French abandon plans for Harris super quarry

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The French cement and aggregates giant Lafarge has abandoned plans to build Europe's largest "super quarry" on the Hebridean island of Harris, after a concerted campaign by environmentalists.

The French cement and aggregates giant Lafarge has abandoned plans to build Europe's largest "super quarry" on the Hebridean island of Harris, after a concerted campaign by environmentalists.

The Paris-based multinational, which dominates the world's cement and aggregates market, scrapped the proposal as part of its attempts to create a more environmentally friendly strategy and image.

Lafarge was cited last week by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for the Environment, as an industry leader for promising to trim its climate change gas emissions by more than 10 per cent. This is regarded by observers as a tough task, given cement's high energy requirements.

Its decision to drop proposals to dig a vast 600m ton quarry in a national scenic area on Harris, one of Scotland's most famous islands, has ended a bitter dispute within the British environment movement.

Lafarge's original refusal to drop the Harris quarry led to a deep rift with the powerful environment group WWF International over "green-washing", as the two organisations had signed a £3.5m sponsorship deal over five years to tackle global warming and to "green" the aggregates sector.

WWF, which has pioneered engagement with major corporations, such as HSBC and the aluminium maker Alcoa, faced angry attacks from British environmentalists for taking Lafarge's money. As a result, British executives in WWF refused to take their share of Lafarge's donation - a decision which is likely to be reversed.

Sources close to the deal have revealed that Harris was dropped on the orders of Lafarge executives in Paris, who over-ruled their colleagues in the UK.

Lafarge has also promised WWF it will investigate alternative sources of rock and aggregate, such as recycling and use of less environmentally damaging quarry sites. WWF executives believe the collapse of the Harris project vindicates their stance on positive engagement.

However, there is widespread cynicism about Lafarge's motives. The company had already lost a legal appeal in Scotland in January against a decision to refuse it planning permission. Lafarge still had one further legal case to fight, but observers claim there is so little demand for quarry stone, the economic value of the Harris quarry no longer made it worth fighting for.

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