Objectors on rocks as A7 quarry extension approved
DESPITE objections from 20 households in the Fountainhall area, one of the UK's largest building materials companies was this week given planning consent to extend Hazelbank Quarry, writes Andrew Keddie.
Although not worked for the past decade, the well-known landmark at the northern end of the Fountainhall Straight - one of the few stretches favoured for overtaking on the A7 between Galashiels and Edinburgh - will soon begin operations which will involve 72 large lorries entering and leaving the site every working day.
Leicester-based Aggregate Industries Ltd, part of the multi-national Holcom Group, will extract an estimated 4.2million tonnes of greywacke - a hard, dark variety of sandstone - in six phases over the next 21 years.
To achieve this, the firm will expand onto 12 hectares of Hoppringle Hill which lies on top and to the rear of the existing quarry which was last worked by Tarmac.
The initial phase, lasting up to 18 months, will involve lowering the existing quarry floor and constructing a new internal haulage road towards the extension. Signficiantly, however, the existing access from the A7 will continue to be used.
In its submission to Monday's meeting of Scottish Borders Council, the firm stated the development would employ 14 full-time staff, including hauliers, with a further six engaged on a contract basis for six months of the year.
A mobile plant, processing the rock with gravel at the rate of 200,000 tonnes a year, will be used on-site, resulting in three lorries entering and three leaving the site every hour from 7am till 6pm Monday to Friday and 7am till 2pm on Saturday.
This will mean an estimated 72 hgv movements Monday to Friday and 46 on a Saturday. In addition, staff cars and maintenance vehicles would also use the site.
Given that the existing access will be used, the safety of road users was the prime concern of Stow Community Council in its objection to the development.
It claimed the straight, with the junctions for Fountainhall and Cortleferry at the south end, was already unsafe with traffic regularly observed overtaking dangerously and disregarding the speed limit.
Among the dissenting householders was Kay Eyre, whose family lives in a cottage at Hoppringle just 300 yards from the proposed quarry extension.
"Many people in the area have great concern about the impact of even more large lorries using this stretch of the A7," wrote Mrs Eyre. "In a beautiful area of the countryside, a popular spot for tourists, riders, cyclises and walkers, I object to the further sacrifice of woodland."
Claiming most local quarries were running at less than 50 per cent capacity, Mrs Eyre questioned the need for the development, adding: "This is purely for the profit of a Swiss-owned company [Holcom] and of substantial detriment to those who will have to tolerate unacceptable noise, dust and light pollution."
In her objection, Stephanie Tristam of Heronshaw, Fountainhall, stated: "The most important issue is road safety with six 20-tonne lorries entering and leaving the site every hour."
Melanie Law of Pirntaton Farm Cottage, said the straight was already a hazard. "The last thing that is needed is more slow-moving vehicles", she added.
And Michael Murray and Katrina Bachelor of Fleming Place, Fountainhall, wrote: "This section of road is already hazardous to local drivers, but this proposal will cause many road accidents involving visitors."
The committee was, however, assuaged by SBC's assistant road user manager Derek Inglis who admitted the existing junction fell below normally required standards.
"However, it has previously served a working quarry and was also used an an access during the construction of the wind farm at Toddleburn," said Mr Inglis. "With the windfarm construction now complete, the amount of vehicle movements at the junction has drastically decreased."
Mr Inglis revealed that the traffic assessment submitted by the company included proposals to widen the splays of the junction to increase visibility to the south from 129 metres to 160 metres. There would be new road markings and vehicle activated signs on the A7 to warn approaching vehicles of the quarry junction.
In a report recommending approval of the application, local planning officer Dorothy Amyes noted the 21-year consent was considerably less than the period of working, until 2042, granted to previous operator Tarmac.
Among a raft of conditions attached to the consent was a restriction on decibel levels to the nearest households. A legal agreement will be drawn up to ensure the site is restored and replanted as the work progresses.
"It is considered the proposals comply with national and local policies in relation to mineral workings," said Ms Aymes.
z It is believed quarrying at Hazelbank began in the late 1920s and, until 1999, it was operated by Midlothian County Council as a source of road stone.