Saturday, 9 March 2013

Whilst local people pay the price for quarrying, some people really do benefit

Figures released for the construction industry on Monday showed output falling at its fastest rate in more than three years. Prospects for the industry looked no brighter the next day when the FT reported that infrastructure projects had stalled, and government plans to sell off trunk roads on motorways on long leases to attract billions of pounds in private money - an idea viewed by many as "fatally flawed" - were in "disarray". On the same day, Jersey-registered Breedon Aggregates, "the largest independent aggregates business in the UK after the five global majors", released its financial results in what Peter Tom CBE, its Executive Chairman, called "the worst trading conditions I can remember in my 50 years in this industry".

But Peter Tom himself can cope with the downturn. Whilst local people pay the price for quarrying in their community, and Breedon itself admits that "its activities and operations have a significant impact on the wider social, environmental and economic well-being of the areas in which we operate", some people make a good living from quarries - Peter Tom more than most. Peter Tom oversaw the formation of Aggregate Industries, and was its Chief Executive until Holcim bought it in 2005 for £1.8 billion, valuing the Tom family stake at £29m.

He had "joined what was then his grandfather's quarrying business in Leicestershire. His grandfather had started quarrying in Cornwall but when he sold the Cornish operation..., he moved to Leicestershire to buy Bardon Hill quarry in 1948. [Peter] Tom assumed the reins of the firm from his father in 1985." Now at Breedon Aggregates, where he has a 5% stake worth close to £8m, the strategy "is to grow via consolidation of the heavyside building materials sector". Quarrying has been good for Peter Tom and family, worth an estimated £40m. "I've been in the industry since the age of 16 and enjoy what I do". But then Peter Tom doesn't live next door to any of Breedon's "27 quarries, 18 asphalt plants and 40 ready-mixed concrete and mortar plants"; he lives in Guernsey.

And he's unlikely to be the only aggregates boss missing out on the 'health benefits' of next-to-a-quarry-living. In the case of AI, if its bosses are so keen for a quarry at Straitgate Farm, then let them move here; there's no shortage of houses for sale. It's a great place to live - at least, it was until…