By Councillor C. Paxton First Draft (subject to potential correction by peer review)
On July 9th, TATA Steel representatives Alastair Dunn (Quarry Manager) and Chris Queen (Shapfell Manager) invited Crosby Ravensworth Parish Councillors to an evening meeting at the quarry-side below the prehistoric stone circles of Iron Hill to learn more about the firm’s plans for further limestone extraction from Shapfell Quarry. TATA would like to extract 5.2 million tonnes of limestone for local processing to serve in removing impurities in the steel-making process. This is necessary in order to produce the highest quality steel for the exacting demands of products such as construction girders and high speed railway track. They plan to drain the water that has accumulated in the quarry bottom in order to access the seam there. They intend to establish a reservoir that will supply water by underground pipe-line to Dalebanks to maintain a healthy flow even during periods of drought. NB This could actually improve upon natural conditions in which the water levels can drop to stressfully low levels for residents and riparian wildlife during droughts.
The quarry water sump pH is about 7.64, the final water level after the project is expected to be the same, with the deepest points at about 50 metres.
The proposed abstraction period would be from 2015 to 2023 with an after-care period of up to 5 years when Cumbria County Council and Natural England would sign off the project.
Councillors were shown aerial photographs of restored pasture to show how well the spoil would look when the project would be completed. Landowners will be responsible for the re-fencing of the farmland.
Please right-click the following link and select ‘save file as’ to download the information brochure distributed at TATA’s public consultation event to a folder of your choice or simply or click it to view it online: Shap_A5_brochure_July 2013 final
For modern industry, limestone has been quarried with permission at Shapfell since the 1960’s. Over 60 local jobs rely directly upon continued extraction, with many more livelihoods benefiting in connection by trickle-down fashion.
In 2006 the extraction of remaining reserves above the 298 m level was permitted.
In 2008, as the amount of rock allocated for extraction neared depletion, an application was made to Cumbria County Council (CCC) for a new permissible quota. The plan was to dig down rather than extend the area of the quarry. The target seam of rock is 20 to 30 metres thickness of high grade limestone identical to that found at scenic Knipe Scar.
Since Nov. 2009 work has pretty much stopped because almost all the permitted reserves have been extracted. There are just 260,000 tonnes left in the former allowance. This sounds a lot, but there isn’t much rock in a tonne. It is heavy stuff.
After due consideration of the proposal and of concerns about the possible affect on the water table and the local ecology, CCC requested more information upon which they could base their decision to allow or disallow the proposal.
CCC asked for 1-2 years of additional data for greater understanding of the hydrological conditions and recommended additional groundwater monitoring and water quality testing, and consideration of a groundwater model. They called for a review of private water supplies (PWS) and of sources such as springs. They asked for additional information regarding mitigation.
Local residents of our Parish have been worried about the possible impact on the local water table of digging deeper into the quarry because generally speaking, water will drain through porous rock to pool at the lowest level above an impermeable layer of rock. Limestone is well known for being a permeable rock, some of England’s finest cave systems are created by such percolation of water through limestone. Currently water is pooling at the bottom of the quarry, if the depth of the quarry is extended by a depth ranging from 20 to 30 metres, what would the resulting impact be upon the local water table and hence local springs and rivers?
Concerns have specifically focused on the possible interference with the flow of spring-fed Dale Banks Beck and the Lyvennet river. Some outlying properties rely upon spring water for their water supply. The volume and quality of this supply is very important to the human residents and to such creatures as the native White-clawed crayfish.
This month (September 2013) marks the culmination of 5 years of data gathering and TATA are submitting their data to Cumbria County Council with their request that the plans in the 2008 proposal be adopted.
According to TATA’s consultation information, they have had quarterly meetings with representatives of Natural England, The Environment Agency and Cumbria County Council to share information gleaned from continuous monitoring of 36 boreholes, also rivers and springs. They now say they have “a much improved understanding of water quality issues” and an “excellent hydrogeological understanding.”
The terms of the proposal in September 2013 are identical to those made in 2008 with the exception of the later start date.
We learned that this seam is the same as the Knipe Scar limestone, hard and highly pure, it is ideal for the firm’s needs. About 70% of the abstracted stone will be used in steel making, the remainder in slope forming. One third of the industrial grade limestone would serve as flooring material in the smelter and the remainder would be used to draw out impurities to produce the kind of very high quality steel that TATA’s customers require for a host of different applications.
What will happen, and when?
September 2013 TATA Steel submits additional environmental information
- The statutory consultees will be informed
- TATA is willing to have additional meetings with the Parish Council.
- The Parish Council and other stakeholders will respond to CCC.
- CCC Planners will recommend acceptance, refusal or request additional information.
If the proposal passes planning, then:
- 2014 Dewatering planned to start
- 2015 Quarrying and restoration work recommences
- 2023 Quarrying ceases and pumps turned off
- 2025 Restoration work finalised
- Beyond 2025 Water level fully rebounds and aftercare continues
Additonal information about Shap area.
Apparently the name ‘Shap’ actually means ‘heap of stones’ and the Shap area is criss-crossed with miles of drystone walls, many erected by monks from Shap Abbey. These serve as a visible, above-ground manifestation of the underlying carboniferous geology.
You can also see the local limestone exposed naturally in the form of Limestone pavements (karstic features with unique sub-arctic floral communities) and in dramatic exposed scars and screes, such as Knipe scar, Ravensworth Scar and Orton Scar.
Shap was famous for other heaps of stones, too. In addition to the dramatic stone walls and natural features, the area also has a rich heritage of prehistoric sites, with a megalithic avenue of standing stones and stone circles.
Evidence suggests that the working of stone has been important in the area since the late stone-age (c. 3000 BC).
On Wednesday, September 11th Tom Clare, an expert on prehistoric sites will give a talk at King’s Meaburn Village Hall on Stone Circles for the WI at 8 PM. £2 entrance fee.