Islanders divided over plan to move mountain: Nicholas Schoon on a scheme that would provide jobs but scar a harshly beautiful landscape for up to a century

PLANS TO remove a quarter of a 1,600 ft mountain from one of the most remote and scenic parts of Scotland are expected to be approved tonight by the Western Isles council.

But while a firm majority of councillors are likely to favour a coastal 'superquarry' on the island of Harris there will be little goodwill for the developer, Redland Aggregates. It has upset the islanders by offering to pay what they say is a tiny annual sum into a proposed community trust fund.

Redland's chosen site is in an officially designated National Scenic Area - the Scottish equivalent of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It wants to excavate and crush 600 million tonnes of anorthosite over the next 60 to 100 years, hollowing out a vast bowl in Roineabhal mountain at Harris's southern tip.

Councillors know the development will scar the island's harsh beauty - the quarry will be visible from Skye, 15 miles away - and disrupt its communities. But Harris, with 17 per cent unemployment, is desperate for the 100 jobs the quarry will bring. Emigration has halved its population in the last 50 years.

When Redland applied for planning permission two years ago, representatives from the scattered settlements of South Harris formed a committee. Led by a Church of Scotland minister, the Rev Murdo Smith, its aim was to wrest the best deal for the community. The money would have been used for community facilities and to develop alternative industries. Redland was unenthusiastic but eventually agreed to pay pounds 5,000 a year, rising to a maximum of pounds 25,000.

'It's a pittance,' Mr Smith said. 'If Redland are going to ride roughshod over the hopes and aspirations of people it won't be a happy relationship.'

John MacAulay, a crofter and local historian, said: 'We feel very let down. This decision is going to fire off a series of superquarries along the West Coast. And what Redland can get away with here, other developers will get away with elsewhere.'

Redland says it has never paid into such a community fund before, and the development would boost the local economy through new jobs and pounds 500,000 a year business rates.

Just over 60 per cent of Harris's 1,800-strong electorate turned out to vote on the proposal this month; 62 per cent were in favour. In South Harris, near the quarry site, the vote split 50/50.

Redland's offer to the community amounts to about a halfpenny per tonne of rock extracted. The committee hopes that more may be forthcoming from the company's partners - Donnie MacDonald, landlord of the nearby Rodel Hotel and the owner of the quarry site, and Charles Wilson, a mainland prospector who owns the mineral rights. They are expected to receive royalties of about 5p per tonne, although a final figure has yet to be agreed. Yesterday, Mr MacDonald declined to comment until after the council's decision.

The rock will be removed to well below sea level. Then, some time in the next century, the sea-facing wall will be breached, creating an artificial sea loch.

Studies have suggested several other coastal superquarry sites in western Scotland. They are being touted as a way of meeting the construction industry's growing demand for aggregates without the need to expand extraction operations in the more densely populated areas and national parks of England and Wales. Environmentalists are fiercely opposed and Scottish Natural Heritage, the Government's landscape and wildlife conservation arm, has objected.

The outcome in Harris is likely to set a precedent. Ian Lang, Secretary of State for Scotland, is expected to take the final decision himself. But if the council votes in favour tonight, that approval becomes more likely.

Leading article, page 21

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Ashdown Group: Senior .Net Developer - Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A long-established, technology rich ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable