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Industry news: March 2010

New plans for Northumberland opencast coal site

Opencast coal mining, BGS©NERC

Banks Mining has announced that it intends to submit a planning application to Northumberland County Council for a new opencast coal site.The plans relate to an area in south–east Northumberland know as Ferneybeds, eight miles north–west of Ashington. Banks is still to undertake detailed drilling investigations to confirm reserves but it estimates that the site contains 750 000 tonnes of coal. Banks, which currently operates the Shotton opencast mine near Cramlington, is currently undertaking a scoping report for Northumberland County Council on the site as part of the consultation process and plans to submit a formal application later this year.The site was chosen due to easy access to a nearby A road and sufficient distance from nearby villages. If the development goes ahead it would support around 40 jobs directly.


Developments for Scottish tidal energy plans

Wind turbine, BGS©NERC

The Crown Estate, which owns the UK seabed up to 12 nautical miles of the coast, has completed the world's first wave and tidal energy leasing round and has signed lease agreements for ten areas off the north coast of Scotland with seven companies. The sites are all around the Pentland Firth and Orkney waters and the combined capacity of new wave and tidal energy developments could be as much as 1.2 GW by 2020, according to developers, enough to power up to 750 000 homes.Now the developers have gained access to the seabed through the Crown Estate they can begin the process of gaining statutory consent for their projects.

The developers and their proposed developments are:


  • SSE Renewables Developments Ltd, 200 MW for Costa Head site
  • Aquamarine Power Ltd & SSE Renewables Developments Ltd, 200 MW for Brough Head site
  • Scottish Power Renewables UK Ltd, 50 MW for Marwick Head site
  • E.ON, 50 MW for West Orkney South site
  • E.ON, 50 MW for West Orkney Middle South site
  • Pelamis Wave Power Ltd, 50 MW for Armadale site.


  • SSE Renewables Developments (UK) Ltd, 200 MW for Westray South site
  • SSE Renewables Holdings (UK) Ltd & OpenHydro Site Development Ltd, 200 MW for Cantick Head site
  • Marine Current Turbines Ltd, 100 MW for Brough Ness site
  • Scottish Power Renewables UK Ltd, 100 MW for Ness of Duncansby site.

Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, said: "Today marks a major milestone in the global journey towards a low carbon future. These waters have been described as the Saudi Arabia of marine power and the wave and tidal projects unveiled today – exceeding the initial 700 MW target capacity – underline the rich natural resources of the waters off Scotland."

Source: [No longer available]

Funding announced for carbon capture and storage

Carbon capture and storage, BGS©NERC

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has announced it has awarded funding to both Scottish Power and E.ON for the development of the world’s first commercial carbon capture and storage (CCS) plant. The two companies will compete against each other to design CCS plants for the E.ON–owned Kingsnorth power station in Kent and the Scottish Power–owned Longannet power station in Clackmannanshire. The winner will be announced by DECC in 12 months time. The funding has been drawn from £90 million set aside in the 2009 budget for carbon capture and storage, although the precise amounts awarded to individual companies is confidential. The Secretary of Energy and Climate Change, Ed Milliband, said of the plans "These two promising projects are at the forefront of the UK's efforts to build one of the first commercial–scale clean coal plants in the world. The award of design–stage funding demonstrates our commitment to this breakthrough technology. It has the potential to support tens of thousands of jobs and bring billions into the economy."

Source: [No longer available]

New budget increases Aggregates Levy

New increases to both the Aggregates Levy and the Landfill Tax were announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, in this year's budget, released on 24 March. The Aggregates Levy will increase to £2.10 per tonne as of 1 April 2011, as originally specified in the pre–budget statement in December 2009. The standard rate of landfill tax will also rise by £8 per tonne as of 1 April 2014 (the lower rate will be frozen during 2011–2012). The Climate Change Levy rate will be raised in line with inflation from April 2011.


West Midlands Regional Assembly changes sand and gravel supply

Gravel aggregate, BGS©NERC

The West Midlands Regional Assembly (WMRA) has made the decision to alter sand and gravel apportionments, lowering the amount of sand and gravel that Staffordshire is liable to provide by 10 per cent, leading to increases in all other parts of the region. These plans go against advice provide by the West Midlands Regional Aggregates Working Party and have met with criticism from the Mineral Products Association (MPA). Nigel Jackson, the chief executive of the MPA, commented "We believe that this approach has been motivated more by politics than by sound technical assessment or mineral planning. We believe that the new proposals have the potential to cause shortages of construction materials in the future in some parts of the region." The decision comes after 18 months of lobbying from residents around Lichfield against new quarries in the area. The neighbouring counties of Shropshire and Herefordshire will receive the most significant increases in their apportionments.

Source: and [No longer available]

Closure for historic slate quarry

Oakley quarry, BGS©NERC

Health and safety fears have led to the mothballing of what was once the world's largest slate mine, Oakeley quarry in Blaenau Ffestiniog. Large cracks found in early March on the surface of the site, caused by subsidence of mine chambers, caused the owners of the mine, Welsh Slate, to shut the site down to protect the safety of the workers. Out of the 55 members of staff employed at Oakeley quarry 30 will be made redundant and 25–30 will be offered jobs at Penryn quarry, near Bethesda, also owned by Welsh Slate. Alan Smith, Managing director of Welsh Slate announced "Following investigations with independent safety experts it was concluded there was an unacceptable level of risk to site personnel." Production at the quarry will cease at the end of April. Mr Smith said there were options to re–open Oakeley quarry in the future. However, this is now unlikely due to the recently announced failure of a bid to upgrade the Conwy Valley railway line to carry slate waste and aggregate.

Source: [No longer available]

New rail route opened by Cemex

Aggregate transport by rail, BGS©NERC

Cemex UK Ltd has opened a new rail link between south Wales and north–east England, linking Gilfach quarry in Neath to the Cemex railhead at Sturton, near Leeds in West Yorkshire. This has the potential to transport 150 000 tonnes per year of high PSV (polished stone value) aggregate, quarried from the Pennant Sandstone at Gilfach, to markets in the north–east. Aggregate from Gilfach quarry has a PSV of 68, one of the highest naturally occurring values available, and is predominately used for high specification asphalt for road surfacing. Cemex also plans four new rail routes for 2010, including from Neath to railheads near Birmingham and Milton Keynes.


Inquiry to be launched into national park quarries

Sand and gravel quarry, BGS©NERC

A public inquiry is to be launched into plans to extend two sand and gravel quarries operating in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park by the Welsh Assembly Government. The two quarries,Trefigin and Pantgwyn, both had proposals for extensions approved by the national park authority in 2009 but the Campaign for National Parks (CNP) has opposed the extensions, claiming they will damage the landscape.Trefigin quarry has remaining reserves to last another two years and Pantgwyn quarry has been described by the Welsh Assembly Government as "all but worked out". The proposed extensions will extend the lives of the quarries by a maximum of 23 and 13 years respectively. The CNP argues that resources need to be sourced from outside the national park, but the chairman of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authorities' development committee commented that proposals to reinstate the land would "provide a richer and more diverse landscape" in the longer term.


Planning consent granted for Tarmac quarry

Limestone quarry, BGS©NERC

Gloucestershire County Council has granted consent for an extension at the Tarmac–ownedStowfield quarry, in the Forest of Dean. The extension, on land to the north and east of the original site, will allow an extra 10 million tonnes of limestone to be extracted and will extend the life of the quarry by 25 years. As a condition of the permission Tarmac has also given up its right to extract part of the nearby Rogers quarry, which is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The quarry, which has been operational for 50 years, produces around 750 000 tonnes of limestone aggregate per year, typically for asphalt.


Expansion for Northern Ireland salt mine

Northern Ireland’s only salt mine, located to the north–east of Carrickfurgus, has been granted an extension of 279 hectares. Current reserves of salt were set to run out by 2012 but this extension will provide another 30 years of reserves for the mine. The operation is run by Irish Salt Mining and Exploration, which has announced that the expansion will result in the creation of an extra 10 jobs and has safeguarded the jobs of the 54 employees currently working at the site.