'We've never damaged the environment': Quarry boss rejects claims expansion would harm Brockadale Nature Reserve
A quarry boss has strongly rejected campaigners' claims that plans to expand his company's site will damage the environment.
Went Valley Aggregates, who mine stone on land to the east of Pontefract, want to extend their operations to within 50 metres of the nearby Brockadale Nature Reserve, where unique wildlife flourishes.
But quarry chief Russell Meakin insisted the fears are unfounded and that activity at the site will be strictly regulated if planning permission is granted.
The firm, located close to the village of Kirk Smeaton, says the expansion is desperately needed to help plug a chronic shortage of building materials.
They say the local economy and construction industry is suffering as a result, with "hundreds of jobs" being lost because of the issue.
Mr Meakin, who's been involved with Went Valley Aggregates since 1994, said he had to make 10 of his 26 staff redundant last week.
In an interview with the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), he said: "We’ve been quarrying here every day for 30 years but everyone who walks through the valley (next to the current site) says how beautiful it is and how important it's been during Covid.
"Yet, we’re still here - we haven't gone anywhere. That shows we're not affecting the land.
"If the damage has been done why can’t people see it?
"We're not damaging the environment."
Mr Meakin was unequivocal that no harm will be done to the nature reserve or the species in it, despite concerns being raised about dust blowing out of the quarry.
He added: "The first time there’s an ounce of dust out of place, we'll stop work and we’ll stop until we’ve figured out why it’s happened and how we can stop it happening again.
"We won’t just carry on regardless. It will all be monitored."
Went Valley supplies a number of local construction firms, but with its current site now running short of materials after three decades of mining, the company insists it has to seek pastures new, or else face laying even more workers off.
Mr Meakin said: "It’s like a family here. There's 26 of us who've worked together for 10 years here.
"But because furlough’s finished and everything else, I can’t afford to keep those 10 on.
"I had to tell them last week and it was awful.
"My customers are on the phone to me daily, asking when we're going to be opening (the expanded site).
"There's a bigger need now for the stone than there's ever been and everyone can see that."
"Everybody's trying to build their way out of the recession, but you can't do that if you don't have the materials."
North Yorkshire County Council originally gave the expansion approval at a chaotic virtual planning meeting in June, before the authority's chief executive vetoed the decision.
The same committee will reconsider the proposals at a meeting in person, with a final verdict expected on September 28.
If planning permission is granted, Went Valley has committed to restoring the land it mines into a wildlife-friendly plot after 10 years.
Mr Meakin said he guaranteed the restoration would take place and that he was frustrated by false rumours he claimed to have been circulating about the scheme.
"It's been suggested that when we're finished we'll turn the land into an industrial estate," he said. "It's just not true."
Mr Meakin also rejected the notion that it would become a landfill site once the scheme is finished.
He explained that the ground will be relaid with treated soil, but that the company needed a landfill licence from the council to make that happen.
He said: "People panicked, because they see the word 'landfill' and they think it'll be dustbin wagons, rats, seagulls and all the rest of it. It won't be.
"The soil comes under the landfill permit scheme, which we need for the restoration.
"That’s the kind of the thing the man on the street wouldn’t necessarily understand, because there's so many different types of landfill permit.
"People automatically think it's dustbin wagons and that's never going to happen here."
Mr Meakin points to the company's tree-planting around the edge of the current site, which he said was voluntary, as evidence they care about the local area.
He also says he's contributed to Kirk Smeaton, helping to pay for a clock tower and defibrillator for the community.
"The tree planting helps keep the area nice and fresh," he said. "We didn’t have to do that, but we did.
"I lived in (nearby) Wentbridge for 12 years.
"I’m from this area, so absolutely I have an interest in keeping this area looking nice."
Local Democracy Reporting Service