Islanders set to defend beautiful place from the 'uncaring'

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The Independent Online
GAELIC-SPEAKERS living on Harris call the Roineabhal mountain, on the southern tip of the Hebridean island, 'an aite boidheach' - the beautiful place. This week, at a public inquiry into plans to destroy the 1,500ft peak to make way for Europe's largest superquarry, they will condemn the developers as 'gun duigh' - uncaring.

The inquiry into proposals by Redland Aggregates, the Surrey-based mining group, to extract 600 million tonnes of rock from the hill, near the village of Lingerbay, opens tomorrow in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. Islanders, who initially welcomed the pounds 50m development as a vital economic boost in an area in which the population has more than halved over 70 years as jobs have disappeared, now oppose the plan.

Many are angry that three years after Redland first published its plans to build the quarry, its directors have ignored requests to set up an annual pounds 100,000 community trust fund to compensate for damage to the landscape and the local tourism and fishing industries. A BBC/Glasgow Herald opinion poll, published last week, found that only 36 per cent of islanders were in favour of the development, compared with more than 60 per cent last year.

Ian Callaghan, an islander who says he will leave his home if the development is approved, explained: 'On the question of compensation, we have had to push Redland every inch of the way over the last couple of years. During that time, much has changed. People now realise that the things we value here - community, lack of crime, peace and quiet - are beyond price. We don't want to become lackeys to a multinational company, regardless of what jobs or money they may bring in.'

Those who have opposed the scheme from the start say that it will 'irrevocably scar' a designated National Scenic Area and must be stopped. Norman MacLeod, a crofter who returned to his native Harris after 30 years, said: 'It will create a veritable hellhole of dust, disease and din.' Western Isles Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), who support the project, say the 100 jobs the quarry will create are vital to the economy of the island. The pounds 2m public inquiry is expected to report to Ian Lang, Secretary of State for Scotland next year, who will make the final decision.

If he gives the go-ahead, two more superquarries are likely to be built by 2000 on the north coast of Scotland and in Shetland.

(Photograph omitted)