It is now up to Scottish Ministers to decide whether the internationally recognised landscape around the Falls of Clyde should be saved for the benefit of future generations or disappear forever under Cemex’s bulldozers.
Last week, the Reporter (planning inspector) appointed to examine the planning application, delivered her recommendations to Ministers.
The area in question is part of the Buffer Zone of the New Lanark UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Falls of Clyde Designed Landscape.
This is an area that Historic Scotland described as being “intimately bound up with the value of the [New Lanark World Heritage] site” in the nomination for World Heritage Status.
But, when Cemex, came calling, Historic Scotland decided that the area was of little value after all, preferring instead to facilitate the application and hope that UNESCO wouldn’t notice. (Yes, Historic Scotland initially thought there was no need to inform – let alone consult – UNESCO.)
This is an area that South Lanarkshire Council once promised to “protect, preserve and enhance” as the “setting” of the World Heritage Site.
But when Cemex came calling, the Council altered its planning policies, conveniently deciding that the area no longer represented the setting of the World Heritage Site, so it didn’t matter if it were to be destroyed. (The council’s proposals map labelled the Buffer Zone as the “setting” of the World Heritage Site, something that we confirmed with the council. But after public consultation had ended, the council decided that the labelling had been a “mistake”.)
This is an area that UNESCO described as being a “vital component of the Outstanding Universal Value” of New Lanark in 2014 when it formally expressed concern about the application – only for the last set of Reporters to advise Ministers that they needn’t worry about this because “expressions of concern do not automatically mean that the site is placed on the ‘in danger’ list.” (No matter that the “expression of concern” took the form of a formal “decision” at the meeting of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee which reviews the management of World Heritage Sites. And clearly there was no need to consider that UNESCO might just have the edge in terms of World Heritage expertise.)
This is a planning application objected to by 11,500 visitors to the Falls of Clyde – whose clearly expressed opinions were dismissed by the last set of Reporters as mistaken in their assessment. The Reporters did however note the “eight submitted letters of support to the proposal” without any suggestion that these submissions were mistaken. (Yes, that’s right: 8! For every letter in support of the quarry, there were more than 1,400 against.)
This is an area that Cemex, planners and reporters alike decided needed to be destroyed to keep the construction industry going – only for output to fall to levels that we advised were likely at the time of the last hearing in 2014. (Emeritus Professor Boulton of Edinburgh University estimated that there are 500 million tonnes of sand and gravel in South Lanarkshire. Understandably, quite how a spatial planning policy ends up entertaining the extraction of 3 million tonnes from an area with the highest (Category 1) protective designation is something that many people find difficult to grasp.)
Perhaps most importantly of all for the integrity of Scottish Ministers and the planning system they manage, Donald Dewar in his capacity as the First Minister of Scotland signed the nomination document clearly stating that planning policy “prevents its [Hyndford quarry’s] expansion of workings into the buffer zone.”
The last set of Reporters in complete contradiction to the evidence said that this was no “assurance” at all and was in any case “not relevant” to the decsion. So “prevents” means “allows”, “no” means “yes”, and integrity in public life doesn’t matter at all.
For all these reasons, and many more, it’s time for Scottish Ministers to come down firmly on the side of the people of Scotland and for Scotland’s heritage, and provide an emphatic “NO” to Cemex.