HUNDREDS of residents from villages near Falkirk are battling a Swiss multinational and a local businessman over plans to open a £70 million quarry on their doorstep, barely a year after another one closed down nearby.
Aggregate Industries (AI), a unit of the Holcim Group, a cements-to-engineering conglomerate which turned over around £14 billion in 2011, is seeking permission to open a hard rock quarry at Tomfyne, a farm situated between Falkirk and Cumbernauld.
It is being backed by Raymond McClurg, a local landowner who has sold it a stake in his land where the quarry would be sited.
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AI wants a 21-year permit to mine 300,000 tonnes per year of high-quality dolerite quartz, which is used to make concrete and asphalt.
If the proposal is granted planning permission in the coming weeks, the quarry would rank among one of the larger operations in central Scotland. Over the life of the project, industry sources said its total value would be up to £70m.
Employing around 20 people with a need for around six eight-wheeler lorries moving through the villages every hour, it would effectively replace AI's Croy Quarry around five miles away. Croy is being closed because it is adjacent to the Antonine Wall, which received World Heritage Status several years ago.
AI is facing fierce opposition from hundreds of residents in the villages of Banknock, Coneypark and Haggs, who fought for 11 years against the Skene Group, which operated an adjacent quarry at Cowdenfield until it sold out to AI/McClurg two years ago. This was the conclusion to a court battle between McClurg and Skene over an access road to the quarry that was on his land.
Cowdenfield is currently a large derelict site behind the villages that is at risk of severe flooding. As part of its planning application AI is proposing to resume quarrying there for several years and then restore it to its natural state.
Campaigners and AI's supporters are united in their dislike of Fife-based Skene's former operation. Residents lodged numerous complaints at the time that included silt covering the roads, big lorries moving through the villages early in the morning, and alleged blasting outside permitted time windows.
This led to numerous investigations by Falkirk Council, although the council and Skene have both told the Sunday Herald that there were never grounds for enforcement action against the company.
AI's opponents say that Skene's operation has nevertheless coloured their view of quarrying.
Ross Main, of BRACE (Banknock Residents Acting for the Community and the Environment), said: "The problems with Skene went on for 10 years. We don't want to see a return to them and that's what we expect if the proposals go ahead."
Dan Henderson, secretary of the Banknock, Haggs and Longcroft Community Council, was also against the proposals, but praised AI for its openness during the consultation. He said: "Falkirk Council singularly failed to regulate Skene when they were operating Cowdenhill."
Raymond McClurg told the Sunday Herald that he too had submitted a petition with more than 100 names to the councils along with an equivalent number of letters from supporters of the project.
He said: "Those jobs matter to people that are looking for work. I'm building a house on the land to live in. I wouldn't do that if I thought Aggregate Industries were going to run the quarry badly."
A spokesman for Falkirk Council said: "Various officers over a period of at least 10 years conducted numerous visits to investigate alleged breaches and on several occasions Skene were required to amend their working practices.
"The main complaint... related to dust production and resultant slurry on the roadway which proved difficult to control but council officers from planning and roads spent many hours investigating and discussing this issue with the operator in an effort to amend cleaning regimes and improve the situation."
Skene Group managing director, Neil Skene, said: "When the company was operating the Cowdenhill quarry we were frequently the subject of unfounded allegations by campaigners, many of which were investigated by Falkirk Council.
"In 2011, Skene Group took a commercial decision and sold the Cowdenhill quarry."
AI was not available for comment.