The first many Leslie residents knew of the blasting was when the first explosion happened, some people thought that it was a bomb going off. Around the same time that this blasting began, residents reported seeing cracks appear in some of their houses, particularly those closest to the quarry, many of which are built on a restored landfill, some of whom live less than 100m from a sand and gravel quarry in Leslie in Fife.
Some residents have now formed the Lomond Quarry Action Group to see what they can do to sort out problems they have been experiencing and to address their grievances with the quarry operators and Fife Council about the situation they now find themselves in.
The quarry opened in 1981 and is currently operating on planning permission approved in 2005 which allows sand and gravel mining until 2015.
But in January 2010 the mine was given further permission to expand northwards, reinstate the site with a lake, blast for dolerite rock and operate for a further 20 years – until 2030 or possibly later.
The quarry’s planning application was made one month before new regulations made it a legal requirement to hold a pre-application consultation (PAC) on major applications such as this. The Scottish Government encouraged developers to comply with new system before the new regulations came in to embrace the new ‘culture change’ by improving participation at an early stage of the application process.
However it appears the quarry operators have kept to a minimum their engagement efforts and did not carry out a pre application consultation. It appears the quarry operators have done the legal minimum to engage or include local residents in its plans, mirroring the experience of residents in in Rosyth.
Blasting in our backyard
The quarry started test-blasting dolerite (a relatively hard rock) in May 2011 which it plans to use to improve the quality, and therefore profitability, of its sand and gravel product. Prior to the dolerite being found the quarry was used only for sand and gravel extraction, which does not require blasting.
Before the first explosion many residents had no idea blasting was about to commence. It appears there was no attempt to warn them. When the Council asked the operators to inform residents of the blasting schedule they apparently refused.
Residents are worried that biggest impact will be further damage to local buildings as a result of the blasting. What do people want changed? I asked one resident who said “we are fearful for our houses and want the blasting to stop”.
Roads without consent
The council did not give consent to upgrade a dirt track which runs past a children’s play area on Common Good land to a concrete road, and yet the work has been carried out by the operators. The operators have been told they must upgrade the road to make it safe before planning permission to operate the quarry can commence. This upgraded road passes within two meters of a children’s play park and the improved surface allows the trucks, and other vehicles using the road, to travel significantly faster. Roughly 80 trucks ply this route every day we are told.
Residents feel that the work is progressing without the correct checks and balances being put in place and the operators are flouting the law by carrying on without the required road construction consents which are there to ensure that roads are constructed safely.
One member of the Lomond Quarry Action Group complained to the Ombudsman because of their concerns about public safety and the illegality of the road. The Ombudsman’s report said “It is clear from the evidence presented to me that the Council accepted the works carried out by Skene were illegal and that Skene proceeded in the knowledge that the work was illegal”.
In conclusion the Ombudsman found that the council had not ‘delayed unreasonably‘ in dealing with the ‘difficult‘ situation. However, well over a year later, although Skene have now obtained road construction consent for their new road, it appears they have still failed to comply with the requirements of the consent or build it to the specifications they promised.
Hours of operation
The planning consent given by the Council has attached to it certain conditions. One is that the hours of operation of the development shall not start until 8am. Residents report that trucks arrive empty at the site much earlier. The conditions of the planning consent are not being adhered to and it seems that no-one is willing to make sure they are enforced.
Local newspaper Fife Today reported in September 2011:
There have been ongoing complaints concerning the legally agreed operating times at the quarry.
Whilst the [Ombudsman’s] report decreed Skene had no control over vehicles approaching the quarry before 8am, loading of vehicles on site outside agreed operating hours did indeed constitute mining operations.
The Ombudsman’s report was critical of the Council’s planning enforcement officer, Eddy Thomson, who was asked to clarify the meaning of ‘operations’ as far back as February 2010. The report concluded: “I do not feel that Mr Thomson’s responses addressed [the complainant’s] issues raised”
It added: “I was presented with no evidence to suggest that the Council investigated whether any quarrying works were taking place prior to 8am.”
Mr Thomson has since retired from his role at the Council and is now employed by Skene Group as their Public Liaison Officer.
In light of this the Ombudsman also made a recommendation “That the Council clarify their interpretation of what constitutes ‘operations’ at Lomond Quarry.”
Five weeks after the formation of the Action Group its chair received a letter from Skene’s lawyers threatening legal action. It seems unfortunate that Skene has made little attempt to facilitate a better relationship with local residents and has instead resorted to potentially threatening behaviour in its dealings with the group. So far there has been very little/ no communication from Skene about its operations, for example they still do not inform residents of when blasting is going to happen, despite visits from the Health and Safety Executive asking them to do so.
A trust fund is set up through a planning agreement for community benefit but Skene’s legal threat has only resulted in a lack of trust between the quarry operators and those rsidents who are forced to live with the impact of its operations.
The Lomond Quarry Action Group are actively seeking to improve the situation to ensure that Skene comply with planning conditions for times of operation and road safety and to stop explosions at the quarry damaging the property of the people who live nearby. They want to see the council actively ensuring that these conditions are enforced, making their lives and houses significantly safer.