Aggregate minerals are an important resource and their use is essential to national prosperity. They are vital for building new or improved housing, hospitals, schools, factories, roads and leisure facilities. Everything from a garden path to the Channel Tunnel. The processing of aggregates also provides materials for a whole range of non-construction uses: in agriculture, water purification, medicines, paint, toiletries, paper, plastics and steel making. Mineral working can have a significant effect on the landscape and on the living conditions of the people. It is essential that the industry operates to high environmental standards and manages its operations in a manner which minimises their impact on the environment. Business managers have to take these matters seriously as public awareness and concern has significantly increased over the last decade.
Companies are judged on the achievement of their “traditional” business objectives, such as return on investment, growth, market share etc. and now on their environmental performance and this is often looked for in specific statements, objectives and strategies set by a company. It is not only environmental campaigning groups or concerned consumers who realise the importance of the environment. Research has shown that three-quarters of managers feel that more emphasis should be placed on these issues. Where does this attitude spring from? There are a number of important influences and these include UK and EU environmental legislation, public opinion, pressure groups, influence of employees’ families and friends, the company’s own sense of social responsibility and, last but not least, market pressure from customers and end-users. These pressures are expected to grow, so a well managed company should prepare itself to respond to the concerns and take appropriate action.
The RMC Group has become the world’s largest producer of ready mixed concrete, also diversifying into a number of other construction material sectors. It employs the principle of vertical integration to secure raw materials - sand, gravel and crushed rock - required to sustain the production of ready mixed concrete and other added value finished products, such as concrete blocks, paving and asphalt and macadams for road construction.
RMC operates in Europe, Israel and the United States. In recent years the reunification of Germany and the restructuring of Eastern Europe has brought about considerable expansion for the Group in the core business of concrete and aggregates and in cement, the material that when combined with aggregates forms concrete. In the UK, RMC is organised into a number of divisions, the two largest represent the core or main line business activities of aggregate extraction and processing i.e. quarrying and the production of ready mixed concrete and other, added value products.
The Roadstone activities of the RMC Group are concerned with the production and processing of crushed rock, much of which will be used for road construction and maintenance. A significant proportion of this output will be used in the manufacture of macadams and asphalt - the materials used for the upper layers and surfacing of all types of roads and pavements.
At present, RMC operates 30 hard rock quarries and 58 bituminous coating plants. Geologically speaking, hard rock such as limestone, granite and gritstone occur to the north and west of a line running from the Wash to Dorset. All of the company’s hard rock quarrying takes place in these areas of England, Wales and Scotland. The coating plants are large mixing units where the rock or stone is combined with bitumen and other components to produce road surfacing materials. These plants are either situated on a materials source i.e. a quarry, or close to the country’s principal market areas, the major towns and cities.
Planning and development
In 1994 there were 1300 quarries and pits ranging from small sand pits producing a few thousand tonnes per annum to super quarries producing many millions of tonnes a year. In the same year there were 1150 ready mixed concrete plants and 350 coating plants.
In 1995, 240 million tonnes of aggregate were produced of which 149 million tonnes were crushed rock and 91 million tonnes of sand and gravel. 10% of total demand is met from recycled and secondary sources; a figure which is set to double over the next decade. (60% of all demolition materials and construction wastes are recycled). The area of land with planning permission for mineral extraction amounts to about 0.35% of the total land area of Great Britain; however, at any one time less than half of this figure would actually be worked. By way of comparison 12% of the land area is taken by urban areas.
- Review - The planning system is rooted in government policy and is controlled centrally for England and Wales by the Secretary of State for the Environment. Consequently, government policy is paramount in the making of planning decisions. The system is primarily operated and administered by local planning authorities (e.g. District and County Councils) which decide whether a proposed development, such as mineral working, may proceed. All applications for planning permission are submitted to the local planning authority.
- Business development - In order to maintain its business, the company needs to keep its “reserves” of minerals with planning permission under constant review. Allied to this, ongoing investigations are undertaken to determine areas from which additional reserves may be gained. Often, where the geological conditions permit, extensions to existing quarry operations are considered in the first instance. In other instances new “green field” sites are studied either as replacements or as a means to expand business activities.
- Environmental assessment - This is a formal technique for ensuring that the likely effects of new developments on the environment are fully understood and taken into account. It has been incorporated into the planning procedures for certain major projects in the UK to implement an EU Directive, which came into force in 1988 and was given legal effect in England and Wales through the Town and County Planning (Assessment of Environmental Effect) Regulations in 1988.Larger mineral development projects and those within environmentally sensitive areas (e.g. National Parks) are required to be the subject of environmental assessment. This approach provides a better basis for decision making. For RMC, the process serves to highlight the environmental effects of a project or, if necessary, where remedial or mitigating measures need to be adopted within the proposals for development. Where formal environmental assessment procedures are not required, environmental effects are still addressed in full since they are taken into account by the planning authority.
- Sustainability - A guiding principle of current government planning policy is to provide for development and growth to be sustainable. Quarrying operations are designed to minimise impacts on the environment while they are active and must work to a restoration objective. When quarrying ceases at a particular location, the site is landscaped and restored, then returned typically to countryside use. To understand the issues involved in quarrying, three case studies highlight specific aspects that RMC has had to consider in its applications to extract minerals.
In 1993, RMC Roadstone Ltd – Eastern sought permission to extend the existing quarry operation in a westerly direction. The quarry, which is situated in the Peak District National Park, already enjoyed an existing permission which if it were to be developed to its maximum permitted extent would yield an additional 4.5 million tonnes of limestone; this would sustain the quarry at the prevailing production level for a further 18 years. However, the company recognised that to develop the quarry within this existing permission would have significant adverse effects. The new application for the westerly extension was therefore designed to provide a similar output over the same timescale and thus sustain the quarry’s existence without the adverse effects shown below:-
- The quarrying operation would be concentrated in areas which were the subject of few planning conditions and which did not provide for meaningful landscaping or restoration.
- The quarry would become more prominent as wooded hillside slopes and an existing landscaped screen mound would have to be removed.
- Blasting would take place near to the village of Stoney Middleton.
- Increased activity at the quarry would be audible in the nearest residential area. Dust emissions would also increase.
- The removal of the existing processing plant and its replacement with a new arrangement, along with the deepening of the quarry would all add to costs of production.
In essence, the application for the westerly extension represented a straight swap i.e. the old permission (with its adverse effects) for a new permission. In addition, the scheme for the proposed extension incorporated a series of measures that would minimise the local environmental impact of the operations and would phase the development in order to effect restoration and landscaping works at the earliest opportunity. The extension would not increase the reserves and there would be no increase in the life of the quarry.
The aim, as expressed to the Planning Control Committee of the Peak Park Joint Planning Board, was to produce a restored area which complimented and mimicked the local landscape. Nearly 30,000 new trees and shrubs of 19 different species would be planted, providing an area of benefit to the local population and to create natural habitats.
The Planning Committee concluded that the environmental benefits constituted a sufficiently strong case to warrant an “exceptional case.” The removal of the possibility of working the slopes near the village and the restoration of the site provided grounds on which to allow the proposal to proceed.
Roan edge quarry
To meet an established need for high quality roadstone, in 1989, the company undertook an extensive investigation of areas with suitable geology in Cumbria. The aim was to define a site with a large mineral resource which was remote from populated areas and would cause minimum disturbance to the environment. The site at Roan Edge met the criteria. The application was for the extraction of 6.9 million tonnes of Silurian Gritstone from an area of 13.4 hectares, with the total size of the site being 28.6 hectares. The period of quarrying would be 28 years.
The products from the quarry would be used to supply the demands of the road construction market, reinforced by the government White Paper on “Roads for Prosperity” of May 1989 which announced greater expenditure on roads over the next decade. The quarry itself would be well concealed within the landscape and on completion of quarrying all plant and machinery would be removed and the site restored by a combination of respreading of overburden and soils, seeding and tree planting. Permission for the development was granted in 1991, subject to the company undertaking to meet certain conditions which, amongst others, included progressive landscaping, safeguarding of water courses and drainage and control of noise, dust and blasting.
Churchwood Quarry was an active limestone quarry covering an area of 37 hectares. A new processing plant was under construction and the old plant, which occupied a prominent point at the south western end of the quarry, would be removed thus releasing a worked out area suitable for landfill.
The old quarry would be progressively filled with industrial, commercial and domestic waste over a period of 20 years, at an average annual rate of input of 300,000 tonnes. Around 90-95 vehicles per day would visit the site using a new access to the north of the existing one. To maximise the potential void, a total of 1.5 million tonnes of limestone would be extracted. There was a need for such a facility in Avon to take commercial and industrial waste because, at the time of the application, there were only 8 sites available, none of which had a life of more than 2 years.
The environmental effects of the development can be reviewed as follows:
- Hydrogeology - Development of the landfill site as designed would have no adverse impact on the local hydrogeological regime. However, detailed measures to eliminate and control potential discharges from the site were recognised as being a component of the project.
- Landfill gas - Breakdown of organic matter in a landfill site produces gas. To solve this problem a gas extraction system would be installed, which, when the gas reached a certain volume, consideration would be given to using it for energy generation.
- Leachate - Degradable waste and the permeation of water through it gives rise to leachate. This would be collected, pumped out, treated and if necessary, disposed of.
- Restoration - Completion of landfill operation would enable the re-creation of the original ridge line, with the restoration of the former quarry fitting in with the surrounding contours. A network of fields separated by hedgerows would enhance the visual effect.
- Other issues, such as windblown litter, possible infestation by rats and flies, odour etc, would all be managed and dealt with in an appropriate way.
The three case studies show how the company is engaged in quarrying within the planning framework set by government. Quarrying in all its many manifestations is a complex business and has many considerations to take into account from the visual aspects, noise, drainage and extra traffic through to the restoration of the site and the uses made of it thereafter. The response of the company to the demands of the government road building plans of the late 80s, was to identify sources of new materials within an approach that reduced the environmental impact. Calls for the more efficient use of aggregate resources, including the recycling of construction materials, together with other changes affecting the demand for aggregates, will continue to mould the development of the company’s operations.
As indicated in the introduction, a well managed company needs to respond to increasing concerns for the environment; indeed such concerns have already influenced the reduction in the road programme. Environmental considerations naturally affect the demand for RMC’s products through their impact on the company’s principal customers - local and national government through the road building programme - and those affected by quarrying operations. Nevertheless, there will be a continuing demand by society to see improved living standards and a well maintained built environment. The supply of aggregates under these circumstances will require a properly balanced approach, taking into account all relevant factors.
The quarrying operations, as well as dealing with the changes in demand as environmental considerations become more prominent, are key influences on RMC’s business. The ability of managers to deal with these are the guarantee of a successful business future for the company.