Monday, 3 June 2013

Harris quarry plans are not dead

On the west Harris hills looking south over Luskentyre

Back to Westminster after a week of blazing sun in the Hebrides. I met great people and heard many good tales on my travels. This is from my Daily Record column today, download the Record app for a full read.

They wanted to remove a mountain. It seems staggering now, but almost 20 years ago the idea of quarrying out Roineabhal, a huge mountain on the coast of the Isle if Harris was a real runner.

Redlands Aggregates, and later Lafarge, wanted to take ten million tons of rock a year away from the island for use on roads across the UK. The hole left in the landscape would have been visible from space.

After the longest public inquiry in Scottish history and much delay Ministers rejected planning permission in 2000 for the Lingerbay site. Lafarge walked away and the idea of a superquarry in south Harris was stone dead. Or is it?

I can reveal that Ian Wilson, the mining engineer with the original vision for the Harris superquarry, is back on the scene and hoping to open up for business again.

This time, he promises me, quarrying would be on a much smaller scale.

Speaking from his home in Scotland he said: "Very small scale mineral extraction might be possible but it needs to be tested. It would be nothing in terms of aggregate production if it went ahead. We are talking thousands of tons, not millions of tons. "

Wilson and partners are exploring the possibility of extracting a mineral called zoisite from the mountain which may, or may not, have a bizarre application.

He said: "It is a mineral which could have industrial uses in terms of being a natural fertiliser for asparagus. It has unique properties but it has a long way to go to be proved - so don't hold your breath."

The quarry was one of the last hopes for manual work in Harris. A decade on a different kind of economy has emerged. The population hit rock bottom but developments like community land ownership are encouraging.

In Northton, one of the villages most directly affected, half the houses are emptied. But there are four thriving micro-businesses involved in food, textiles and heritage.

They are experiencing a tourism boom which will expand on the back of the BBC Scotland nature series, "Islands on the Edge"

Each of these businesses is female-run and, given the lack of women and children on the islands, these are the kinds of jobs that point to the future.

Ian Wilson is a genial businessman trying to turn a buck from a place he invested considerable time and money in. There may be room for him in a shared future.

He said: "The site is open and the jetty is still there but it would be on a small scale that would leave no one unhappy."

For the communities living under the shadow of the mountain these reassurances will sound like an exploding stick of quarry dynamite.

No comments:

Post a Comment