Quarry plans rock the Gala Water

A CAMPAIGN of opposition is gathering steam against one of the world's biggest building materials companies' plans to rework and extend Hazelbank Quarry on the A7 near Fountainhall.

The site, formally operated by Tarmac at the north end of Fountainhall straight, has been dormant for the past decade.

Leicester-based Aggregate Industries confirmed this week that it will seek planning consent from Scottish Borders Council towards the end of this month.

The firm, part of the Holcim group, which operates in 70 countries, wants to extract crushed stone and gravel – used to make ready-mixed concrete, asphalt and precast blocks – over a period of 25 years.

The quarry extension will be in an area of forest at the top of Hoppringle Hill, understood to be owned by Lord John Borthwick, who farms the Crookston estates north of Fountainhall.

The company has already commissioned an environmental impact assessment, which proposes to use a strip of existing trees to screen the workings, and an independent transport report.

“We have also consulted widely over many months with the communities of Heriot and Stow as well as Fountainhall about our development which will employ 14 full-time staff and a further six on short-term contracts,” said a spokesman for Aggregate Industries.

If and when operational, the quarry would expect to see six lorry movements, in and out, every hour.

And it is this impact on what is already acknowledged as a dangerous section of road which is concentrating the minds of local residents.

“I suppose the blight on the Gala Water Valley must be taken in the context of all the wind farms planned or operational in the vicinity, and the return of the railway,” said Kay Eyre whose cottage lies opposite the proposed quarry extension.

“But dust, noise and visual impact aside, it is surely totally unacceptable to have big trucks coming in and out of a quarry at the end of one of the fastest and most dangerous stretches of road in the Borders.”

Fountainhall resident Stephanie Christian agrees.

“There have been numerous accidents at the north end of the straight over the years and I dread to think what will happen with loaded lorries peeling on to the A7 from a quarry, bearing in mind the road carries much more traffic than it did in the days of Tarmac.

“Fountainhall residents know only too well the dangers of turning off the A7 towards the village, with traffic going at breakneck speeds in both directions.

“This will be a recipe for disaster on one of the few sections of the road between Galashiels and Edinburgh where overtaking is possible.”

Ms Christian says she, Mrs Eyre and others are planning to deliver leaflets in Fountainhall, Heriot and Stow urging objections to the development on the grounds of road safety once the plans are submitted.

But the Aggregate Industries spokesman insisted that, although the original quarry access would be used, the plans will include an upgrade and the provision, recommended by independent consultants, of improved sight lines for lorries leaving the site. The proposal also involves the installation of vehicle-activated signs to warn north and southbound motorists to slow down as they approach Hazelbank.

“Even when our plans go in, we are prepared to continue the consultation process,” said the spokesman. “We want to take the local communities with us in maximising a valuable mineral resource which is the lifeblood of the construction industry, and helping to bring local jobs.”

However, Mrs Eyre remains sceptical, claiming most worked aggregate quarries in the recession-hit UK are currently running at only 30 per cent capacity.

“I suspect this proposal, if approved, could put the company in line to supply materials for the railway. I sincerely hope that SBC looks beyond any commercial interest and rejects this application.”