Row over Kilmartin Glen quarry extension

Kilmartin Castle dating back to 1550 now contends to 2020 quarry noise inside its walls, says owner Stef Burgon

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Plans to expand sand and gravel quarrying at historic Kilmartin could scupper the area’s vision to become a world-class travel destination, say objectors.

Owners of a luxury B&B, museum trustees and anxious residents are among almost 50 objectors to the bid so far with many still feeling raw over Argyll and Bute upping the quarry’s noise limit without giving them a say.

During lockdown in May, Kilmartin Quarry applied to increase its maximum decibel limit from 34db to 45db which villagers claim more than doubles the previous noise emission.

Calls for a public hearing went unheeded, say residents, and the change was approved after a technical assessment was carried out by council officers instead.

Now Lochgilphead-based MacLeod Construction Limited (MCL) has applied to extend its sand and gravel works laterally on its single-field site, saying the work would not move excavations any closer to the village. To date, more than 70 letters of support have been sent to planners.

If the planning application, which would extend the quarry’s lifespan by about 20 years, gets the go ahead then residents and historians fear the area famous for its stone circles, standing stones, burial cairns and rock art would be hit hard, putting off visitors and stunting tourism growth prospects and jobs linked to it.

Jane MacLeod of MCL warns there could be redundancies if the bid is rejected. She also says detailed impact studies have been carried out revealing ‘nothing of significance’ and that there had been ‘extensive pre-application consultation’ with the local community, including two Zoom events. The quarry is serviced by two lorries.

‘The output from the quarry, traffic levels and noise levels will not increase. There is, however, a possibility that employment will increase, although if the application is refused, there could be redundancies,’ she said.

As well as 10-12 direct jobs at the quarry, MCL and its sand and gravel supports hundreds of construction-linked jobs and industry trainees across Argyll and Bute, said Mrs MacLeod, pointing out the company’s work in the community involved schools and Kilmartin Museum where finds discovered on its site are displayed.

As for the noise issue, Mrs MacLeod said because it is a sand and gravel quarry – not rock – no blasting takes place but the issue of noise was ‘constantly under review’, with a programme of on-going works and maintenance to  make sure it stays within permitted levels. These include sound baffles and screening to reduce noise from the existing plant.

But one of the objectors is Stef Burgon, who says the noise from the quarry can now be heard inside the castle which she and her partner opened as a B&B, jeopardising plans to invest £80,000 in the gardens next year to create a wildlife habitat and pop-up venue space to host cultural events, such as comedy nights and supper clubs.

‘There is no way we can use our garden for guests now, so there is no sense injecting further investment here,’ she said, adding the new noise limit would create complaints and threaten any future bookings.

‘The increased noise will also negatively effect the Kilmartin Museum, which expects to bring 44,000 visitors to Kilmartin Glen in its first year of opening after a £7million renovation – of which Argyll and Bute Council put forward £400,000.

‘As a travel journalist in my previous life, I am all too aware of the effect of the reputation economy. When visitors start to share their experiences online of a noisy industrial glen, others will choose to go elsewhere for their holidays,’ she said.

Ms Burgon, who has made a noise complaint to Environmental Health believing the quarry is consistently breaking its new decibel limit, claims the noise has transformed Kilmartin from ‘a peaceful place to a noisy and irritating one’ and says it is ‘unbelievable’ the council ‘whose job it is to look to the future and growth of rural communities’  has not considered the wider impact on the area.

She said a compromise was needed between the quarry and the village so everyone could get on with their lives and ‘live in harmony’.

Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute MSP, says there is strong concern about the application.

‘Nobody is against the continued operation of the quarry until it reaches the end of its productive life but to extend it in such an area of landscape, historic and environmental importance is not something that should  be accepted without a detailed and strong local and indeed national debate given Kilmartin’s importance.

‘It would be better if alternatives were also known about and were considered within that discussion. It is clear from the number of objections that there is substantial opposition and I tend towards that view given the issues that I mention.’

A spokesperson for Argyll and Bute Council said the planning application ‘is being progressed, like all applications, in line with national regulations. Residents have the option of reviewing the proposals and giving their views online’.

Kilmartin Museum’s board of trustees is also among objectors, claiming the quarry’s extension would have ‘a negative impact on mainland Scotland’s most important landscape’ that is worthy of World Heritage status.

Worry about the quarry’s carbon footprint, increased noise, more lorries, wildlife  being put in danger and the safety of footpaths and cycle routes through Kilmartin being put at risk because of heavier traffic flow, and the possible destruction of yet-to-be uncovered 4,000 to 5,000-year-old artefacts are also mentioned in official objections to planners for consideration.