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Industry news: November 2010

Glebe Mines to cease operation

Fluorspar mine, BGS©NERC

Glebe Mines, owned by French company INEOS, in the Derbyshire Peak District is to be sold to Mexican firm, Mexichem by the end of 2010 with the loss of 65 jobs.

According to the Peak District National Park Authority the company has planning permission to work quarries and mines for several years to come, but millions of pounds of investment would be required to develop them.

A spokeswoman from INEOS said: "This difficult decision has been taken following every effort to identify whether there are viable options to secure the future of the business, including a potential sale. This work continues.

"Employees have been informed of this decision and the company will now undertake a period of formal consultation with staff and the trade union in an effort to minimise the impact of the proposed closure, including redeployment."

She said bids had been made to take on the company as a going concern from three companies but "no formal offers have yet been forthcoming that would potentially secure the future of the business".


Construction Recycling Alliance (CRA) launches in the UK

Brick made from spent shale, BGS©NERC

A new organisation, the Construction Recycling Alliance (CRA), has been launched in the UK to represent and support companies in the construction industry that are dedicated to reducing, recycling and reusing unwanted materials.

CRA membership, available to corporate enterprises in the construction sector, as well as companies from interrelated sectors such as demolition, remediation and waste management, offers companies an opportunity to achieve a new environmental accreditation specifically created for construction related activities.

The CRA will support its members by sharing innovative recycling techniques, disseminating guidelines and regulations, as well as liaising with policy-makers at local, regional and national levels. Members' profiles will also be featured on the CRA website with their environmental techniques and initiatives being showcased in the CRA's magazine – The Construction Recycling Journal.

CRA Director, David Barnes said: "I hope CRA membership will prove popular for companies across the construction sector. By joining together under the CRA framework, companies will be able to effectively communicate with regulatory bodies and also improve their environmental credentials."


Northern Ireland aggregates levy rebate suspended

Aggregate, BGS©NERC

Suppliers of stone, concrete products and road surfacing materials in Northern Ireland have said that construction costs will increase following confirmation that the tax rebate on the quarrying of stone in the region is to be suspended from 1st December 2010.

In response to a ruling made by the EU General Court the UK Treasury has announced the suspension of the Aggregates Levy Credit Scheme (ALCS). The ruling identified that certain aspects of the rebate to Northern Ireland were incompatible with EU state aid rules.

According to the Quarry Products Association Northern Ireland (QPANI), suspension of the ALCS will result in a 40% increase in stone prices, a 10% increase in concrete prices and a 15% increase in the price of road surfacing materials, making quarrying companies uncompetitive when compared with companies in the Republic of Ireland where there is no similar tax on stone.

The QPANI is optimistic concerning the Government and the EU Commissions' long term commitment to the ALCS. It is working with the Treasury and the EU Commission to develop, approve and implement a new scheme and rebate as soon as possible, in order to minimise negative impacts on the industry and the economy.


Hope for communities facing extraction quarry plans

Sand and gravel extraction, BGS©NERC

Norfolk County Council has decided to reduce the amount of minerals it requires, giving thousands of people in Norfolk fresh hope that they will be saved from the "blight" of sand and gravel extraction. Members of the council's cabinet and full council have agreed to reduce the amount of sand and gravel extracted by one fifth, from 36.4 million tonnes to 28.2 million tonnes.

This decision forms part of a framework for minerals and waste planning in Norfolk until 2026. The framework includes plans to increase silica sand extraction from three million tonnes to 6.4 million tonnes and to reduce non-hazardous waste from 38.3 million tonnes to 26 million tonne. Two years ago landowners and quarry operators were asked to suggest areas for extraction sites to meet government requirements for the supply of aggregates for the next decade.

This list generated a number of protests and petitions throughout the county in a bid to protect the landscape. It will be at least early next year before the potential effects on each location are known.

These latest changes to the Minerals and Waste Core Strategy follow the coalition government's withdrawal of the East of England Plan, including policies relating to mineral and waste planning. The reduced quantities, which will lead to revisions in site allocation, will be subject to further consultation early next year. Norfolk County Council is currently inviting people to comment on the recent decision, which takes into account public comments received during the summer.

Source: [No longer available]

Engineered bacteria fills cracks in aging concrete

Researchers at the University of Newcastle have created a new type of concrete adhesive that can repair cracks in concrete structures, restoring old buildings or those damaged by seismic events. The glue is neither a synthetic material nor an adhesive; instead researchers have engineered bacteria that burrow into the cracks in concrete and produce a mix of calcium carbonate and special bacterial glue that hardens to the same strength as the surrounding concrete, restoring structural strength and adding life to the surrounding concrete.

"BacillaFilla", as the researchers call it, is a genetically modified version of Bacillus subtilis, a common bacterium in soils. The researchers have altered its genetic properties so that it will only germinate under the highly specific pH conditions found in concrete.

Researchers hope BacillaFilla will improve the longevity of concrete structures, which can be environmentally costly to construct. It could also be utilised in areas affected by earthquakes to quickly reinforce damaged buildings and reduce the number of structures that require demolition after a disaster.

Source: [No longer available]

MPA quarter 3 sales trends flatter to deceive

Aggregate, BGS©NERC

According to the Mineral Products Association (MPA) sales of aggregates, asphalt, cement and ready mix concrete improved in the third quarter of 2010 compared with the same period of the previous year. Sales of aggregates, cement and ready mix concrete were 3%, 9% and 6% higher than in the third quarter of 2009, reflecting a broad range of construction activity. However 2009 was an historic low point and therefore any upturn in sales must be regarded as a comparative improvement rather than as a sign of sustained recovery.

In comparison, the Government has published data indicating a 10% increase in construction output in the second quarter followed by a further 4% in the third quarter, underpinning the stronger than expected GDP growth figures of 1.2% and 0.8% in the second and third quarters. These official figures suggest that the level of construction output is at an all time high in the UK; however, this is far from true. Data from the MPA and general feedback from the construction and materials sectors suggest that official construction data may be overstating the real situation.

Asphalt sales have improved most throughout the year, with a 9% increase on 2009. The MPA expected growth in this market based on the need to repair winter damage to the road network and the progress of a number of major schemes. However, the scale of the improvement indicates that local authorities have increased their focus on road maintenance work.

MPA Executive Director, Simon van der Byl, emphasised that both the MPA and wider construction improvements observed need to be viewed in the context of likely declines in construction activity in 2011. He said that negative pressures, such as cuts in public investment, are likely to outweigh what will be a slow and uneven recovery over the next two years, adding that a double dip recession in 2011 should not be ruled out.


Proposed new planning fees will hit minerals industry hard

The Mineral Products Association (MPA) says proposals to change the system for setting planning application fees could have serious implications for mineral operators.

The Government considers the current fixed-fee system does not allow planning authorities to recover the full cost of dealing with planning applications. It has therefore proposed that authorities be given the power to set their own fees, rather than using a fixed scale of charges set by the Government. It also believes certain types of application that currently do not attract a fee should do so in the future.

In response to the Government's proposal, MPA Executive Director Simon van der Byl said: "Mineral planning costs are already higher than for most other forms of development, with industry having to pay some of the highest planning application fees in the country.

"Authorities demand fees today of up to £65,000; that is on top of the very high cost of our applications relative to most other forms of development and takes no account of the increasing costs of pre-application discussions, EIA and archaeological investigations.

Mr van der Byl commented that substantial fee increases represent an unacceptable cost burden that many companies would struggle to afford. He added that further significant fee increases would have serious implications for the minerals products industry.

If accepted and approved by government, the fee changes would be implemented from April 2011, with a six-month transition period until October 2011.