Balmullo residents battle to save Lucklawhill – loved by walkers and wildlife alike

webnexttech | Balmullo residents battle to save Lucklawhill – loved by walkers and wildlife alike

Panoramic views from a north east Fife hill could change forever if plans to expand Balmullo Quarry go ahead. Lucklawhill near Balmullo is a popular spot for mountain bikers, horse riders and walkers looking for an accessible hike. Members of the Save Lucklawhill group – set up to oppose the plans – say they have ‘many bones to pick’ with Breedon – operators of the quarry since 2010. They argue a proposed 12-acre extension will spoil their favourite hill and enhance issues they already face from living near the existing quarry. Two of the group’s major concerns are dust and noise pollution. “My garden almost backs onto Quarry Road, so from around 7.30am there are lorries trundling up and down”, says Save Lucklawhill’s Bruce Henderson. “We are about 300 metres from the quarry entrance, so if there is a westerly (wind) after a dry spell, everything gets covered in this fine pink dust. “It covers the car, the conservatory and the greenhouse. You just can’t get rid of it.” This red felsite rock extracted by the quarry – turned into chips or aggregate – is predominantly used to help build roads, driveways and rail ballast. What issues does Save Lucklawhill have with the existing quarry? Blasting is also used at the quarry and this involves using explosions to extract rock from the earth. “I have no idea what it is doing to the sub-structure and foundations of our house”, adds Bruce. “It’s just a rumble and you can feel it coming through the ground. It’s bound to be having an effect.” We discuss his concerns while walking up the hill with several other Save Lucklawhill campaigners. The quarry is located just south of the summit and around 200 metres from the outskirts of Balmullo. A petition against Breedon’s proposals has gathered more than 1,000 signatures and Bruce’s concerns are widely shared among the group. “It’s all over our car windscreen and the windows of our house”, says Zoe Sanders. “Everyday we have to wash it off. We’ve got photos of the inside of the downstairs windows and there is dust on the window sills. “If you sleep with your windows open in the summer then you will be breathing it in.” Save Lucklawhill say the quarry was originally meant to cease operations by 2028. “The damage to houses, the noise and the dust is completely shocking”, says Sally Northcroft. “One of the reasons local residents did put up with it was the anticipation that it was going to close.” ‘Why are they ruining a unique bit of Scottish hill?’ We climb Lucklawhill in a leisurely 20 minutes and are treated to scenic views across Fife, the Angus Glens and towards the Glenshee hills. As we pause for thought at the top of the hill, I notice the quarry is not that visible from here. Instead, the bonnie heather and moorland which make this Fife hill standout are bathed in sunlight. On a clear day you can see all the way to the Pentlands and Ben Vorlich near Loch Earn. Bruce points out the edge of the existing quarry, a dusty red line behind a short fence and a line of shrubbery. “Why are they ruining a unique bit of Scottish hill?”, asks Zoe. We duck down towards the quarry and I notice there are no signs at this section. The uninitiated might not realise a quarry lies on the other side if approaching the hill from the north. Save Lucklawhill says the barely visible signs have not been replaced since Breedon took over the quarry from Ennstone Thistle. “It is utterly dangerous and any dog or child could go through it”, says Sally. “When you look at the signs on it that say ‘danger don’t enter’, they belong to the previous owners. “The fence is quite strong here. But further up it is in bits.” Save Lucklawhill sees only negatives when it comes to quarry expansion A designated walking route passes over the hillside and it is a much more accessible walk than climbing the nearby Lomond Hills for instance. The hillside is also home to red squirrels, badgers, unique plants and other protected species. It is also a Fife Council designated Local Wildlife Site. Save Lucklawhill estimates the proposed quarry expansion will remove two hectares of “priority habitat.” Breedon have rights to this land north of the quarry, including the summit of the hill. As we begin our descent through a field I ask whether the quarry will bring any benefits to Balmullo. The group responds with a pregnant pause as we continue descending the hill. “There will be noise, explosions, dust, so many negatives and then health and wellbeing will be impacted”, says Sue Forrester, who is on dog walking duties. “We will lose that beautiful walk and the dogs love it up here. “This is the route the majority of people in the village take to get up the hill and it will be completely cut off.” Sally adds: “There is always great pleasure in going up the hill, but now all the time you’re thinking about what you are losing.” What will Lucklawhill lose if the Balmullo Quarry plans go ahead? At the bottom of the field Bruce illustrates what the quarry expansions would look like. “Everything that you see on the skyline up there will just disappear”, he says. “All that scrub at the side of the quarry harbours a lot of wildlife. “If they get permission to extract everything that they can, then even the summit will disappear. “This is a community woodland which was only planted in 1997. Now the squirrel population is building up and we risk losing that.” The last section of our circular walk takes us down Quarry Road. This is the route used by lorries travelling to the quarry. We pass the quarry and watch its impressive machinery in action from a safe distance. We also encounter two lorries going opposite ways on the road, which is barely wider than one 20-tonne lorry. The drivers are courteous and cautious when passing us, but you can see why walking groups and horse riders might be nervous. Save Lucklawhill also have safety concerns about water running down the road, especially because this can turn to snow and ice in the winter. They say an extended quarry would likely aggravate such issues and result in more traffic on the road. Save Lucklawhill: ‘Breedon has walked over’ Balmullo community Behind all the emotional arguments about ‘saving’ Lucklawhill is exasperation about communication between Breedon and the community. Breedon put advertisements in The Courier and the Fife Herald, holding two public consultations in Balmullo earlier this year. But Save Lucklawhill criticises this as not going far enough. When the group heard about the plans it put up posters and posted flyers through the letterboxes of every house in Balmullo. “Breedon has walked over this community and never done a thing for it”, says Sally. “Any attempt to engage with them has been utterly fruitless. It is typical of big industry just running roughshod over a local community. “The way they are behaving does surprise you. If you’ve got a planning application in you would surely be trying to persuade the community around to your way of thinking.” Bruce adds: “So many of the promises made in the past have not been kept. We’ve got no faith in Breedon sticking to the rules at all. “By comparison with the previous quarry owners (Ennstone Thistle), they are quite arrogant and disrespectful. They haven’t engaged at all over the years.” What will Breedon do to mitigate the impacts of a quarry expansion? Breedon says it is not in a position to comment on Save Lucklawhill’s concerns. The company previously said its plans would “ensure supply of aggregate to the market and the continuation of employment”. We understand Breedon currently employs six people at the site. It says the quarry would continue to operate in the same way, using Quarry Road as an access point. And it estimates an expansion would mean it can extract an additional three million tonnes of aggregate from the hillside over a period of up to 20 years. Fife Council expect a planning application for the site to be submitted in August. This will include an environmental impact assessment. Fife Council service manager for major business and customer service, Mary Stewart says: “Once the planning application is received comments and representations can be made by local residents, and from statutory consultees such as SEPA and NatureScot. “Given the environmental concerns expressed about the existing quarry operation, a planning enforcement case has been opened to examine whether any significant public harm is occurring in the meantime.”

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