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 ECOS Debate - Harris Superquarry Conclusion


The 3 articles on this page are a response to Lafarge finally pulling out from their appeal process over the proposed Harris superquarry, and the request from their Executive Director of Aggregates in the UK, Nigel Jackson, for public debate on the issues thereby raised. The production of these articles was co-ordinated by me and published in ECOS: the Journal of the British Association of Nature Conservationists, Vol. 25, Issue 2, October 2004. Note that my engagement with Lafarge continues as of Oct 2004 - see Lafarge Sustainability Stakeholders' Panel. A photo essay of the final symbolic ending of the superquarry saga is now on this website - see http://www.alastairmcintosh.com/general/quarry/ending.htm


Corporate ethics and the Harris superquarry by Luc Giraud-Guigues, Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud (both of WWF International) & Alastair McIntosh (of the Centre for Human Ecology), was on pp. 44 – 52.


Living without minerals is just not an option by Nigel Jackson of Lafarge, was on pp. 53 – 57.


Harris 1 - UK aggregate policy 0 by Dan Barlow of Friends of the Earth Scotland, was on pp. 58 – 59. 


Editorial by Geoffrey Wain was on p. 1.





Life in the inner Circle


It’s rare for conservationists to reflect on big cases going in their favour. The dice seem loaded, even when we think we’ve won the moral argument. Steady yourself then, because this issue [of ECOS] examines two recent decisions that have gone our way. Mount Roineabhal on Harris is not to be consumed for aggregates by Lafarge, and the people of Harris are free of the blight from the drawn out case. Meanwhile, Associated British Ports will not be developing a major port on the intertidal SSSI at Dibden Bay, Southampton, and which might have led to new infrastructure and traffic eroding the edge of the New Forest.


These examples must be learnt from. The success factors must be registered, so we know the arguments that count next time. There will be more pressure for ports, and some of the cases might even involve the nasty business of compromise, mitigation, and compensatory measures. David Tyldesley doesn’t shy away from this in the tips he passes on.


Our feedback from Harris also looks at the real world – in this case, close relationships with a business in the game of extracting aggregates. Nigel Jackson, a Lafarge Executive reminds us we’re all in it together, and our lifestyles demand the resources that his company scouts for. At the root of the debate is the distinction of what level of aggregates society needs for its material comforts and its infrastructure, from what it demands. We must do much more to peg back demand and to focus on what levels of mineral use we actually need. This will help get to the industrial ecology of minerals that some of our quarry authors call for.


It’s easy to be cynical about environment groups’ close relations with industry – indeed, ECOS often is. But the feedback we’re party to from Luc Giraud-Guigues, Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud, and Alastair McIntosh is helpful. It reveals how the conditions set by conservationists in dialogue with big business were held firm. Respect and trust were gained, and progress achieved by Lafarge’s tactical withdrawal. This dialogue and trust is cheaper and more efficient than a set piece confrontation at an Inquiry, although in this instance, Harris had had its dose of that already…. [the remainder of this editorial pertains to other issues and so is not reproduced here].


Geoffrey Wain



Corporate ethics and the Harris Superquarry


Environmentalists ‘moved mountains’ to save a mountain on Harris in a campaign lasting over 13 years. The case was concluded amidst remarkably close dialogue between conservation bodies and the would be developer. This article reports on how it happened and on what was learnt by all sides.





An epic concluded


The saga over the proposed and much-opposed Harris superquarry is at last fully over. On 2 April 2004 five senior Lafarge executives flew by private jet to the Hebrides and announced to the community that they would be laying down their legal attempts to overturn the Scottish Executive’s rejection of their proposal.


There would be no more appeals. Mount Roineabhal, gracing the National Scenic Area (NSA) in South Harris, would retain her 3-billion-year-old majesty. Thirteen years of uncertainty and planning blight for the island was over.


In this article we will explore the corporate ethical dimensions of how the process drew to its conclusion. We will do so through our own eyes – those of Alastair McIntosh, a writer and campaigning academic at Scotland’s Centre for Human Ecology, and those of Luc Giraud-Guigues and Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud, WWF International staff working on corporate partnerships and industry relations with companies, that include Lafarge, in an effort to integrate business and sustainability.


Together, we shall start by giving some historical background. Alastair will then describe the concluding process as he observed it from the local perspective. Luc and Jean-Paul will then offer their international perspective. Finally, we will close with some shared reflections on the corporate ethical implications.



The Superquarry’s history


Much of the history has previously been reported in ECOS and elsewhere.[i] Briefly, in 1965, planning permission was granted for a quarry at Lingerabay near Rodel in South Harris. This went undeveloped. In 1991, the UK’s largest roadstone company, Redland Aggregates, applied to open a £70m “superquarry” at the site. They wanted to ship out 10m tonnes a year over 60 years and convert the eastern slopes of the mountain into a new sea loch.


A local referendum in June 1993 revealed 62% support for the scheme. Initially there were promises of hundreds of jobs. However, a second referendum, held by secret ballot with an astonishingly high 83% participation rate of the people of Harris in May 1995 after the public inquiry had closed, revealed that 68% were now opposed.


In December 1997 Redland were taken over by the French multinational Lafarge. Meanwhile, the inquiry had concluded that only 33 direct and 10 indirect jobs would probably be created for Harris people. The inquiry report, which, due to the Reporter’s illness and scandalous political procrastination was not published until March 2000, surmised:


“The present remote, peaceful, and traditional ensemble of a semi-natural and crofting agriculture environment would be disrupted by the intrusion of a man made excavation and associated quarry and harbour installations on an enormous scale…. 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.”


Nevertheless, the Reporter’s final conclusion was that forecast aggregate demand for the south of England did in fact justify this “national” interest. However, in November 2000, the Executive of the newly devolved Scottish Parliament rejected that conclusion.

Mt Roineabhal (right) from St Clement's Church, Rodel

(Photo: Alastair McIntosh 2003, may be freely reproduced

Lafarge, stung by what was clearly a political decision, reacted with a two-pronged legal retaliation. It lost one of these – an attempt to re-activate or “grandfather” the original 1965 planning process - in the Court of Session in November 2003, but it still had the option to appeal to the House of Lords. The other prong – a so-far successful attempt to force the Scottish Executive to re-think the logic of its rejection, remained pending, the Executive prudently choosing to procrastinate further until the “grandfatherification” case had been exhausted.


However, by autumn 2003 the whole thing was becoming like a never ending bad dream for the community on Harris. The island was suffering affliction by planning blight, the uncertainty stifling investment in tourism and more sustainable industries. At this point, let us continue the story in Alastair’s voice.



Lafarge’s visit to Harris


On 3rd November 2000 I was in the London offices of Aurum Press signing the contract for my book, Soil and Soul: People versus Corporate Power, when the news came from the BBC that the Scottish Executive’s Sam Galbraith had rejected the superquarry. But that wonderful decision tarnished as it became clear that Lafarge were willing to throw massive legal resources at its overturning.


Soil and Soul is a kind of history of how the world has got to be as it is. Illustrating part of this, I describe the superquarry campaign and how my own contribution – only one position on a long front – was to attempt to deepen the argument beyond the usual economic, ecological and cultural issues and into spirituality. This entailed calling as expert public inquiry witnesses the Rev Professor Donald Macleod, a Hebridean-born Calvinist professor of theology, and the then Mi’Kmaq First Nations war chief and sacred pipe carrier, Sulian Stone Eagle Herney, whose activism had prevented a similar superquarry from being opened on Mount Kluscap, a sacred site in Nova Scotia.


In August 2002, Thierry Groussin, the director of training for Groupe Crédit Mutuel, the French mutual bank, contacted me. He ran a small Paris-based futures think-tank, the Co-Evolution Project, and said that he was interested in some of the ideas he’d found in Soil and Soul which he had bought while on holiday in Scotland. Would I, he wondered, undertake some training with his bank’s senior staff? He wanted them to hear about mutuality in the Hebrides because he believed this would deepen reflection n his own bank’s co-operative core values.


In the course of what became several training workshops, it was evident that these French bankers were dismayed at the thought of such a reputable company, in their eyes, as Lafarge, trying to force something on a designated landscape in Scotland that they would probably never attempt in France.


The French banking executive & ecologist, Thierry Groussin  

(centre) with his son, Adrian (left) and myself, on the summit 

of Mt Roineabhal, summer 2003. Photo: Christoph Bey.

In August 2003 Thierry visited Harris. We visited Rodel’s medieval Saint Clement’s Chuch dedicated to one whose martyrdom happened to be as a quarry slave, and climbed Roineabhal. At the top of the mountain as his son, Adrian, and I admired the misty view, Thierry pulled out his mobile phone and started calling up colleagues connected with Lafarge executives. Did they really know what was going on in their name? Might they be willing to have a meeting with me?


The outcome was a private gathering in Lafarge’s Rue des Belles Feuilles Paris headquarters in October. Together with Thierry and Mme Domnique Viel, an economist with the French finance ministry who is also a member of the Co-Evolution Project, I was introduced to Michel Picard, Vice President for Environmental Issues, and Gaëlle Monteiller, Senior Vice President Public Affairs & Environment.


I quickly became impressed by their frankness. They generally kept out of local matters in the 75 countries where they operate, but had become aware, they told me, that the superquarry “has become a problem for us.” Would I, they concluded after a lunch that included much fascinating shared ground in discussing feminism, religion, and ethics, arrange for them and Philippe Hardouin, Senior Vice President Group Communications, to make a fact finding visit to the Hebrides?



Keeping the dialogue


The Lafarge team came to Harris on 16 January 2004. In three meetings chaired by the area’s elected councillor, Morag Munro, they listened to all shades of local opinion. In private, they were very frank about how they saw their situation. Indeed, I found it appropriate to ask them not to share with me information that they were not willing for me in turn to share at my own discretion with my personal reference group – with other locally-connected people like Quarry Benefit Group chairperson John MacAulay, environmental activists Alison Johnson and Ian Callaghan, and their arch-adversaries like Duncan McLaren and colleagues in FoE Scotland.

Lafarge executives' fact-finding visit to Harris on 

15 Jan 2004, with Mt Roineabhal in the background. 

Left to right - Philippe Hardouin, Senior Vice President 

Communications; Gaëlle Monteiller, Senior Vice 

President Public Affairs; & Michel Picard, 

Vice President Environment. Photo: Alastair 

McIntosh (this picture was not used in the print edition of the ECOS article). 

I explained that it could be divisive if I alone was placed in a position of holding privileged information. Information is power, and if some have power while others don’t, the seeds of mistrust and possible compromise are set. The Lafarge team continued, nevertheless, in being very open with me. However, by having taken this step it meant that I was free to apply my own discretion in sharing information and not feel obligated in any way. In retrospect, this measure played a vital part in creating all-round trust. All parties closely involved, including the Lafarge executives, have subsequently specifically commented on this. It allowed me to adopt a new role of being the honest broker in the middle without compromising my alternative (and, still, contingent) ‘firebrand’ reputation. I feel a little self-conscious talking about this, but have chosen to document it here as it might be a useful reflection for others in similar situations.


The outcome of the January visit was a return trip to the Hebrides for us all on 2 April. This time the same Paris trio, accompanied by the two top Lafarge Aggregates UK staff - Dyfrig James, the General Manager and Nigel Jackson, Director of Business Development - they came and announced the good news of their unconditional withdrawal from Harris to community representatives.


Speaking Rob Edwards, the award-winning environmental correspondent for the Sunday Herald, Philippe Hardouin said:


“We have to create value for shareholders, but we want to do it by respecting some values. The combination of both dictates our decisions. We recognise that if we are action in the best possible way from an environmental standpoint, we will get a competitive advantage”.[ii]


Councillor Morag Munro, responded for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the Western Isles’ Council, saying:


“I wish to express my gratitude and the gratitude of this community to you for bringing the uncertainty of the past thirteen years to an end. We are very appreciative of the fact that you came to Harris to see for yourselves and then came back to give your decision directly to the community before anyone else. Your courtesy was greatly appreciated by both supporters and opponents of the project.”


Holding the ring


My own role in all this had, as Michel Picard put it, “turned the key in the lock” by being in the right place at the right time. But this was possible only because many other hands were already knocking on the door. It hastened what was probably the inevitable, and allowed Scotland’s biggest-ever environmental campaign to be wound up with mutual dignity and in a way that has opened up dialogue about a more sustainable future, such as the three contributions in this edition of ECOS represent.


A remarkable aspect of the campaign has been the effective and mutually generous co-operation between NGOs comprising the Link Quarry Group – including Friends of the Earth Scotland (FoES), Ramblers Scotland, RSPB Scotland, WWF Scotland, Rural Scotland, Sustrans, NEMT and the Scottish Wildlife Trust. This will be documented in a forthcoming edited volume, a review of which will hopefully appear in ECOS.


FoES in particular, originally at the behest of Kevin Dunion (now the Scottish Information Commissioner under the Freedom of Information Act) played a powerful co-ordinating role in applying high-profile ‘push’ pressure. What was perhaps less apparent was the simultaneous ‘pull’ process being effected from the international office of WWF in close liaison with Simon Pepper and his Aberfeldy-based Scottish team.


In May 2004, as part of the commitment to ongoing dialogue, Lafarge invited me to give the keynote address at their corporate environmental conference in Bergamo, Italy.[iii]


There I met the WWF International staff and was impressed by how they were working with Lafarge. Some of Lafarge’s executives were clearly dinosaurs. Others cared deeply about communities and the environment. These were very open to working with activists to see how best the aggregates, limestone and gypsum could be sourced more sensitively and with optimal restoration.


But let me now hand over to Luc and Jean-Paul to describe how their ‘pull’ approach complemented our ‘push’.



WWF’s Partnership with Lafarge


When we signed our Conservation Partnership with Lafarge in 2000 neither WWF International nor Lafarge in Paris were aware of the local level controversy surrounding the Harris project. In Scotland, WWF was part of the Link Quarry Group of NGOs opposing the project and WWF International soon got strong signals from Simon Pepper in our Scottish office that WWF there was heading for direct confrontation with Lafarge.

This internal tension between our international partnership, aimed at helping Lafarge to become a cleaner and more responsible company, and the confrontation with Lafarge in Scotland, presented us with a dilemma: should we proceed with the partnership? Parts of our network put pressure on us to terminate the cooperation. Other NGOs attacked us publicly in the UK media and we were faced with a long letter-writing campaign, inititated by our FoES and LINK Quarry Group partners, directed at Claude Martin, WWF International Director General. One letter writer from Dumfries in Scotland urged WWF to end the partnership with Lafarge, as he put it, to: “... support the anti-quarry campaign and to urge Lafarge to stop munching our mountains.” We responded in a number of press releases and written replies to NGOs and concerned members of the public by publicly stating WWF International's position supporting the opposition to the quarry.

In addition, Lafarge presented the controversy on page 39 of the company’s own 2001 sustainability report and included the URL of the LINK Quarry Group’s website. WWF's Director General personally intervened on a number of occasions to attempt to persuade Lafarge’s senior management to abandon their plans for Harris.

Our regular quarterly meetings were always used as an opportunity to stress our opposition to the project and to make suggestions for dignified exit strategies. In all public fora where we presented the Partnership, we reiterated our position, whilst demonstrating our belief that it is crucial to engage with business and industry from within, in the push towards a more sustainable future.

We were convinced that we were more likely to influence Lafarge's decisions in relation to the environment in general, and Harris in particular, if we remained engaged with them in this way and on a daily basis through our partnership. Therefore, by continuing to work with Lafarge during this confrontation, and in spite of negative media attention in the UK, we were able to contribute towards real conservation and sustainable development benefits around the world.

That said, we made it abundantly clear to Lafarge that if their legal challenges were successful, and they were to take up the option of the superquarry, we would terminate our partnership with them. This was stated publicly on a number of occasions. We regularly encouraged our counterparts in Lafarge to engage in discussions with the islanders and the NGOs heading the LINK Quarry Group. We saw this as crucial to their developing a better understanding of the depth and breadth of local feelings and opinions.

In September 2003, we went on a fact-finding visit to Edinburgh and the Isles of Lewis and Harris, where we met with journalists, local opponents and FoES and RSPB Scotland representatives. Following this visit, local and international pressure on the company converged and helped change the perspective of senior Lafarge staff in Paris. As they became increasingly aware of the damage being caused to their international reputation, they acted rapidly to ensure a positive outcome to the controversy. As Philippe Hardouin later acknowledged, this outcome will hopefully reflect helpfully on the company’s positioning in a business environment where competition to raise ethical standards can offer competitive advantage.



Lessons for corporate ethics


Let us attempt now, as all three authors together, to draw tentative conclusions from our experience.


The question we constantly put to ourselves in undertaking work from the inside, as described here, is whether we have been complicit with corporate greenwash. We consider that, as inevitable consumers of corporate products, there is an extent to which we are all complicit in the impacts of corporations. Merely to project our unease onto them and not to engage with them from the inside would seem to be the greater and more hypocritical evil. At least, in this particular instance, the happy outcome speaks for itself. In other circumstances, however, we acknowledge that working with corporations from within can be much more frustrating than it has proven to be in the case of Lafarge and Harris.


The structure of advanced capitalism is such that corporations must succeed competitively to survive. Ethics must ultimately intertwine with profit. If the money-making process falters, shareholders will resort to radical ways of protecting their financial investments in the short term, such as cost cutting that may lead to staff redundancies and mergers and acquisitions, that may result in medium or long-term negative social consequences. As will be evident from many of our other writings, we deeply question the morality of putting short term financial consideration before the broader welfare of society. We look towards more co-operative and less competitive alternatives, such as the Fair Trade and other movements based on principles of mutuality. However, given the reality of how western economies are presently organised, we have been impressed that senior individuals in a corporation like Lafarge can help tilt the balance in an incrementally positive direction. We have met many such women and men within Lafarge and companies like it. As such, sustainability may not be achievable in the short-term, but we can take some satisfaction in witnessing a raising of the level playing field. This at least shifts change in the right direction.


While Lafarge is willing to raise its standards internationally, it is much harder for such a company to urge minimisation of primary resource use through, for example, ecological building standards, legislation and aggregates taxes. Most of its executives see this as being a political function that is beyond their remit. However, we would ask them to think again about the fundamental question of corporate strategy, namely: “What is the nature of the business you are in?” If companies like Lafarge can develop their thinking beyond cement, plasterboard and aggregate production, and towards sustainable solutions for the construction industry, we may witness the birth of a genuine industrial ecology.

The Lafarge executives, Hardouin, Monteiller & Picard,

in the foyer of their Paris head office before leaving for

Harris. Lafarge's close relationship with WWF was

clearly a key part of the process. (Photo courtesy of

Lafarge - not used in the print ECOS article)


A fine example of such progress is Lafarge’s approach to re-cycling and resource substitution in its Gypsum Division. Here the company’s ethos and technical proficiency is held back only by the expectations of a market that does not yet fully trust sustainable technologies. As one Lafarge Executive complained at the recent Bergamo conference, “We produce the sustainable alternative, only to find our competitors knocking us by advertising their non-recycled product as being ‘made from natural gypsum’!”


Redefining the Good Life…


Every time we drive or cycle down a road, walk on a pavement, take the train, enter our homes, schools and hospitals, or berth a boat against a pier, we participate in the use of aggregate products. And yet, modern demand at five or even ten tonnes per head per annum in western Europe has reached levels that were unimaginable back in the days when it all had to be dug out with a pick and shovel.


If humankind is to be a going concern through the fullness of geological time, we cannot continue to exploite the natural world as if its potential were infinite. We must conserve both nature’s beauty and productivity for its own sake, and for the restoration and nourishment of the human spirit – body and soul.


Efforts to create sustainable construction and transportation infrastructure must be intensified. Recycling, substitution and product lifespans must be optimised. We commit ourselves to this. We will do it by working with or without industry if we have to. But wherever possible, our preference is to work in ways that seek to harmonise political, environmental and industrial considerations. Such is the path towards achieving an industrial ecology and, we would hope, a sustainable future.



References and notes

[i]   See ECOS 16:1, 1995; 22:1 2001 & 24:2 2003. Also, Friends of the Earth Scotland (1996), The Case Against the Harris Superquarry; Mackenzie, A. Fiona D. (1998), “The Cheviot, the Stag and the White, White Rock?”: Community, identity, and environmental threat on the Isle of Harris, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, Vol. 16, 509-532; McIntosh, Alastair (2004 revised edn.), Soil and Soul (Aurum Press, London).

[ii] Lafarge did not want a press conference, but agreed to minimal media contact that I managed with the local Hebridean newspapers and the Sunday Herald, the editor of which, Andrew Jaspan, has a particular interest in corporate ethics. See Sunday Herald coverage of 4 April 2004 and other media reports on my website at www.AlastairMcIntosh.com/general/quarry/withdrawal.htm .

[iii] An edited version appeared in the Sunday Herald (Seven Days), Glasgow, 23 May 2004, p. 9. The full text is online (see link in Note 2).


Luc Giraud-Guigues is Manager of Corporate Partnerships at WWF International, Switzerland.


Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud is Head of Business and Industry Relations at WWF Internationa and is a founding Director of One Planet Living, a joint initiative with BioRegional.


Alastair McIntosh is from the Isle of Lewis, neighbouring Harris, and is a Fellow of Scotland’s Centre for Human Ecology. mail@AlastairMcIntosh.com






Living without minerals is just not an option


Living with minerals may be challenging, but living without them is not an option. Now, more than ever, there is a need for debate about where the building materials of the future will come from.




The existing tension between the minerals industry and those opposed to mineral extraction is largely unproductive and undesirable. Mineral developers are typically perceived as heartless capitalists with no respect for communities and the environment, and environmentalists are seen as opposed to anything and everything.


Whilst neither perception is really justified there is little evidence to suggest that this relationship is evolving into something more constructive. Given the importance of sustainable mineral supply to each and everyone of us, our economy and our way of life there is an urgent need for better mutual engagement on the key issue of access to minerals.


The steady provision of our mineral needs is vital but is potentially in jeopardy over the longer term as the cumulative impact of ill-considered or fragmented legislative constraints and local opposition increasingly stifle the industry’s ability to provide sustainable supply solutions to meet our demand.


Who really creates the demand?


My starting point is that Society - that is each and everyone of us, creates the markets which generate the demand for all products and services. It is this demand which creates the ‘call upon our natural resources’ of which minerals are but one, but which like food and water are a necessity for the way we live in the UK.


Demand needs to be supplied unless the Government dictates otherwise. Demand management (ie. managing society’s need for minerals rather than supplying whatever is demanded) is not a lever of the industry it is primarily a political and economic tool for the Cabinet and the Treasury. The industry does not create our demand.


Pre-supposing that it is ultimately accepted that whatever the level of demand, it will be supplied, the challenge for us all is from where and how.

The industry’s role is that of responding to demand by proposing and providing sustainable supply solutions to its customers of which the Government, on behalf of the public, is by far the largest. Delivering the Government’s social and economic agenda accounts for nearly half of all demand as a result of improving our national infrastructure, ie. our roads, railways, schools, hospitals and social housing.


It is the job of the planning system to balance the issues of need for mineral against social and environmental considerations to identify the location of the sources of supply and how they will reach markets sustainably. 


This is the delicate fulcrum upon which our entire industry depends. It is a complicated, subjective  and uncertain tool with which to plan long-term businesses and one which is prone to continual change. Planning decisions crystallise the link between demand and supply and quite simply for us in the industry, ‘no planning means no business’.



Facing up to supply realities


The recent planning decision at Rodel on the Isle of Harris is but one example of such decisions. The fact that Lafarge Aggregates has since terminated its interest in the Rodel site does not mean that the problem of sourcing medium and long-term supplies of mineral to meet the UK’s future demand has gone away. Indeed, without numerous new greenfield quarry sites being currently identified for the longer term the problem is compounded. Now, more than ever, there is an urgent need for a serious debate about where the building materials of the future will come from.

The aggregates industry is finding that it is becoming increasingly harder and taking longer to secure permissions for major extensions, and in particular new greenfield sites, for extraction.


Currently annual total UK demand for aggregate is around 260m tonnes, approximately 60m tonnes of which is obtained from recycled and secondary aggregate material. Of the 200m tonne demand for primary aggregate, 120m tonnes is rock and 80m tonnes is sand and gravel.

With demand likely to continue at these levels for the next 15 years or beyond, long term sustainability of supply is emerging as an issue due to the constraints placed upon sources of supply as a result of the cumulative impact of increasing regulation and legislation and local opposition.


Securing new rock quarries to replace the future decline in production capacity of existing rock quarries is already extremely difficult and will only become more difficult over time. Local land-won sand and gravel is already a highly controversial issue and will only become more so. Securing marine sand and gravel is not without its own environmental challenges and, notwithstanding the potential availability of significant resources, there are infrastructure and logistical constraints which prevent the ability of marine sources to fully offset any future decline in land won sand and gravel.


As for recycled aggregates, it is recognised by Government that the industry has now reached about 90 per cent of what can usefully be recycled; indeed, the issue for the industry now is securing sufficient material of the right quality to recycle.


Whilst there are significant resources of secondary aggregate potentially available they remain distant from key markets. Quality issues and logistical and economic challenges will also inhibit the ability of these sources to make a dramatic increase in the contribution that they can make to meeting demand.

Importation of material from other countries is not the great hope that many would like it to be due to geological, quality, and logistical issues which mean that whilst overseas sources can make a contribution, this may not be as significant in capacity terms as some would have thought. Irrespective of these technical and economic considerations can we really justify exporting our environmental costs when we have so much undeveloped resource of our own?


Consequently all existing components of supply have constraints and limitations going forward which means that no single supply element in itself has the ability to solve any future declines in production capacity.


Time for a better debate


The industry’s stakeholders and Government need to understand the critical distinction between the superficially abundant level of consented reserves that exist in the UK and the actual geographical distribution and sustainability of production capacity around the country. Only then can we really start to appreciate that a potential supply issue in 10 to 15 years time requires addressing now, particularly in the light of the imminent changes to the planning system, which whilst well-intended are likely to slow down and further complicate the existing mineral planning process.


If it has taken Lafarge Aggregates 15 years not to be able to replace just one of its major quarries, so how long will it take to replace the production capacity of all the major quarries in the UK in future?


The aggregates industry underpins the delivery of the Government’s, and both the local authority and the private sector’s development objectives. It is vital therefore that all stakeholders who have a genuine interest in the sustainability of these agendas engage in a more mature public debate to ensure that the collective development interests of the UK are sustained for the next generation.


It is not acceptable any longer for this important component of our economy and our way of life to be debated in the tabloid terms which seem to accompany all new mineral planning applications. We all deserve better. 


Consider some of the changes that have occurred over the last 10 years which touch upon the mineral planning system in some way, such as the removal of the presumption in favour of development to the plan led system, the advent of devolution, growing regionalisation, environmental taxation,  and more and more EU Directives. This is in addition to the endless changes within Government with regard to the management of minerals and at least 10 different ministers in as many years! 


Is it any wonder that the industry feels as if it is having to run faster and faster just to stand still?


We accept that it is never going to be easy to secure our permits but what is really scary is if it is this tough now, where will we be in 10, 15, 20 and 25 years time?


What does the industry want?


So what do we want, what do we think would make a difference? Here are some suggestions which the industry is promoting in an attempt to take the issue forward in a positive and pro-active way.


·        A strategic debate about the future use of UK mineral resources, which could be based upon the 1976 Verney Royal Commission on the future the provision of aggregates and which provided the blueprint for the current mineral planning system.

·        A more effective interface between the industry and Government involving some form of National Minerals Forum to try and establish a more coherent national overview of the industry.

·        More effective Government sponsorship of the industry; currently sponsorship is fragmented and under-resourced, it would benefit from consolidation into one focal point to strengthen the interface with industry.

·        Clarification of the way the proposed changes to the planning system will actually work, particularly between the Regions and the Counties in England, especially if Regional Governments exist in some areas but not others and if by default the new regime institutionalises parochialism.

·        An audit of the cumulative impact of endless disjointed regulations which work against each other and jeopardise the contribution the industry makes to sustainable development, particularly with regard to the restoration of mineral workings and the link to the future release of mineral resources.

·        Improve the training of elected representatives in the Regions and Counties in mineral matters to improve their understanding of minerals issues. The industry would be happy to invest in such a process in liaison with other key stakeholders.

·        Increase the funding and resourcing of County mineral planning departments. They represent a valuable asset and pool of expertise which whilst often infuriating is nonetheless precious and difficult to replace.

·        Create a joint Government/Mineral authority/Industry best practice guide to remove endless debates, application by application, on technical issues relating to operational management. Let’s agree the gold standard and just get on with it.

·        Create Regional and County mineral stakeholder forums to enable communities, NGOs and other stakeholders to ventilate their concerns within an informed and organised environment.


These are just a selection of the proposals that the Industry believes would improve the way we manage mineral planning issues compared to the ever changing and very fragmented approach which we have to deal with currently.


The industry wants to play its part in delivering the Government’s agenda for building sustainable communities but to achieve this we need to re-engineer the interface between the industry and Government whether nationally, regionally and locally, and also with other stakeholders and communities. 


If changes are not made we will begin to witness supply difficulties emerging over the longer term. 


Waiting for possible supply problems to emerge is not a prudent approach to resource management and conflicts with this important element of the UK’s policy for sustainable development.


More effective engagement on the lines I have outlined would increase the valuable contribution that our industry makes to this nation’s quality of life. If such an approach can be maintained for the next 25 years we will all be able to not only live with minerals, but continue to live the way we do because of minerals. 



Nigel Jackson is Executive Director at Lafarge Aggregates








Harris 1 - UK aggregate policy 0

Developing a more sustainable approach


This article considers how flaws in UK minerals policy resulted in the Haris superquarry proposal coming forward, and how policy can be steered towards a more sustainable footing, rooted in environmental protection and managing aggregate need.




Demand forecasts


After over a decade of uncertainty for the communities on Harris, Redland’s (latterly Lafarge) proposal for a superquarry has been abandoned.


Redland’s justification for the proposed Harris superquarry was that of forecasts of increasing aggregate demand by UK Government.  These were based on a direct translation from forecasts of high economic growth.  Minerals Planning Guidance Note 6 (1994) forecast that primary aggregate production would increase from 304 mt in 1989 to 426 mt by 2007-2011. Instead aggregate production actually fell in many years and by 1997 it was 220 mt, some 72% of production in 1989,[1] with production of primary aggregate estimated to be down to 205 mt by 2003.[2]  Even given the very limited demand management measures in place in the 1990s the simple regression based relationship between primary aggregate demand and construction activity that underpinned UK government mineral planning policy proved to be wholly inaccurate. Thus between the original planning application being proposed, and the decision taken by the company to withdraw, the mineral-need justification collapsed.  However, right up until early 2004 the company was still trying to secure permission through legal challenges to the planning refusal.


The fact that the forecasts proved to be so inaccurate demonstrates just why the deep rooted “predict and provide”, market led mentality to resource provision inhibits progress towards sustainable development.  Had the Harris proposal gone ahead it is hard to be certain of any sustainable economic, environment or social benefits.  At a UK and indeed global level a far more intelligent approach to minerals planning is essential if we are to produce a sustainable strategy that does not simply serve to exacerbate environmental injustices, whether these be to existing or future communities.  Some progress towards improving planning guidance has been made in England with MPG reviews but equivalent policy changes have yet to be implemented in Scotland.  The evidence that rising GDP and aggregate consumption are not inextricably linked provides the opportunity we need to establish how we better manage mineral resources, placing environmental considerations at the forefront.


A more needs-led, sustainable minerals policy should be grounded, like other resource use policies, in a hierarchical framework of managing demand. This should start with planning to minimise resource use, optimising recycling, and substituting more sustainable materials, and only then extracting primary aggregate with strong environmental and social safeguards. There are a number of policy and practical actions that need to be pursued to deliver this and a range of drivers to support this change.


Landbank policy


Current minerals policy has resulted in accumulation of considerable mineral landbanks. This not only leaves adjacent communities facing uncertainty and having to tolerate planning blight but also acts as a disincentive for the industry to develop more resource efficient sustainable mineral management solutions. Partly as a result of outdated and incorrect mineral extraction forecasts there are considerable landbanks in the UK, which serve little benefit than to the asset value of the owning company. The issues has been exacerbated by competing companies all establishing their own landbanks. Indeed it is estimated that landbanks in parts of the UK contain 50 years worth of supply[3] – although the companies insist that this information is commercially confidential, undermining the ability of the planning system to make informed judgements. Instead we should be looking towards a policy based on productive capacity which is better able to meet both supply and environment needs.


In the later stages of pursuing permission for the Harris superquarry it was rumoured that the company was no longer planning to develop the quarry (not surprising given the dip in aggregate demand) but was simply set on securing permission for the sake of the asset value this would create. Thus would have resulted in the community living in perpetuity with blight. It would also have been a disincentive for other sustainable economic opportunities to be taken forward in the area.


Old mineral permissions and compensation


The legacy of minerals permissions granted decades ago which would not pass environmental scrutiny today is a major barrier to securing more sustainable quarry operations. Local authorities fearful of compensation claims by industry have been reluctant to alter rights of operators to exploit material or to reduce the production quantities on environmental grounds. Responsible companies should accept new restrictions on mineral working in areas with major environmental concerns without resorting to threatening compensation claims.


Superquarries in planning guidance


In the absence of a tough planning system it is often too easy simply to justify new proposals on the ground of meeting demand without adequate consideration of the alternative ways of managing the demand or meeting this need.  NPPG 4 in Scotland currently states that “the development of a limited number of large scale quarries at coastal and sea loch locations has the potential to contribute to meeting demands for aggregate outwith Scotland; to contribute to the local Scottish economy and UK balance of payments; and to assist in sustaining communities in remoter rural areas where opportunities for economic development are limited. … in the light of the demand for aggregates from outwith Scotland, the Government support in principle for the development of up to four coastal exporting superquarries in Scotland, provided environmental and socio-economic considerations are fully addressed”.[4]  The current review of these guidelines provides an opportunity to withdraw this explicit and inappropriate support for the role of superquarries, and thus to reinforce the message that demand can and should be managed.




Existing plans to date do not give sufficient mandatory steer on recycling, with targets focusing largely on diversion of waste, including commercial and industrial waste away from landfill.  There are inadequate country wide targets for reducing the volumes of material from this sector.  Many existing commitments are vague, focusing for example on waste exchanges and minimisation clubs.  The Government’s WRAP programme has previously suggested that targets for recycled aggregate should be 10% by 2003/4 rising to 20% by 2006/7.[5] As the UK currently recycles 17% these should be substantially revised upwards to provide further stimuli for change within the sector.  A research report produced for the Scottish Executive in 2001 suggests that a recycling target equating to 36% of production in Scotland by 2006 would be appropriate.[6]


However recycling targets alone will not drive the necessary change, as these mask the issues associated with what constitutes recycling and the quality of uses that recycled material is put to. Although in a pilot study half of aggregate arisings in Scotland were recycled, the bulk of this (87%) was in low utility applications, such as general fill.[7]  Considerable work is needed to stimulate the use of recycled material in higher utility applications, and ensure recycled materials move up the value chain.


Resource mapping


Current understanding of resources flow is still inadequate, we need more integrated resource planning which links what our aggregate needs are, maps where these needs are located (geographically and sectorally), where resources are available and what quantity and quality of materials is available.  An improved understanding of the market potential would help guide the infrastructure required to facilitate this and provide confidence for companies wishing to invest.




There are already significant opportunities to stimulate change. Public procurement accounts for 40% [8] of the output of the construction industry and as such there is much more that should be done to stimulate the utilisation of recycled aggregate materials through specification. Research suggests that conscious spend on recycled materials by local authorities in the UK is less than 0.5% of total expenditure, and much of this is on paper.[9]  However research commissioned by WRAP [10] found that general commitments to sustainable procurement are difficult to implement and can be ignored or avoided by suppliers who are set on supplying what they always have done previously.  More specific guidance and support is essential.


Financial levers


Greater use of financial measures would also help deliver a more sustainable approach to aggregate use. The landfill tax introduced in October 1996 has had a significant impact on volumes of construction and demolition waste sent to landfill with a 30% reduction between 1999 and 2003.[11] However it is a widely held view that waste disposal costs in the UK remain far too cheap. Inert construction material is still taxed at just £2 per tonne. Compared to landfill costs in many other European countries disposal to landfill in the UK is remarkably cheap, and no doubt this contributes to the lax attitude with which resource disposal is viewed. As an example the DTI reports that waste from construction and demolition materials and soil equals 70 mt annually and that 13 mt of this consists of material delivered to sites but never actually used. [12]  The ACBE suggest that “if landfill costs remain low, and British companies fail to recognise the long-term need for greater resource efficiency, it may actually harm their competitiveness, especially within Europe”.[13]


The aggregates levy also provides an opportunity to further stimulate avoidance and recycling rather than a pre-occupation with primary aggregate extraction, and it should be increased progressively to encourage efficiency in aggregates use.



Avoidance, re-use or recycling alone will not meet all aggregates needs but put together they could dramatically cut demand such that even existing landbanks would be revealed as excessive. A predict and provide approach to primary aggregate extraction is not a sustainable solution. Nor is the market going to send the right signals to industry without government intervention in the form of taxation to influence the overall level of demand and more rigorous planning controls to ensure a fair distribution of the impacts of supply. Where aggregates are extracted they should therefore be carefully planned with proper regard given to the proximity to market and processing facilities, thorough community consultation, scale in relation to local environment, and putting conservation and landscape designations before quarrying interests.


A review of policy reflecting the opportunities outlined above would ensure that a more sustainable approach to minerals planning is adopted by Government, underpinned by managing demand and led by environmental concerns. The industry has been happy to lobby for laxer planning controls in the past: now it is time for ‘responsible’ companies to stand up and be counted by supporting a tough policy and legislative framework to underpin a sustainable future for the industry.




[1] CPRE, 1999. Rocky Logic: The role of aggregates in the UK economy

[2] Quarry Products Association, news release, January 2004.

[3] CPRE, 2001.  Out of Control – Tackling the Problem of Aggregate Minerals Landbanks.

[4] Scottish Executive, 1994.  National Planning Policy Guideline 4.

[5] Waste Resources Action Programme, 2003. Submission to the Sustainable Procurement Group.

[6] Scottish Executive Central Research Unit, 2001.  Recycled Aggregates in Scotland – Research Findings No. 103.

[7] Scottish Executive Central Research Unit, 2001.  Recycled Aggregates in Scotland – Research Findings No. 103.

[8] DTI, 2003.  Sustainable Construction Brief, July 2003.

[9] WRAP, 2004.  Share of Recycled Content in Local Authority Procurement.

[10] Waste Resources Action Programme, 2003. Submission to the Sustainable Procurement Group.

[11] DEFRA, 2004.  Indicators for Sustainable Development in the United Kingdom.

[12] DTI, 2003.  Sustainable Construction Brief, July 2003.

[13] Advisory Committee on Business & the Environment, 2001.  Resource Productivity, Waste Minimisation and the Landfill Tax.



Dan Barlow is Head of Research at Friends of the Earth Scotland.





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8 October 2004


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