On Tuesday, 30th of September, TATA Steel representatives Chris Queen (Shapfell Manager) and Alastair Dunn (Quarry Manager) welcomed local residents to Crosby Ravensworth Village Hall for a public consultation on the firm’s plans for further limestone extraction from Shap Fell Quarry and to hear opinions, exchange information and answer questions from local residents.
The quarry has has provided employment and related business for the Eden district since the 1960’s. The quarry bottom has filled with water to a maximum depth of about 20 meters at the deepest point. Before and after the presentation, residents had a chance to talk with Tata Steel about their own specific areas.
34 people attended the meeting, amongst these, County Councillor Neil Hughes, Parish Councillors from Crosby Ravensworth and Shap, a representative from Eden Rivers Trust and residents of Crosby Ravensworth and surrounding villages, including many local farmers and landowners whom, when considered in combination, comprise a formidable repository of local knowledge across generations. Tata Steel conveyed their information via large information boards and distributed leaflets and response forms, 5 of which were returned at the meeting. All the comments made have been shared with the Parish Council.
In brief, the Tata Steel staff explained that they considered public consultation a very important part of the planning process. They explained their proposal to extract a remaining wedge of limestone from the current quarry bottom (approximately 5.2 million tonnes) to use for local processing to serve in removing impurities in the steel-making process and its importance to the local and wider economy. They outlined the planning process and time scale.
Mr. Queen explained that they’ve been quarrying limestone since the 1960’s, they put the first three lime kilns in there in 1974, the fourth was added in 1990. He said, “It’s worth mentioning that we make about a quarter of the United Kingdom’s lime here. That equates to about 10,000 tonnes weekly, 11,000 tonnes actually since Christmas, so we do bring a lot of stone down through Shap village.” To put this in perspective of economic benefit Mr. Queen said, “We listed about 1400 people on the works last year, a lot of those were hauliers, but we’re providing that amount of employment to the local economy, and in terms of the shops and schools.” There’s clearly a considerable chain of benefit.
Chris Queen stressed that Tata Steel was resubmitting exactly the same plan as before, with the same objectives and time scale, just a different start date. A planning application for this new phase of quarrying was submitted to Cumbria County Council in 2008 and the Council asked for further ongoing studies of the local hydrology and ecology and more information about the firm’s plans for mitigation because they were unable to determine the application with the information that they then had. Tata Steel say they have now accumulated 5 year’s additional data from 36 bore holes dotted around the area and monitoring data from 5 water weirs, including one in Dalebanks Beck. Tata Steel believes they have an improved understanding of the local hydrology and its complexities, and how it feeds three different river catchments, the Lyvennet, the Leith and the Lowther.
Tata Steel proposes to drain the water that has accumulated in the quarry in order to access the target layer of limestone. This type of limestone is the same as can be found on the picturesque outcropping at Knipe Scar. According to Alastair Dunn, it is an unusually dense and partially impermeable layer and the wedge of stone for intended abstraction is about 30 meters thick at the deepest point.
Mr. Dunn said the current water level of the quarry is the highest it’s been for about 40 years and this has yielded ‘fantastic information’. This additional water was noted by farmers and residents.
He said that the final water level in the quarry has been agreed as a baseline with Natural England and the Environment Agency, and the level has fluctuated by about a metre from last winter to this summer and if the quarry was to be left as it is, it wouldn’t change much from how it is now. “We’ve put in an additional 36 bore holes around the site, a lot of those with continuous monitoring, so every 15 minutes we’re getting a measure of the water level in there and that feeds back into our work. We have done additional ecology studies, ecology studies only last for a certain period of time, normally two or three years, so all the work we did, we have had to redo. We had to do wildlife surveys on Crosby Common and the area around there. We’ve had to do fisheries surveys again.”
Alastair says that some of these fisheries surveys were done through Eden Rivers Trust and others with the help of an academic team from Hull University, “on the Lyvennet specifically, we’ve got a lot of really good information on that.” He also said “We have a further understanding of water quality” having taken measurements of water quality in Dalebanks Beck and in the quarry they found the water quality to be very similar. “It’s really showing that the water in the quarry is finding its way out of the quarry and it’s heading into Dalebanks Beck” he said, and showed a graph to those gathered, explaining that the black line denotes ground water that flows in continuously every day at around 12 litres per second and the blue line denotes extra water from rainfall events. Distinctive mineral markers show up in the rivers that are also found in the quarry water, particularly sulphates from the iron pyrites.
In preparation for the quarrying, Tata Steel plan to pump some of the accumulated water into three local rivers: the River Lowther, River Leith and our local Dalebanks Beck that feeds into The Lyvennet river. In answer to the question from an Eden Rivers Trust representative of how the pumps would be powered we learned that it would be by diesel or electricity. There was no mention of the carbon emissions of the transport and pumping being offset.
A resident noted that there would be settlement of sludge toward the bottom of the quarry, and wondered whether consideration had been given to impacts of pollutants if this were to be pumped into the rivers. Mr Dunn confirms that all discharged would be permitted by the Environment Agency and that settling lagoons would be used to remove suspended solids from the water before discharge.
As part of the mitigation planning, Tata Steel intend to establish a reservoir within their quarry area that will supply water from the quarry by underground pipe-line to the three rivers.
Members of the public asked questions and raised their concerns and the Tata Steel representatives listened carefully.
One resident asked whether Cumbria County Council, Natural England and the Environment Agency would not be led by the data that Tata Steel has provided to reach the determination that Tata Steel needs. i.e. selective data would be shared rather than the bigger picture of the whole watershed.
Chris said that Tata Steel will continue to monitor all the boreholes and there are meetings every quarter with the Environment Agency and Natural England to share the data. Chris said “They are very independently minded” and that they were looking at the data collection methods and the data very closely. “They’ll be very careful about the mitigation.” Alastair has since clarified that TATA Steel is only mitigating impact, i.e. mitigating to natural levels. At times of spate they don’t intend to pump extra water down the three rivers.
Chris said “There’s no doubt that there’ll be a temporary drop in water level in some places in and immediately around the quarry.” He explained that the hydrology was complex, some boreholes and springs are on ‘Perched water’, independent of the water levels at the quarry. There’s a fault running down Dalebanks and another at the northern end of the quarry.
Residents’ observations included: Blea Beck is running again, but Crosby Lodge Farm isn’t aware of any monitoring having taken place near them. A spring at Crake Trees has been dry these past ten years, but this year it has flowed continuously. A Maulds Meaburn resident said that they weren’t aware of monitoring of the river there.
A local antiquarian noted that we haven’t seen conditions like these for about 40 years.
Regarding the planning process Alastair says Tata Steel will submit information by the end of this year, the statutory consultees will then be informed (Parish Councils, Environment Agency, Natural England) and then they will respond. The public can respond too, to the County Council and if there are specific concerns, to the appropriate body, in the case of water quality it would be to the Environment Agency. Then all that information will be taken into consideration and the planning people will make their recommendation, either it has passed, or it has not, or again they may want further information.
A resident asked about how the process would be conducted. Alastair explained the following key points:
- the desired limestone is under the water
- before they clear the water, they must have mitigation in place to pump the water into the three rivers Dalebanks (hence to the Lyvennet), the Leith and Lowther.
- they would then clear the water from the area to be quarried
- they would then employ traditional quarrying methods: drilling, blasting and extraction
- then they would transport the rock to the crushing plant over on the other side of the motorway
When asked how far they would visualise going down further. Alastair said ” We are limited by the geology. If you are on top of the quarry looking down over to where the shoreline is you’ll see it’s not limestone there, it’s kind of red and brown, that’s shale. That shale dips as you come this way, so you have a wedge of limestone, following that shale down. The quarry floor and the water is currently flat, we’re not going to go below that shale. We are not interested in taking stone in any other direction, just down.
“How far down?” was asked.
“It’s about another 25 m from where we are currently, and there’s about 5 metres of water in most of the quarry. ”
Alastair said “Our understanding of the local limestone really has changed. When you think about limestone, you think about potholes, big fissures, but it’s a real solid lump of rock there. It’s taken a lot of people by surprise; a lot of professionals that have been working on the project have been surprised at how slowly the water works through the rock up there. So that shows the sort of understanding of geology of the area that we never had before.
In response to a resident’s question, “So what sort of time scale are we looking at?”
Alastair answered, “If we get permission, we’d start dewatering into next year. Quarrying would start in 2015 and we’d continue our restoration work at the rest of the site along with that. That would be going through until about 2023, following that it would take a couple of years to finish off the final contouring of the quarry, taking us to about 2025. Then obviously, that water will rebound. We’ll be managing the site through the rebound period. The rebound period doesn’t mean we have to stop pumping water to the rivers, because obviously while the water is still quite low we’ll have that impact again as the water comes back, until it comes back to roughly where it is now. So the piece of work we are conducting now is trying to determine how long that is likely to be.”
He went on to explain that they’d be monitoring the Dalebanks Beck level regularly to ensure that the flow targets set by Natural England and the Environment Agency will continue to be met. At the moment they are working out with the Environment Agency what the optimum frequency of the monitoring should be throughout the process.
There was a question about how restoration was to be funded. The answer was that about a quarter of the volume extracted would come back to aid in the restoration of the quarry area and that Tata Steel has an ongoing budget to cover these costs.
Another question probed what assurances were in place should Tata Steel “roll over with its feet to the sun? (hit terminal financial difficulties). The response to this was that whilst Tata Steel has responsibilities through a planning permission, the restoration work will be carried out.
A resident suggested that it might be necessary to establish a Bond of Restoration that would serve as a legally binding promise to restore conditions to a stated quality.
The Tata Steel representatives reiterated how important the consultation is and that they are working hard to balance all the requirements.
They encouraged everybody who wanted more information or further clarification to contact them for more information. As part of the submission, Tata Steel will produce a non-technical summary of the proposals.
Please note that Tata Steel have already gathered and processed a large volume of data with specific and detailed information about particular places, so people interested in specific details should contact Tata Steel and put their questions and if necessary can arrange an appointment to view the particular data sheets that are relevant to their inquiry.
Additional information: Residents with private water supplies who haven’t done so already, should tell the Environment Agency about them otherwise they might not be taken into consideration.
Our point of contact with Tata Steel is:
Quarrying & Services Manager
Tata Steel Shapfell
Cumbria, CA10 3QG
01931 717 143
0788 565 0494
Our point of contact with the Planners and Statutory consultees is:
Senior Planning Officer| Environment Unit
Environment | Cumbria County Council
County Offices | Kendal | LA9 4RQ
t 01539 713549
f 01539 713439