Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 151 - 159)



  Chairman: Mr Smyth, Mr Clarke, Mr Fidgett, thank you very much for coming, and for waiting. I am sorry that we have delayed you a little. Will you, when you first speak, give your name so that the sound recorder can pick up your tone of voice? We want to ask you about aggregates production in the Northern Ireland economy. Mr McGrady will lead.

Mr McGrady

  151. Welcome, gentlemen. I will begin with a very easy question. The Quarry Products Association and the British Aggregates Association have made strong arguments about the importance of the aggregates industry contributing to the economy and the aggregate industry of the United Kingdom as a whole. But you, unusually, add another benefit which I have not yet seen, so perhaps you would like to develop it for me. Unusually, you refer to land restoration and to the enhanced biodiversity as benefits from aggregates production. This is somehow contrary to the concept of a lay person. Can you expand a little further on that?
  (Mr Fidgett) We have added that into the benefits. It is one of the things that is readily overlooked in relation to the quarrying industry, which is a feature of the industry across the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain. All planning permissions for quarrying that have been issued in the past 20 years, and, indeed, historical permissions that are now being reviewed in accordance with recent legislation, require the restoration of quarries to a beneficial after-use. The majority, perhaps 60 per cent or more, has traditionally gone back to agricultural land. But increasingly after-uses have tended towards amenity use, such as country parks and so on, or to nature conservation. English Nature recently undertook an assessment of all SSSIs and where they derived from in terms of their creation. Some are obviously natural, going back generations, and others have been created through mineral working. Between one-third and a half of all SSSIs in England—I accept that statistically that does not necessarily cover Northern Ireland—relate to sites created through quarrying activity. There is a real biodiversity benefit in terms of land restoration.

  152. Do you have a figure for Northern Ireland?
  (Mr Fidgett) I don't have the figure for Northern Ireland.
  (Mr Clarke) 65 of the 179 operative quarries in Northern Ireland are sand and gravel pits. All sand and gravel pits are reinstated as part of the conditions of planning or of getting land from the farmer, as was alluded to earlier, and they are probably in better condition than a lot of hills and things are where wildlife has been removed generally.

  153. Would you be able to find out what percentage of former quarries are now SSSIs in Northern Ireland? That would be a very interesting statistic if it is as high in Northern Ireland as you tell us it is in England.
  (Mr Fidgett) I will certainly endeavour to do that. It is an interesting statistic.

Mr Pound

  154. They may be reinstated. Are you saying that they are used for landfill?
  (Mr Clarke) No. With the sand and gravel situation generally, the position is that you go in and strip off the topsoil and push it to one side. You then excavate the sand and gravel, relocate the washings back into the excavation and replace the topsoil and reinstate and leave the farmer back his land.

  155. I recall that as a boy I used to go fishing in old gravel pits in places in places such as Nazeing which were used as fishing lakes.
  (Mr Clarke) If one goes below the water table the situation is different. Generally in the north of Ireland, excavations do not go below the water table.
  (Mr Fidgett) There are generally two types of restoration; dry—which is back to agriculture where the water table is low—and, in situations such as that to which you referred, restoration is often to lakes, with additional reed-bed or other marginal habitat that contributes significantly to biodiversity. There are proven case studies that form the basis of handbooks that the QPA have done work on with the nature conservation organisations to sign joint statements of intent in this regard.


  156. Just so that I am clear, you are the Executive Secretary of the CBI Minerals Committee. Is that CBI Northern Ireland, or CBI.
  (Mr Smyth) No, just CBI.

  157. You are not a Northern Ireland man?
  (Mr Fidgett) No, Sir we cover the whole of the United Kingdom.

  158. You two gentlemen are from the CBI Northern Ireland?
  (Mr Smyth) No, I am Nigel Smyth, the director of the CBI, full-time, in Northern Ireland. Ralph Clarke is managing director of ReadyUse Ltd.

  159. And a member of the CBI based in Northern Ireland.
  (Mr Smyth) Correct.

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