[The NEBG's A4 pamphlet about the quarry issue can be downloaded from here.]
Sheephill Quarry, Dumbarton — West Dunbartonshire Council
The first few letters attached (nos. 37, 38 and 44, plus no.21) − from the enclosed File of selective correspondence with WDC Planning Authority and relevant Bodies − speak for themselves, together with the two photomontages. The File itself (where those attached are repeated, with salient points highlighted) will take a while to digest.
The case against the Operators of Sheephill Quarry dates back to the early 1970s but, as the ‘Summary of Events’ (File item no 1) illustrates, the story starts in 1948! Crucially, however, our NBE Group’s case against WDC’s current Planning Authority’s handling of the matter, begins in 2002 when inexplicably, without our being informed (despite repeated Director-of-Planning promises that we and the local public would be) the Planning Authority — in the face of truculent (verbal only) threats by the quarry operators to claim compensation (File item no.8) capitulated; hopelessly failing in its duty to protect West Dunbartonshire from the visual environmental loss of Sheep Hill itself from the Kilpatricks hillside, immediately above the Clyde. A loss amply illustrated in the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) prepared by Dalgleish Associates, on behalf of the Operators, for their Planning Applications: 1] a 1998 Review of Minerals Provisions (ROMP) submission and, 2] a 2003 Quarry Extension/‘excambion’ appli- cation — both of which a WDC Feb-2005 Planning Committee considered together and was ‘minded to approve’.
At a Public Meeting in February 2002, called by the then Director of Planning and Environmental Services, Daniel Henderson, two ‘excambion’ extension areas, we were told, were to be offered: a smaller one to NW in exchange for a steep tree-covered hillside buffer-zone between the quarry workings and Miltonhill housing estate, plus a much larger area to the NE (with quarrying ‘consent’ and ample hard ‘volcanic-rock’ potential) in exchange for the sorely needed protection of Sheep Hill itself (with its Scheduled Iron-age Fort) from its being removed by quarrying from the landscape. Earlier, at a 2001 Public Meeting, it had been volunteered by Dalgleish Associates (acting for the Oper-ators) that quarrying of the buffer-zone area would be untenable — due to its tree cover being within a 1975 WDC Tree Preservation Order, plus a substantial portion having been designated by WDC as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC). This small ‘excambion’ buffer-zone area was and is, deemed crucially important for Miltonhill Estate residents; an importance that we, the NBEG, fully endorse.
The larger ‘excambion’ area of 2002, to the NE, was to have been for protection of Sheep Hill itself. There appear to be no WDC records of this environmentally important ‘protection’ area ever being formally offered to the quarry Operators; only verbally, at a meeting with WDC Planning Officers, as is minuted in a Report (File item no.8) by the former Planning Director in Oct 2001 to the Regulatory Committee, detailing a meeting with the Operators, during which they threatened an appeal and a claim for compensation. Then a Planning Meeting, of 2 February 2005, is minuted (File item no.15B) as being ‘minded-to-approve’ the two applications concurrently [i.e.,the 1998 ROMP, with a belated 2003 EIA, plus a buffer-zone alone ‘excambion’-Extension]. Neither the NBEG nor the general public were informed of the 2 Feb 2005 Planning Meeting, nor of its January 2005 pre-meeting; only Community Council Chairperson objections were heard (and were dismissed without record) and a Dalgleish Associates’ representative for the applicants, Ms Karen Dalgleish, is recorded as having ‘spoken in favour’ — which can hardly be regarded as an independent voice. Although NBEG personnel (and its Chairman, abroad at the time) heard, by ‘grapevine’, that an ‘excambion’ Application was under discussion by the Council, this — it was assumed — was the 2002 ‘double excambion’, protecting the Miltonhill buffer-zone and Sheep Hill itself, from quarrying.
It is now 13 years since the ROMP application was lodged and over 7 years since a Planning Committee in Feb 2005 recorded its ‘minded-to-approve’ decision on the ROMP plus ‘excambion’-Extension applications, together, subject to a Legal Agreement plus delivery of a Restoration Bond. Environmental considerations have meanwhile, continually changed and a fresh look at both applications by the current (all new) membership of the Planning Committee is surely required, we argue; as well as a demonstration by the Quarry Owners that there is still an ongoing and continuing demand for their quarried aggregate to justify removal of Sheep Hill itself from the landscape [Note: the nearby Dumbuck Quarry, operated by Aggregate Industries plc − who have incidentally also proved to be a far more Community sympathetic ‘plc’ − has twice recently closed down for lack of demand and remains so today].
The NBEG argue that even now after 13 years delay, largely a result of prevarication by the Applicants, Central Scottish Government should be approached to intervene, due to the huge environmental loss that would result, and most of all, because in 1949 its predecessor, the Scottish Office, had overruled, “...in the National Interest” − at a time of Renewal and rebuilding after World War II — the former Dunbarton CC’s Refusal of Consent to the then owners of Sheephill Quarry. There were of course no EIAs required in 1949 and not until 1997. The DDC Planning Officers were thus in 1949 required to approve quarrying ‘consent’ to an area, which bordered previous houses on Miltonhill and eventually would cause removal of Sheep Hill itself − subject to the Operators obtaining Scheduled Ancient Monument Consent, for the removal of Sheep Hill’s vitrified Iron-age Fort, from what today is Historic Scotland; which body — also threatened with a claim for compensation — was ‘pressed’ by the Operators (W Thompson & Son) into granting Ancient Monument Consent [subject to archaeological oversight].
Moreover, the former WDC Director of Planning & Environmental Services, had assured the Public and the NBEG, by letter of 14 March 2002 (File item no12), that “....irrespective of Historic Scotland’s decision [regarding scheduled monument consent to removal of Sheep Hill’s Iron-age Fort]...the decision re Sheep Hill itself would be determined by WDC ”...on environmental grounds. Nonetheless, all current Planning Officers independently appear to ‘see’ the Historic Scotland decision re the Fort as “...allowing” the quarrying out of Sheep Hill itself.
We were advised, by Ms Elaine Melrose, WDC’s Executive Director of Housing, Economic and Environmental Development (letter 9 April 2012; File item no 27) that, “…all the Council officers who dealt with Sheephill Quarry applications prior to 2007 have left the Council..”! Thus, we reiterate, since none of the current Planning Officers were in office and present at the critical Feb 2005 Planning Meeting, that the ROMP and Extension applications need fresh consideration by the (all-new) members of the current Planning Committee; with due attention given to the EIAs and, in particular, to the huge hillside void that would result − described in a 2003 ‘Further-development’ (Phases 3-8) ROMP EIA, which concludes: ...“The visual impact of the quarrying operation as excavation proceeds is potentially substantial from viewpoints south, west and east....largely due to the opening up of the front of the quarry thus removing the current screen.” Such conclusions were, to NBEG’s alarm, glaringly missing from the (Section 96 Review) EIA for W Thompson & Son’s 1998 ROMP Application, with its Operator-proposed conditions − which illustrates how the NBEG and local public have found, from the 1970s to the present day, little that they could trust in the intentions of the quarry owners — see especially, p.3 of our letter of 28 Jan 2012 to Ms Elaine Melrose (in File item 21). A copy of pages1 & 2 of that letter are attached here, as a good illustration of our argument with the current WDC Planning Officers; the p.3 ‘appendix’ of that letter is included in the File copy.
Similar misleading action by the Quarry Owners has continued to the present day − as two further items sharply illustrate: 1) a letter (File item 49) from the ‘Rights-of-Way & Access’ Society, of 19 July 2002, to Dalgleish Associates, querying why W Thompson & Son had closed the Public Right-of-Way along the track past the previous, now-derelict, Mattockhill Cottages and on past Greenland Farm to the Kilpatrick Hills (the whole track being outwith the quarrying area); and, 2) an e-mail of 3 Sept 2009 (File item 53) from Andrew (Jnr) Thompson replying to Clydebank Local History Society regarding their request to make a ‘Sunday’ visit to Sheep Hill’s Iron-age Fort. It is consistent also with the Operator’s complete lack of concern for local Community’s desire for ‘preservation’ of Sheep Hill itself with its Scheduled Fort, as in addition with the Operators’ rejection in 2002 of the proposed large N-E extension area (with ample hard-rock potential) in exchange for preservation of Sheep Hill itself from being simply quarried ‘out of existence’! Note, we already have over 600 local signatures to a Public Petition to “Save Sheep Hill”; plus, see the enclosed leaflet giving a Government website inviting ‘Representations’ [for Scottish Central Government intervention] should the SPSO choose, on behalf of NBEG and local Public, to help bring such intervention about.
Since typing the foregoing and preparing the accompanying File of correspondence and documents, it has come to our notice, through Dr Euan MacKie (the Archaeologist featured under ‘1994’, in the ‘Summary of Events since 1948’, File item no 1) that the Ancient Monument Consent granted by Historic Scotland in 2002 to W Thompson & Son [subject to access, by Law, for archaeological excavation before their destruction of Sheep Hill’s Iron-age Fort] had only a 5-year validity and a new application for A-M Consent will be needed before their quarrying of Sheep Hill itself (phases 3-8) can begin; WDC Planning Authority needs to be aware of this and it could be crucial, in that a completely fresh consideration, by the (all-new) Planning Committee will surely be needed, if and when a fresh application to Historic Scotland by the Operators is successful.
Meanwhile another possibly crucial relevant document, that has come our way — since WDC’s go-ahead (from its Chief Executive Ms Joyce White) for us to submit the Planning Authority’s handling of this Sheephill Quarry saga to the SPSO — is the former Director’s Report to the Planning Committee of 5th January 2005. As item no. 48 in the enclosed File shows, we have only recently received a copy of this crucial Report, by letter of 18 July 2012, from Ms Elaine Melrose (Director of Environmental & Economic Development) in response to ours to her of 12 July 2012 (item 45); it was also requested earlier, in ours to Ms Elaine Melrose of 18 April (File item no.29). Her 18 July letter, while timely in response to ours asking for a copy of the Report, to which she had referred in an earlier 12-March letter, as containing: “An assessment [sic] of the matters addressed in the Environmental Impact Assessment…and [in which] the issues of visual impact were addressed.” Ms Melrose had answered with this statement, our searching question to her (File items 23 & 25) of whether the visual impact of removing Sheep Hill from the landscape, clearly indicated in the 2003 EIA, had been fully addressed by the 2nd Feb 2005 Committee Meeting.
The Director’s Report to the Feb 2005 Planning Committee Meeting, while not in any way answering our searching question above, does hugely support the purpose of our submission herewith to the SPSO, which is to require WDC’s Planning Authority to continue to request the further information and the Asset Values of the quarry’s ‘1949’ boundaries requested by the Scottish Natural Heritage (i.e., Plan ‘B’ of the two options outlined in his Report to the Planning Committee for its crucial Meeting (File item no.15) where he made this ‘Option-A’ Recommendation. The Director had written, in the Report under ‘3.3’ (Item 15, p.2): “The applicant has resisted submitting this information, arguing that it could not reasonably be required.” And he continued, “ The applicant has gone to the extent”... [belligerently in our view] ...“of claiming deemed consent for the submitted [ROMP] conditions.” Plus, then, under ‘3.6’ (p 3) they, the Planning Authority, had… “no reason to believe the applicant would meet any new deadline for submission given the applicant’s stated position.” This was the former Director’s main reason for recommending rejection of Option B and adoption of ‘A’ (i.e. approval forthwith of both ROMP and ‘Excambion/exchange’ Applications, subject to a Legal Agreement and a Restoration bond) which the Committee accepted!
Lastly, we take this PS as an opportunity to draw the SPSO’s attention to four File items that arose in 1999, concerning a Community project on which the Quarry Agents, Dalgleish Associates, had approached us — in connection with Land Fill Tax Credit funds available from the W Thompson’s contact with EnTrust & Enviro Centre. We followed this up in good faith, trusting that it would improve relations between local residents and the quarry Owners; but it eventually became a one-way correspondence with the Quarry’s General Manager (File items 51,52 & 55) and eventually with the Owner, Billy Thompson [as he was known locally and introduced himself on the telephone] File item 53. From the Credit funds, Ms Karen Dalgleish, at a Public Meeting called on her behalf, reported £20,000 was available for a Project to be chosen by local public. File items ‘51-55’ speak for themselves — we revised our NBEG Constitution for EnTrust, into line with National environmental activity but the public’s chosen project was quietly abandoned, leaving us in the red!
Chairman of the NEBG
cc: Ms Elaine Melrose, WDC G82 3PU