Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Let’s not forget why the Aggregates Levy was introduced

When Labour took office in 1997, they set out their plans on environmental taxation and - according to this House of Commons briefing paper - the possibility of a tax on quarrying:
The tax system sends critical signals about the economic activities that a society wishes to promote and deter... We are determined that our tax system and economic policies as a whole encourage the good and discourage the harmful. The extraction of aggregates - inc. stone, sand and gravel - involves significant environmental costs and damage to the landscape, which may go beyond that recognised in the scope and level of the landfill tax.
After consultation, it was announced in the 2001 Budget that an Aggregates Levy would be introduced in April 2002 at £1.60 per tonne for virgin sand, gravel and crushed rock:
The levy will ensure that the environmental impact of aggregates extraction are more fully reflected in prices and encourage a shift in demand away from primary aggregate towards alternatives such as recycled construction and demolition waste and china clay waste. It will also encourage the more efficient use of all aggregates, greater resource efficiency in the construction industry, and the development of a range of other alternatives including the use of waste glass and tyres in aggregate mixes.
The Levy, balanced by a cut in employers’ National Insurance contributions, was taxation-neutral on the industry, and set at a level based on the "average amount that people are willing to pay for the environmental benefits obtained from early enclosure of a quarry”, not a level that would necessarily promote maximum use of waste material as aggregates. However, by 2005 it was clear that the Levy had been successful in its aims of reducing primary and increasing the use of secondary aggregates:
...sales of primary aggregates in Great Britain fell by 8% between 2001 and 2003… against a backdrop of buoyant construction activity… Between 2001 and 2004 china clay waste sold as aggregate in the UK increased by 14% to 2.5 million tonnes...
The Levy was intended to rise in line with inflation, but has been held at £2 per tonne since 2010, following lobbying by the industry. Now, with the Levy exemption on secondary materials such as china clay waste temporarily withdrawn while industry allegations of state aid are investigated by the EU, the UK is moving even further away from the Levy's original aims.

As the Institute for Public Policy Research wrote in 1996:
The proverbially useless job-creation scheme is one in which some people dig holes in the ground and others come along and fill them in again. This is being done every day, on a macro-scale, with the quarrying and waste disposal industries (often the same companies operate in both sectors). Aggregates companies create the holes by extracting rock, sand and gravel, which they then sell very cheaply. Because primary aggregates are so cheap, there is little demand for recycled ones. So demolition waste – rock, sand, gravel – is mostly sent to landfills, to fill in the holes. During this pointless cycle, some people get very rich, and many more suffer serious disamenity. There is damage to landscapes, often in beauty spots, resulting from quarrying.
Many people now think it's clear that the Levy on primary aggregates must be increased over time, not just to a level which reflects the environmental impact of quarries, but to a level which does far more to encourage waste materials - china clay waste, slate, broken glass, tyres, demolition waste - to be used as aggregate instead of virgin material. As other industries move towards more sustainable materials, so too must the minerals industry; with an ever increasing population we cannot simply keep digging up green fields for basic sand and gravel aggregate.

© Copyright Richard Humphrey and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence


AMEC has started to model the groundwater effects that a quarry at Straitgate might cause, based on water measurements from boreholes and streams around the farm; AI's Head of Geological Services has supplied this summary:
… a significant volume of ingress into the various streams is derived from the flanks of the streams with only a small proportion of flow derived from the springs at the proposed extraction footprint. It appears that most of the flow from the proposed site flows beneath the sandstone block and enters the groundwater system further downstream and this element would not change in our proposals because we will not be dewatering. That is comforting in some respects, however it does mean that the small amount of flow that does get into the ephemeral upper parts of the streams may well be affected. With the continuing monitoring rounds AMEC will look more closely at these areas. Do our proposals affect these upper reaches and make them any more ephemeral?; do our proposals move the spring-line say 100m further downslope and is this material?; are we able to mitigate?
Talk of a moving spring-line will of course be no comfort to the many people on and around the farm relying on surface springs for their drinking water supplies.

Great crested newt surveys have now been performed, and we await the results from this and the other ecological surveys performed last year.

If Exeter Airport isn’t concerned about a quarry beneath its flightpath, it should be

Geese walking across Flasks Lake © Copyright Christine Johnstone and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Nosterfield Quarry © Copyright Christine Johnstone and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Appeal lost at Fife

Following consideration of all representations in this case, no matters have been found to outweigh the benefits of the appeal scheme.
Such benefits seemingly outweighed matters raised in a 400 signature petition, matters raised in 100 letters of objection, and matters raised by an NHS Fife consultant in public health medicine "that residents living nearby, particularly children, could be harmed by dust emissions”.

Yet again, mineral industry profits before negative impacts on local people.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Campaign to raise the Aggregates Levy and promote secondary aggregates

The What to do page is now updated with a letter that may be sent directly to MPs or the PM's Office.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Now it's our turn to lobby Government

There's ‘no need for any more new quarries’ according to S Walsh - a construction company lobbying central government to escalate the Aggregates Levy in an attempt to increase the use of secondary aggregates, of which Devon and Cornwall have hundreds of millions of tonnes littering the landscape.

S Walsh argues that just as the Landfill Tax - now £80/tonne - has reduced the need for landfill, an Aggregates Levy escalator would do the same for quarries. They are convinced that there’s "no need to dig holes in the countryside” because there are "billions of tonnes of waste that can be used as aggregates". They dismiss claims made by some, including Aggregate Industries, that secondary aggregates are not suitable for all purposes.

As S Walsh reminds us, the Aggregates Levy was introduced "to encourage the use of secondary aggregates in order to reduce the environmental damage caused by the mining and production of primary aggregates”. However, the quarry industry trade body has successfully lobbied against any further increases to the levy, which has been stuck at £2/tonne for several years. To promote the use of waste materials, secondary aggregates were exempt from the levy until a recent, and one hopes temporary, suspension. Hundreds of jobs in Cornwall are now resting on an EU decision.

Last month, S Walsh won the contract to supply the South East with secondary aggregates derived from china clay waste in Cornwall. However, without a higher Aggregates Levy to promote sustainable sources of materials, the company’s directors believe that wider use of secondary aggregates will not come about:
Our message is clear... quarries should only be used as a last resort. Digging and filling holes in our countryside does not provide a sustainable future for Britain’s building requirements. We seek that Government introduce an Aggregates Levy Escalator in next year’s budget to create thousands of sustainable green British jobs which will make the UK a worldwide leader in sustainable building.
S Walsh has prepared a briefing document "The Case for the acceleration of Aggregates Levy escalator in the UK". It makes a powerful argument. Had the Aggregates Levy been £10/tonne in 2012, S Walsh claims HMRC revenues would have increased by c. £2 billion, and most of the aggregates used in the UK would have come from secondary and sustainable sources.

If readers feel as strongly as we do about the nonsense of digging virgin aggregates when piles of waste lie unused around the country, they can email their MP or the government, particularly the names below*, with their own thoughts, or with the following message:
To promote the use of sustainable building materials, we call on Government to:
1) progressively increase the Aggregates Levy on primary aggregates, to
a) encourage the use of alternative sustainable materials, and
b) to better reflect the environmental costs of their extraction
2) ensure that china clay waste, and other waste materials that can be used as aggregates, are exempt from the Aggregates Levy
S Walsh is contacting DCC on the issue; obviously with hundreds of millions of tonnes of china clay waste, Devon is a special case, and the last place in the country that needs any new quarries.

Monday, 7 April 2014


Details of the Lafarge Holcim merger have been announced, expected to complete H1 2015 "subject to obtaining regulatory approvals". To satisfy such approvals? A "strategic optimization of portfolio while anticipating regulatory requirements through divestments: 10% to 15% of the global Ebitda".

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Aggregate Industries’ parent Holcim and Lafarge to merge

It’s all change again in the global world of cement and aggregates, according to reports in this morning’s international press. Aggregate Industries’ Swiss parent Holcim and Lafarge from France - the world’s two largest cement makers - have agreed to merge to create a company with £26bn in sales. According to Holcim
Holcim and Lafarge believe that... there is rationale in considering a potential merger that could deliver significant benefits to customers, employees and shareholders
In reality, operations will be sold, capacity and costs cut, jobs lost. According to Bloomberg:
A deal would allow the cement producers to cut costs by combining their production operations as some of the industry’s kilns run at a loss after the recent global recession eroded demand for building materials. “There is still massive oversupply in the industry,” Ian Osburn, an analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald, said in an interview. A deal would help Holcim and Lafarge to “cut a lot of costs and dominate a few more markets.”
What are the effects closer to home? According to Construction News:
On the impact to the UK market, however, the source said it was likely that if any merger were to be completed, the resulting company could be faced with having to sell off UK assets. “You have to put it in perspective when it comes to the UK, it’s a very small part of their business. If they really want to do something worldwide the UK is a pretty small factor. “But there would be a serious problem in terms of aggregates in the UK... there would be a serious disposal issue there.”
In fact, ever since Aggregate Industries was taken over in 2005, Holcim has been selling off chunks of the AI estate - only last week it was a concrete plant in Gloucestershire. And with aggregate giants re-aligning, if AI did ever win permission to quarry Straitgate Farm, it is far from certain that it would be AI who would eventually work it; much less certain who would - if ever - restore it.