Dales quarrying: What matters most - economy or environment?

The abandoned  Blubberhouses quarry on Kex Moor which was opened with much publicity in the 1980's, as it was seen as a source of high quality silica sand.
The abandoned Blubberhouses quarry on Kex Moor which was opened with much publicity in the 1980's, as it was seen as a source of high quality silica sand.

By Graham Chalmers

The quarry that refuses to die and an argument which isn’t quite buried yet.

Economy versus environment is a clash as old as the hills and the moors which serve as the location of this particular long-running, on-and-off dispute in part of Nidderdale’s most treasured moorland.

This time last year Kex Gill near Blubberhouses was in the spotlight because of the Tour de France and its proximity to the hundreds of cycling fans crowded on the ‘Cote de Blubberhouses’.

Now this popular spot of prime grouse moor is faced with the possibility of the reopening of a quarry for open cast mining to produce the high quality sand vital in the manufacture of glass.

It may only be a distant possibility, however. The quarry firm itself appears to have no imminent designs on this part of Nidderdale’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).


Hanson Quarries insists they have no immediate plans to re-open the quarry.

David Weeks, head of communications at the construction giant, said the company wanted to reassure people that work was not set to begin any time soon.

He said: “There are no immediate plans to re-start work there, but the resource is significant and important to us, so it makes sense for us to extend the planning permission rather than have to go in and apply again later in the future if we were to use it.

“We’ve no plans to go and recommence work. This is a strategically important source of silica sand nationally, it is of very high quality. We need to reassure people that we’ve no immediate plans.”

But the fact the planning application for the reopening of a quarry for open cast mining is still active at all is already alarming lovers of the countryside and defenders of the Dales.

Whatever anyone thinks about the potential job opportunities, the debate appears more detailed than a simple case of nimbyism in the Washburn Valley.

In the run-up to the recent deadline for objections to be submitted to the planning department at North Yorkshire County Council, the Nidderale AONB issued a list of concerns.

Not for the first time over the years, it’s arguing that the quarry is not needed because of lack of demand and the availability of the alternative sources for this valuable natural commodity

Nidderdale AONB manager Paul Burgess said: “The key issue is whether the presumption in the National Planning Policy Framework against harmful developments in AONBs is outweighed by the national need for silica sand.

“It is understood that land use plans in Norfolk are seeking to make provision for continued extraction of silica in that area. This implies that silica sand deposits at Blubberhouses are not strategically important.

“If so there is no need to renew planning permission at Blubberhouses.”

Disputes over beauty spots between various groups and interests have been common ever since the scuffles between gamekeepers and ramblers in the famous Kinder ‘mass trespass’ of 1932 over rights of way.

The moorland around the quarry site at Blubberhouses contains two sites popular with climbers, Brandrith Crags and the Rocking Stone, supposedly the site of Druidical ceremonies in the deep and distant past.

Even here things have not always been a den of tranquility.

In 2007 the British Mountaineering Council reported that two climbers were accosted by landowners while climbing down from Brandrith crag with the cry of “walkers only, no climbers.”

Still, in terms of the Blubberhouses quarry, and Blubberhouses moor, it helps to be good at history; an old Roman thoroughfare goes through the latter, afterall.

The row over this popular spot for walkers and climbers was thought settled for good by most people nearly ten years ago with its complete closure.

The quarry first received planning permission in 1986 for the extraction of silica sand until 2011, the processing plant being established in 1987.

It was mothballed in 1991 with significant reserves before the plant was demolished in 2007 due to health and safety worries.

In 2011 Harrogate Borough Council expressed renewed concern when it emerged that the site was included in the County Council’s Site Allocations and Policies Development Plan Document.

An officer said at the time: “It is considered that any new facilities or development in the AONB should only be provided where they are not highly visible.

“This is a dramatic moorland landscape with a wild open character and an important resource for walkers. Impacts on the road network would conflict with recreation and tourism.”

It’s a viewpoint shared to this day by some who have concerns over the potential impact on health as well as the scenery.

Local novelist Amanda Taylor, a published author who lives near Thruscross Reservoir, said: “There’s a lot more at stake than purely some nimby justification.

“This moorland landscape is enjoyed by tourists from all over the world.

“Walkers, runners, riders and cyclists escape our cities to exercise here throughout the year. There would be a terrific impact on the environment.

“There are tenant farmers working the land seven days a week whose fields were covered in dust during the first brief Blubberhouses mining operation. Private residents moved into the area who were assured the mine was now obsolete.”

Nature abhors a vacuum, they say, so will the Blubberhouses quarry reopen and is there a threat to Nidderdale AONB or not?

One thing is certain, if there isn’t, a lot of hot air is being expelled over nothing.