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Good news, bad news for quarrying communities
Friday, 19 April, 2002

John Sheard welcomes the introduction of new grants for quarrying districts - but laments the missing link.

HEREWITH, with my apologies, yet another acronym to confuse country folk: ALSF. Yet another piece of official gobbledygook, I'm afraid, but it could be of considerable significance for many Dales people who live near quarries.

    Swinden Quarry
Swinden Quarry, near Linton and Grassington
It stands for Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund and it is part of a new Government plan to hand out quite a lot of money - some £30 million in total - to help people in or near quarrying communities live a better life.

As all Dalesfolk know, quarrying can cause a lot of disruption. There is the noise and dust from blasting, damage to the local landscape and wildlife but, worst of all, is the hugely increased road traffic.

This is not new: I was writing about such controversies in the Derbyshire Peak District in the 1950s. Not new, either, is that fact that quarrying is a major a source of employment in many rural communities and, as such, most locals are prepared to put up with it with a helpless shrug of the shoulders: like death and taxes, quarrying seems inevitable.

Now three Government agencies have been studying these problems - the Countryside Agency, English Nature and English Heritage - and have persuaded Environment Minister Michael Meacher to come up with ALSF.

In the next two financial years, £29.5 million in grants will be available in quarrying areas for projects like landscape restoration, better recreational facilities, archaeological digs on land due to be quarried and the protection of important historic buildings.

Now I am all in favour of these schemes and I would encourage quarrying communities to apply for such grants (see details later). Any extra cash for such areas is to be welcomed. However, I am sad to see that, in one crucial area, ALSF seems to have missed the point...

Traffic on often narrow, winding country roads by quarry wagons which, to many, often seem to be too big and travelling too fast.

Now there is no point in extracting aggregates if you can't deliver them to where they are needed, which is rarely - if ever - in the countryside. Once upon a time, they went by canal: Skipton was a major source for canal traffic and it would be wonderful - but highly unlikely - to see this trade restored.

But there is another alternative to road transport and there are sound, levelheaded people in the Dales who have been trying to promote it for years: the railways. And here, with a bit of forethought, we could be onto a double bonus.

The quarry companies in recent years have made major strides in improving their railway distribution networks. Much of the production from Swinden quarry in moved by rail at night via Skipton.

But there has been talk for years of extending that line past Swinden to Grassington for passenger traffic - and what a boon that would be for a village where parking is tight at the best of times and sheer murder on holiday weekends.

Further north, campaigners have been fighting for years to re-open to passenger traffic a quarry line which once ran east from Hawes to link up with the main east coast lines.

There are even dreamers who would would like to drive that line further west, to link up- with the Settle-Carlisle and what a triangular trip that would make round the Dales for tourists - as well as quarry freight.

Sadly, I could see no mention of plans to restore railway links in the ALSF plans. So far. Perhaps there are spirited folk out there who would like to take the matter further.
  • For more details and how to apply for an ALFS grant, see the Countryside Agency website (www.countryside.gov.uk) or ring the grants team on 0117 973 9966.

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