and at Finding of Fact 14.310 she states "Irrespective of the exact scale (width and height) of the quarry, it will be exceptionally large and I find that there would be a very significant effect on the landscape in the immediate locality. There will also be a very significant effect on views from the sea area to the east of this part of the coastline, and from parts of the hills themselves."

33. Furthermore, at Finding of Fact 14.312 the Reporter states "In addition, the quarry would be readily visible as a large and intrusive feature from a considerably wider area of sea to the east where viewers would observe the quarry as a very significant man made element in an otherwise semi-natural landscape of coast and mountain" and at Finding of Fact 14.322 she finds "that the proposed quarry will completely change the landscape characteristics of Lingerbay by changing the scale and character of its coastline and its hinterland. Furthermore during the lifetime of the quarry it will introduce a very significant industrial type of activity, including ship loading facilities, which will permanently change the existing small scale pattern of the rocky indented coast and islets.".

34. The Scottish Ministers have also noted the Reporter's Finding of Fact 14.326 which states "…the detrimental effect on the environment must be regarded as very significant. The quarry would create an area of massive disturbance, involving man made industrial features, heavy plant, and disruptive noise. Unless there are overriding reasons relating to national benefit, which is a matter for my conclusions, the acceptance of such an intrusive feature within such an important landscape would set a precedent that would undermine the continued successful operation of policy for NSAs". Also at 14.328 which states "Given the very large scale of the proposal, I do not consider that any modest reduction in size, compatible with the scope of the planning application, would achieve any worthwhile reduction in the severity of the impact on the NSA." Also Finding of Fact 14.329 which concludes "….considering the integrity of the NSA, such a quarry would still have a significant impact on this part of the NSA.". Finally, the Scottish Ministers have noted that, notwithstanding her conclusions at paragraph 27.70, referred to above, the Reporter has also concluded (paragraph 27.43) "that the proposed development would be contrary to the terms of Structure Plan Policy PD1 which seeks to protect, maintain and enhance the NSA." With regard to the natural environment of the Western Isles I conclude that although there will be some risks and adverse effects involved, with adequate controls these are acceptable if other policy objectives are found to be of overriding importance". And also, at paragraph 27.71, "that the development of the quarry……….will also introduce a substantial industrialised area on the lower slopes on a scale not found anywhere else in the NSA. It would be totally at odds with the designation as part of the area of outstanding scenic beauty, and significantly alter the landscape character of the immediate area.".

35. The Scottish Ministers accept that the development could bring substantial benefits to the local economy through the creation, directly and indirectly, of up to 200 jobs. They also acknowledge the importance of the Council's corporate strategy to encourage the economically active to remain or return to the islands by improving employment opportunities and reducing unemployment. However, having had regard to the Findings of Fact described above, they take the view that the Reporter has, in her overall conclusions, seriously understated the impact of the proposed development on the NSA. They have, therefore, concluded that the objectives of designation and the overall integrity of the area will be compromised and that the social and economic benefits which the Reporter has found are likely to derive from the proposed development do not clearly outweigh the significant adverse effects on the quality for which the area has been designated. As such, they take the view that neither of the tests set out in paragraph 19 of NPPG4 (as amended by NPPG14) have been met.

36. Accordingly the Scottish Ministers hereby refuse to grant planning permission in respect of the extraction, processing and transport by sea of anorthosite from land near Rodel, Isle of Harris, and to construct the relevant facilities.

37. The foregoing decision of the Scottish Ministers is final, subject to the right, conferred by Sections 237 and 239 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997, of any person aggrieved by their decision to apply to the Court of Session, within 6 weeks of the date hereof. On any such application the Court may quash the decision if satisfied that it is not within the powers of the Act, or that the applicant's interests have been substantially prejudiced by a failure to comply with any requirement of the Act, or of the Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1992 or of any orders, regulations or rules made under these Acts.

38. A copy of this letter and the public local inquiry report have been sent to Western Isles Islands Council and to all other parties who appeared at the inquiry.

39. The productions submitted to the inquiry are currently held in this office. If not collected, they will be disposed of after 3 months.

Yours faithfully


News Release: SE2846/2000
3 Nov 2000

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Lafarge Redland Force Reopening of Harris Quarry Saga

Reports from The Herald and Stornoway Gazette

Below are reports on Lafarge's latest move to force their proposed and opposed superquarry ahead. I find the views of the councillor representing the area particularly interesting in the light of corporate claims that local people now support the project! 

The fundamental problem in all this is that planning law presumes in favour of development except where law explicitly militates against it. Where that law is open to interpretation, it becomes a question of who can buy the best lawyers. The the debate becomes asymmetrical, because the company can gamble on the prospect of a massive pay-off if it eventually wins, whereas everybody else faces costs beyond their means to keep on fighting them off. 

This is a classic case of globalisation allowing corporate power to reach corners of the world once beyond its reach. Here is a French company, that took over an English one, that wants to violate a National Scenic Area in Scotland.  There's plenty of rock in France without destroying one of the most spectacular corners of Scotland. In any case, as the local councillor points out in the Stornoway Gazette (below), new job creation has given fresh opportunity to most of the employable unemployed. The rate of unemployment on Harris is now relatively low, and as Councillor Munro says, many people would prefer a matrix of small employers than one massive project dominating the area.


Blunder by executive reopens saga of island superquarry

DAVID ROSS, The Herald, Glasgow, 19 March 2002, p. 4

AN embarrassing blunder by the Scottish Executive forced ministers yesterday to reopen the 11-year planning saga for Europe's largest coastal superquarry at Lingerbay on Harris.

New legal advice suggested the executive could not justify upholding a decision by Sam Galbraith, the former environment minister, and his ministerial colleagues, when they refused the development more than 15 months ago.

Mr Galbraith had chosen to overturn the recommendation of Gillian Pain, the reporter who chaired the public inquiry into the quarry. It became the longest and most expensive in Scottish planning history.

Miss Pain had recommended that the quarry go ahead, and the company behind the application later appealed against Mr Galbraith's decision. That appeal was due to be heard in the Court of Session next month, but it emerged yesterday that ministers had been advised they would lose.

Blame was being laid last night on those who framed the official letter refusing the development, and the fact it failed to give "sufficient and adequate" reasons why the executive was ignoring the recommendation that the development should go ahead.

The executive's failure will not mean the quarry will now go ahead automatically, but it means ministers will have to listen to fresh evidence from any of the parties to the public inquiry.

Last night, the executive's handling of the issue was condemned as "quite disgraceful" by islanders who support the development. They promised to seize this chance to press again for the quarry, while local opponents will be equally determined to resist it.

Redland Aggregates first lodged its planning application for the superquarry in March 1991. In June 1993, the Western Isles Council agreed to grant planning permission. However, in October, Ian Lang, the-then secretary of state, called in the application, heralding a public inquiry.

The inquiry opened in Stornoway in October 1994 and closed on June 6, 1995, in Leverburgh in the south of Harris, the day after the council had voted to overturn its position of support for the project, to one of outright opposition. The inquiry had sat for 100 days, hearing more than 100 witnesses, and receiving between 400 and 500 written submissions.

Some saw the £70m project to remove 600 million tonnes of anorthosite from the mountain Roineabhal as the salvation of an island community which had suffered 80 years of chronic depopulation. Others, however, viewed the project as a prescription for environmental disaster.

Miss Pain, the-then chief inquiry reporter at the the Scottish Office, took four years to conclude that the 200 direct and indirect jobs the quarry would bring would be worth the undoubted environmental damage it would cause.

Despite her conclusion, Mr Galbraith announced at the beginning of November 2000 that the executive would refuse the application because ministers felt that Miss Pain had "seriously understated the impact the quarry would have on the national scenic area in which the quarry would be sited".

The developer, by this time called Lafarge Redland after a takeover, decided to launch an appeal against that decision.

Last night a spokesman for the executive confirmed: "Scottish ministers no longer intend to defend the appeal to the Court of Session against their decision to refuse planning permission for a superquarry at Lingerbay."

Lafarge appears certain to have its legal costs for the appeal paid by the executive, and would be unlikely to pass up any opportunity to try to persuade ministers of the folly of their original decision. A spokesman said last night: "Clearly the company will wish to discuss the implications of this with their legal advisers but I am unable to say more at this time."

Lafarge is still, separately, seeking to prove that earlier planning consents for the quarry dating back to 1965 are still extant, notwithstanding the subsequent application. Another public inquiry was held last autumn to investigate this issue, but its outcome is not yet known.

- March 19th


Stornoway Gazette Report on Quarry Saga Reopening

Published: Thursday, 21 March 2002, 09:06 AM

Isles MSP mounts attack on Executive over Lingerbay
By Donnie Macinnes
, pp. 1 & 16.

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Morrison has demanded answers from the Scottish Executive following the latest twist in the Lingerbay superquarry saga which he described as 'staggering'.

He hit out after the announcement that the Scottish Executive had abandoned its Court of Session defence of an appeal against their decision to refuse planning permission for the superquarry.

The appeal had been lodged in December 2000 by applicants, Lafarge Redland Aggregates Ltd, now trading as Lafarge Aggregates.

In slamming the Scottish Executive over their handling of the situation, Mr Morrison told the 'Gazette' yesterday (Wednesday): "I am absolutely staggered that officials have not managed to take this competently through the due process. Questions must be asked of the officials of the department dealing with this. Are they up to the job and do they have the necessary skills to deal with a complex planning inquiry?"

Mr Morrison, who has written for an explanation to the Minister concerned, Margaret Curran, stated: "I have every confidence that she will ensure this will be resolved quickly and efficiently—but there is no doubt in my mind that the people of Harris and everyone involved with this inquiry have been let down by officials in the planning department of the Scottish Executive."

Mr Morrison pointed out that Margaret Curran, and earlier Sam Galbraith and Sarah Boyack, were not allowed to discuss the issue with him because of the special role they had within planning law.

Meanwhile, it was claimed this week that Leverburgh could become the industrial centre of the Western Isles if the superquarry proceeded.

For the quarry would not only attract engineering businesses and other service industries, but would encourage islanders to return to their homeland.

The view was expressed yesterday by the chairman of the Coastal Quarry Local Supporters Group, John Macleod when he urged councillors to support the Lingerbay quarry proposals to prevent the population of the islands declining further.

Mr Macleod told the 'Gazette': "There is no reason why Leverburgh could not become the industrial centre of the Western Isles, and the quarry could hasten the building of a causeway from Harris to North Uist. The rock from the quarry could be used to build the causeway. Here is an opportunity to realise this dream."


"We have worked long and hard to get the quarry project going, but the forces of the environmentalists have been against us. I hope there will be a change of mood in the Scottish Parliament and that the environmentalists will not be as prominent as they have been," said Mr Macleod.

He added: "I think people have to face reality. The population of the Western Isles is going down — there is little work. If we are going to reject opportunities like this in the islands — and the councillors don't seize such opportunities — we are finished. This development would last between 60 and 100 years. We are talking about serious work here."

There was surprise in the Western Isles when the Scottish Executive announced the latest twist in the Lingerbay saga.

A Scottish Executive spokesperson told the 'Gazette': "Following detailed consideration of the matter, the Scottish Ministers have consented to the appeal being allowed because they recognise the force of that part of the appellant's Ground of Appeal 2 which states: 'the Scottish Ministers have failed to give adequate and sufficient reasons for their decision to disagree with the recommendation of the Reporter'."

But the Executive were quite adamant: "The quashing of this decision does not mean that the decision to refuse planning permission is automatically reversed. What it means is that the matter is referred back to the Scottish Ministers for redetermination."

The spokesperson added: "But before doing so, it is expected that those parties who attended the public local inquiry to consider this application will be asked if they have any new evidence which they consider ought to be taken into account before a fresh decision letter is issued."

Councillor Morag Munro of Harris West said she was worried about what had happened.

"I was astonished, to be honest, that an error could be made by people who have such access and expertise of planning and legal advice," she said.

Councillor Munro went on: "My main reaction is the feeling that this is going to be delayed even further. We have already been talking about this for 12 years and it is horrendous for this to be hanging over us. It could be hanging over us for another year-and-a-half."

She felt it was likely there would be another appeal.

"I understand they are asking people if they have new evidence. They could ask for the inquiry to be reopened and that again could mean horrendous delays," she added.

Councillor Munro said it was most unfair on the residents living near the site of the proposed quarry.

"There are people who are living near to the site and they don't know if the quarry is going ahead or not. They have been in that situation for 12 years now," she said.

It was difficult for these people to plan ahead and modernise their houses.

"It would be a waste of time if these houses are going to be knocked down," she said. "It is really unfair to the people of this community to have these kinds of delays. Let them make a decision. Let these people be able to get on with their lives. It is very unsettling for the local community."

Although in some quarters there had been suggestions made that there had been a 'change of mind' and people were in favour of the quarry, she could not identify that.

"Those who are vociferous for the quarry have always been vociferous for it," she said.

Councillor Munro said that at the time of the inquiry the number unemployed was 150 - now it was 69.

A lot had happened in Harris since the inquiry, she stated, including the Scalpay bridge, the Sound of Harris ferry,Seallam, Leverburgh village hall, Scaladale Centre, Stolts factory in Scalpay, and development in the Bays area through Iomairt Aig an Oir.

"These are developments that we need - little packages here and there to keep people on the island, as well as a variety of work," she said.

Added Councillor Munro: "On the other hand, I am quite sure that the Census will show there has been a decline in the population and that is the big concern for us."

Councillor Donald Maclean, chairman of the Comhairle's Sustainable Communities Committee, said of the latest development: "This is a matter between the Scottish Executive and the company concerned. The Council's position is quite clear — they are opposed to the quarry."

He said the matter would come before the Committee next Wednesday.

John Macleod of the Coastal Quarry Local Supporters Group hoped that the Comhairle would have a change of heart on the quarry issue - and he felt they should take note of the findings of inquiry Reporter Gillian Pain.

"In my opinion, the findings of Gillian Pain were not considered properly. The Reporter took three years to write her report because she did it so thoroughly. She was the only person who understood the situation properly," said Mr Macleod.

He went on: "She climbed to the top of Roineabhal to see where the quarry would be. I too have done that. You then see how insignificant the quarry would be on the scale of Harris. Gillian Pain understood fully the implications of a quarry in Harris."

Mr Macleod claimed that when former environment minister Sam Galbraith announced refusal of Lafarge Redland Aggregates' application, Gillian Pain's findings 'were set aside' and not considered properly.

"Here is an opportunity to re-examine her findings. She was right in every aspect of what she said," added Mr Macleod.

He was concerned that fewer people would be employed in the fish farming industry in the Western Isles in future and they would be looking for work.

"What are these people going to do? We cannot afford to turn down work. As the population of the Western Isles goes down, so too will the money the Comhairle receives from the Government. All of us have to be vigilant. Councillors will have to understand that they cannot allow an opportunity like this to slip away - we need to encourage people to return to these islands if we are to survive," he added.



Superquarry Knocked Back on 1965 Backdoor Bid

Lafarge Redland Aggregates Ltd have failed in their bid to force a superquarry on Harris by revitalising a 1965 planning application for the site. The mini public local inquiry (26 November - 6 December 2001, reference P/PP/75/W/4) concluded that, yes, they could proceed, but only on the 12 acres (5 hectares) of the 370 acres that they wanted. As this is just the size of a farm field or a typical croft, it would be impossible to operate a large quarry on such a small site, so the Solomonic judgement effectively closes this particular back door on Lafarge. A press report on the matter is pasted below.

The Scottish Executive have still to figure out what to do by way of reissuing their letter to the company following their decision not to contest the company's legal challenge to the earlier letter, which rejected the application. We await with interest.

Speaking at the AGM of Harris Development Ltd., Brian Wilson MP, the UK Energy Minister, had the following to say about the quarry. Whilst originally a supporter of the proposal, it sounds like he'll not now be buying many shares in the company:

"Of course, the issues became more complex as it was not just a quarry which was eventually proposed but the biggest whole on earth. Nobody on Harris ever asked for that and I have always felt that the developers who chose to pursue that jackpot, rather than something more in keeping with local needs and expectations, had a lot to answer for. But whatever the scale of the application, the failure of Government to give Harris - even down to the present day - a definitive answer on the outcome remains one of the most scandalous episodes in the recent administration of Scotland" ("Momentum must be maintained on renewable energy developments", West Highland Free Press, 31 May 2002, p. 10.


Ministers to cut Lingerbay superquarry plan down to size

Story supplied by:
The Herald

29 May 2002

MINISTERS are prepared to allow the establishment of a superquarry at Lingerbay on the island of Harris, but only if it covers just 12 acres and not the 370 acres sought by the developers.

The decision appears to close the back door that Redland Aggregates, the developer, sought to use by arguing that planning consents for Lingerbay dating to 1965 were still in force.

In November 2000, Sam Galbraith, the environment minister at the time, refused consent for a superquarry at Lingerbay, nine-and-a-half years after the Western Isles Council had supported Redland's planning application.

Following that decision the developer (renamed Lafarge Redland) sought to establish that a 37-year-old planning consent by the old Inverness-shire County Council was still valid. At the subsequent inquiry it argued that this 1965 consent had allowed quarrying for two years in the 1960s and was still valid.

This would have enabled Redland to exploit a 1500-acre area, four times larger than that refused by Mr Galbraith.

Ministers, however, have accepted the recommendations of the Scottish Executive reporters unit, which would restrict any quarrying to an area no larger than 12 acres, which was the extent of the 1960s workings.

The ministerial decision said: "The remainder of the 600 hectares (1500 acres) no longer has planning permission since work was not commenced on that part prior to December 8, 1979" (when permission lapsed).

The decision was welcomed by the Link Quarry Group, the umbrella environmental organisation, which had always opposed the development.

But there is still the executive's blunder, which in March forced ministers to reopen the 11-year planning saga. New legal advice suggested that when Mr Galbraith refused permission the executive failed to give "sufficient and adequate" reasons why it was ignoring the recommendation from the longest inquiry in Scots planning history that the development should go ahead.

The developers later appealed against Mr Galbraith's decision. That appeal had been due to be heard in the Court of Session in April when ministers were advised that they would lose.

The executive's failure will not mean the quarry will now go ahead automatically, but it means ministers will still have to listen to fresh evidence from any of the parties to the public inquiry.

A spokesman for the developers said they would study the terms before commenting.

- May 29th


Update as of February 5 2003

This is just to note that, as far as I am aware, there has been no further change in the situation since last reported on this website. We await the court hearings. A few weeks ago there was a report in the Stornoway Gazette merely saying that somebody from the company had spoken at the "Coastal Quarry Local Supporters' Group" AGM, and he had repeated that the quarry remained Harris's main hope for salvation;  but other than that, all's been quiet on the Western Front, with negligible activity in the letters pages of the local press either. Of course, that doesn't mean all's quiet in the Lowland lawyers' offices. 

I stayed on Harris when I was back home on Lewis in November 2002. It was impressed on me by a Harris native prominent in the economic development of the island that Harris now has virtually no unemployment problem (other than "unemployables"), and the Stolt salmon processing factory has been facing labour shortage, as have similar plants in Stornoway where Nigerian labour has recently been brought in for unskilled work. 

Of course, this does not mean there is not still enormous scope on Harris for skilled employment opportunities that would anchor its highly intelligent youth to home, but it does suggest that the kind of unemployment that the quarry offered to soak up has already been absorbed and has been so by industries that a superquarry would have damaged. 

By the way, it is substantially because salmon farming has been the biggest factor in holding the superquarry at bay that I personally have chosen to sit on the fence with the salmon farming debate. Salmon farming causes temporary damage to the environment, whilst a superquarry would disfigure it for all time. That said, I wish the emphasis could be shifted away from fish farming and back towards wild harvesting through wise conservation measures.

I would appreciate hearing from any observer who might have inside information about superquarry issues or who might have picked up on news that I've missed - email to mail@AlastairMcIntosh.com


Please click here for ECOS article updating to July 2003.


Update as of 9 January 2004 - Lafarge Lose Court Case

The following is the Friends of the Earth Scotland press release announcing that Lafarge has lost one of the two legal avenues they had been following to force through their superquarry proposal for the Isle of Harris. For more on this effort to "grandfather" their objectives to an older supposed planning consent, see my ECOS article by clicking the July 2003 update link above. 

I attended the opening day of the court case on 25 November 2003 and it was clear that all 3 law lords were skeptical about the grounds for bringing the case. As they said more than once, and I paraphrase, "If the 1965 planning consent was valid all along, why did you need to make the 1991 application with all the need for a public inquiry that it entailed?"

Interestingly, in the court house that morning was Ian Wilson, the Dunblane-based "father of the superquarry concept" who jointly controls the mineral rights on Harris. On seeing one another, we moved over and shook hands like old friends. I don't know what those watching made of it, but it was good to confirm that people can be adversaries but still have warmth and respect for one another. I particularly admire this in Ian, as I have perhaps contributed to costing him more than he's cost me!

Much has been happening behind the scenes with Lafarge executives, Friends of the Earth Scotland, WWF, the RSPB, the Paris-based Co-Evolution Group and with community leaders on Harris over the past 3 months. We are not at liberty to share further at the moment, but nobody's napping.



Britain's biggest quarry put on on....

Sent on behalf of Scottish Environment LINK
Press Release
********* FOR IMMEDIATE USE: Friday 9 January 2004 *********

Call for company to drop plans for Britain's biggest quarry

Plans to develop what would be Britain's biggest ever quarry were set back today (Friday 9 January) following a unanimous decision by judges at the Edinburgh Court of Session to reject a "back door" appeal by French aggregates giant Lafarge. The company failed to overturn a previous Executive decision blocking the establishment of a massive 600 hectare superquarry within a National Scenic Area on Harris.

The superquarry controversy may not end here. Following an earlier appeal by Lafarge, a redetermination on a separate planning application dating from 1991 has yet to be issued.

The Link Quarry Group, a coalition of environment groups opposed to the quarry, welcomed today's decision and demanded that that Lafarge Aggregates finally drop its quarry plans and withdraw from all attempts to gain approval for its plan. The Group also reiterated its demand that the bosses of Lafarge visit Harris to apologise for the decade of uncertainty that they have created for the community.

On behalf of the Link Quarry Group, Duncan McLaren said:

"When will Lafarge accept that 'non' means 'non'? They have been told repeatedly by the Scottish authorities and people that their 'super-quarry' proposals are unacceptable. Yet they have persisted in pursuing every arcane planning and legal possibility. Now the Scottish law lords have confirmed that only a tiny part of the site has a valid existing permission. It's time for Lafarge to withdraw gracefully before they are rebuffed yet again.

"Lafarge's bosses claim that they support sustainable development. They should accept that the only sustainable decision in this case is to drop the entire proposal, and then apologise to the people of Harris for the uncertainty and disruption they have caused."


[1] The Link Quarry Group represents a number of Scottish environment groups including Friends of the Earth Scotland, Ramblers Scotland, RSPB, WWF Scotland, Rural Scotland, Sustrans, NEMT and Scottish Wildlife Trust.

The following groups are available for interview or comment:

RSPB Scotland: Lloyd Austin or Anne McCall on 0131 311 6500
WWF Scotland: Simon Pepper on 01887 820449
Ramblers Scotland: Dave Morris on 07808 580 796
Friends of the Earth Scotland: Duncan McLaren on 0131 554 9977

Full text available from here: http://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/opinions/XA99.html

Some key conclusions:

Lord President: [51] É "The land to which a relevant planning permission relates" means, in my view, the land in respect of which specific minerals development has been authorised. In the circumstances of the present case land which satisfies that description comprises only the three areas identified in the 25 inch map. The remainder of the 600 hectares does not satisfy that description since winning and working of minerals in these areas has never been authorised...

[52] ...one of the appellants' contentions was that the reporters had exceeded their remit in recommending that the three areas should be entered in the list, in respect that they were only concerned with the existence and validity of 1965/79. I am wholly unpersuaded by this contention...

Lord Marnoch: [55] ...I should make it clear that, had it been necessary to do so, I, myself, would have been prepared to go further and hold that a "planning permission in principle" or any other supposed "planning permission" which, like "1965/79", prohibited the commencement of work pending further approval of aspects of the application could not in any circumstances itself constitute a "relevant planning permission"...

[59] In agreement with your Lordship in the chair I am of opinion that there is no substance whatever in Grounds of Appeal 5 and 6 relative to the vires of the Scottish Ministers' decision...

60] ...  all the Grounds of Appeal ... come back to the same point, namely the proper construction of the definition of "relevant planning permission" for purposes of Schedule 9 to the 1997 Act. ... I am satisfied that any reasonable construction of that phrase in the end leads to a dismissal of the present appeal.

Lord Weir: [70] I agree with your Lordship in the chair that the "land to which a relevant planning permission relates" means the land in respect of which specific minerals development has been authorised. As it has transpired, the only authorisation which has been made relates to the areas identified in the 25 inch map. The remainder of the large area has not been authorised for development as a mineral site and accordingly cannot be listed. In my opinion the decision reached by the Ministers in accepting the recommendations of the reporters was correct, and I agree with your Lordships that the appeal should be refused.

[3] Background: In November 2003, Lafarge went to the Edinburgh's Court of Session in an  attempt to overturn an earlier decision which prevented it from establishing a superquarry. The company was claimed that a permission given back in 1965 by the now defunct
Inverness County Council was still valid and would allow a superquarry to proceed.

If successful the Harris superquarry would be Britain's biggest ever quarry. Fifty times larger than conventional UK quarries the proposal by one of the world's largest aggregate companies, Lafarge Aggregates, would cover an area 459 hectares in area. A Scottish mountain would be reduced to a sea loch leaving a scar six times the height of the White Cliffs of Dover.

For more details: http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/nation/superquarry_update.html


Updated 12 January 2004


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