Monday, 17 March 2014

"Moving Mountains to build a Greener London"

Runs a press release headline. The mountains referred to are in Cornwall. They consist of china clay mining waste - secondary aggregates, an effective replacement for primary or virgin sand & gravel. Six hundred million tonnes are piled up all over Devon and Cornwall; 40Mt more are created every year.

The subject of Secondary vs. Primary was discussed here over a year ago. We pointed out that china clay secondary aggregates were being used in major London building projects, including the Olympic Park, and that, according to Aggregate Industries, secondary aggregates are a "substitute for primary aggregates in the vast majority of cases”.

We asked that "if the economics can work supplying London, why not Devon?"

We also pointed out that Imerys, with existing contracts coming to an end, was "actively developing the growth of their secondary aggregates (china clay waste) products from Cornwall” and was "seeking partners to realise the full potential of the materials in the markets they serve”.

Last week it was announced that AI - having processed Cornish china clay waste for 40 years - lost the Imerys supply contract to S Walsh, an Essex based company, who will ship it for use in the South East. The implication is that AI could not, or would not, realise the full potential of this waste material. Forty people now stand to lose their jobs at two AI sites in Cornwall.

Here’s what S Walsh had to say:
S Walsh recognises the growing demand for “green” construction materials and sees this agreement as the catalyst for realising the potential of this material in the market... We have undertaken extensive research and know that these products can be used more widely for infrastructure, residential, commercial, education & health construction projects.
Secondary Aggregate from china clay waste meets the requirements of sustainable building in the UK. There is a huge lack of understanding of availability and potential for this ‘secondary’ resource and we expect that through our commercial relationships we can share what the possibilities are.
Products sourced from S Walsh can be used to produce high specification construction products such as asphalt, ready-mix concrete and various concrete products such as blocks, kerbs, flags, bricks and precast products such as tunnel segments, constituting up to 100% secondary aggregates.
Until recently, and until lobbying by mineral trade bodies, china clay secondary aggregate was free from the £2/tonne Aggregates Levy - a government incentive to encourage its use. The EU is looking into whether this exemption constitutes illegal state aid, and it has been temporarily suspended. Apparently, however, the EU has been fed "some odd and biased information about what is and what is not secondary aggregates” and representations have been made by government and by members of the House of Lords to maintain the exemption to promote secondary aggregates use. Hundreds of jobs in Cornwall are at riskIt seems odd therefore that this temporary suspension of the Aggregates Levy was played upon by DCC in its most recent LAA:
the removal of the Aggregates Levy exemptions for secondary aggregates introduces significant uncertainty into the prediction of future requirements for land-won aggregates
DCC is the biggest customer for local aggregates. Does it have an inbuilt bias against secondary material? Many people new to the world of minerals planning will be dumbfounded to learn that the council is looking at new virgin primary aggregate sites when it already has a ready source - hundreds of millions of tonnes of waste blighting the landscape.

So why is Devon not demanding that more be made of this material, before assigning new green field sites? DCC writes a Minerals Plan not to make life easier for multinational aggregates conglomerates, but for the good of the County and its inhabitants as a whole. Secondary aggregates are a waste product - a sustainable product - a ‘greener' product; what more could be done to promote its use? Since secondary aggregates can replace primary in the “vast majority” of cases according to AI, “up to 100%” according to S Walsh, it could be argued that some of the millions of tonnes available should be added to the primary sand & gravel landbank - to extend the time before new sites are called upon. That might focus some minds. Few other counties have such large secondary aggregates supply - Devon could be argued to be a special case. After all, what's the sand & gravel shortfall DCC is looking to cover in its plan to 2031? 1.6Mt How much secondary aggregate is there again? 600Mt By tackling this issue, DCC's Minerals Plan really would leave a lasting positive impact on the County. The industry would kick and scream - but hey, they shouldn't leave the landscape in such a mess.

So we ask exactly the same question that we asked over a year ago: "if the economics can work supplying London, why not Devon?”