Expense blights mineral waste disposal plan

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AN IMAGINATIVE proposal to use mineral wastes which disfigure Cornwall in the construction of a second crossing of the Severn estuary has come to nothing because the Government is unwilling to put money where its mouth is.

The Department of the Environment says it wants to see the construction industry make more use of waste materials as an alternative to digging pits and quarries which spoil the countryside.

The approach roads to the new bridge across the Severn near Bristol could consume millions of tons of waste material but the Department of Transport refuses to meet any of the extra costs.

The wastes in question are the spoil tips from Cornwall's main manufacturing industry, the production of china clay. These pose major problems for the county and English China Clays.

Each year ECC produces 27 million tons of waste, the white, conical tips being visible from the A30 road near St Austell. ECC is trying to smooth down the 19 tips and plant grass on them, but the area of land swallowed up by waste material is expanding.

The company and Cornwall County Council have been trying to remove waste by finding some use for it. More than 1 million tons are used by the local construction industry as infill material and sand. But beyond a 40-mile radius the cost of moving the material is too high: it cannot compete with material from quarries, pits and offshore dredging.

Avon County Council, based in Bristol, proposed that waste from Cornwall should be used to build embankments for nine miles of new motorways. These will link the M4 and M5 to the new Severn crossing a few miles downstream from the existing suspension bridge. While the crossing is a private sector project, the approach roads are being built by the Department of Transport.

Avon wants to reduce the disruption, noise and damage that would follow the expansion in local quarrying brought about by the construction project. The embankments would consume about 4 million tons of waste.

The Department of Transport's request for tenders says that recycled materials can be used. But its refusal to pay extra kills off hopes of using the Cornish wastes.

Dr Clive Gronow, ECC's European operations director, said the only costs involved in supplying the material were for moving it. The company has considered shifting it by rail and sea, which would be more popular than moving it by road. But however transported, it would cost at least twice as much as material from local quarries. 'It's an economic nightmare, and has been every time we've looked at it,' he said.

Consultants hired by the Department of the Environment have proposed an environmental tax on 'fresh' aggregates from quarries and pits, in order to encourage use of waste minerals. But the Government has shown no enthusiasm at a time when the construction industry is suffering.