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Planners consider controversial quarry extension

[Tuesday 21 February 2006]

The application to increase quarrying operations close to an important archaeological site known as the Stonehenge of the North goes before a planning committee in North Yorkshire today.

County Councillors have to decide whether to allow Tarmac Northern, the operators of the Nosterfield Quarry, to extend its gravel extraction operations at Ladybridge Farm near Masham.

The quarry is close to Thornborough Henges, a site dating back to Neolithic times, and Tarmac's application has caused real concern among locals and the wider archaeological world.

Tarmac's existing quarrying operations around the site currently provide North Yorkshire with a quarter of its sand and gravel, and the company views its expansion plans as small scale - something disputed by the objectors.

The Henges are considered to be one of the most important and best preserved prehistoric sites in the country, and are made up of three linked earthworks that once formed part of a wider ceremonial area.

The Henges themselves are protected and not under threat as they are now classed as scheduled ancient monuments; however the archaeological value of the surrounding area, including the Ladybridge Farm site, is a cause of contention between Tarmac and their opponents.

The company funded an investigation that concluded that the Ladybridge site is not of national importance. The report stated that whilst the investigation had discovered a number of prehistoric pits containing pieces of pottery and a number of landscape features, these are in a badly deteriorated condition and lacked environmental potential.

This is hotly disputed by the objectors including English Heritage, the Council for British Archaeology and Dr. Jan Harding, enior Lecturer in Archaeology at Newcastle University.

English Heritage wrote to the County Council following the investigation - and ahead of today's meeting - in order to maintain its objection, the letter stated: "The minerals planning proposal from Tarmac Northern Ltd will have a clear and negative impact on nationally important archaeology.

"English Heritage believes that the archaeological evaluations have now adequately characterised the deposits within the Ladybridge Farm site and we have no hesitation in asserting that these deposits are of national importance, dating from the Neolithic period and related to the adjacent monument complex and its wider landscape".

Tarmac is adamant that the site is not of national importance and is dismissing the claims made by English Heritage.

Tarmacs' Estates Manager, Bob Nicholson, said: "Using the same methodology and scoring system applied to finds at Stonehenge, our consultants and North Yorkshire County Council carried out separate assessments of the Ladybridge artefacts and agreed that they were not of national importance".

Dr. Harding, In his written objections to the County Council takes exception to the claims that the pits are not closely linked with the actual henges, stating: there is a high likelihood that the Ladybridge pits with this pottery and the henges are indeed contemporary with one another (rather than the henges being later than the pits as implied by the applicant).

"Put another way, the pits are very much part of the monument's wider setting".

Dr. Harding went on to add: "I therefore call upon NYCC to reject this planning application and embrace the alternative and far more positive visions being proposed by the landscape's other stakeholders.

"It is imperative that the mistakes of the past are not repeated by granting permission for the further destruction of a landscape of both national and international importance".

The County Council's Planning Committee is due to begin its deliberations this morning at Masham Town Hall.

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