John Vidal, environment editor
Saturday February 14, 2004
One of Britain’s most historic landscapes is about to become the scene of a passionate encounter between conservationists, local communities and industry as protesters start to flock to a small valley in the Peak District national park.
At stake are the long abandoned Endcliffe and Lees Cross quarries at Stanton Lees in Derbyshire. Overgrown with ash, birch and beech trees on steeply sloping land leading up to the bronze age Nine Sisters stone circle ancient monument on the moor above, they have been worked for many centuries on a small scale to provide local stone. But they are about to be massively expanded to provide 3.2m tonnes of some of the most sought-after sandstone in Britain.
Before work can start, however, a battle of the intensity of the road protests at Twyford Down and Newbury in the 1990s looks inevitable. The 32-acre site has been occupied for four years by protesters who have already built more than 25 tree houses and dug a com plex of deep tunnels and defences in stone cavities. After a high court case last week, which gave the Stancliffe Stone company permission to evict them, they expect hundreds of people to join them.
There is also local anger that the landowner, Lord Edward Manners, of Haddon Hall, near Bakewell, stands to make many millions of pounds from the development, which will inevitably disturb the serenity of the 3,500-year-old standing stones which attract 40,000 people a year.
Under the contract, seen by the Guardian, Lord Manners’ Haddon estate will be paid rent of about £20,000 a year plus royalties of up to £4 a tonne of the soft, pinky-grey stone.
Yesterday the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) condemned the proposed new workings, which will come to within 200 yards of the stand ing stones, and said that a precedent would be set which could lead to more than 100 other dormant quarries in English national parks being reopened.
“This has national implications. It cannot be right that a permission issued in 1952 gives a company the right to destroy this hillside in the national park when if they applied today they would be refused out of hand,” said Andy Tickle.
When the first national parks were being set up in the early 1950s, quarry operators and landowners rushed to establish development rights. The government, anxious to push legislation through, caved in and gave them, in many cases, open-ended planning permissions which have been fought ever since. At least 100 of these old mineral extraction planning permissions still threaten English parks.
The protesters, many of whom are veterans of road camp evictions in the 1990s, were more direct. “The company is bloody-minded and stupid,” said Danny “Fiver”. “This is the most destructive thing you can do, yet it is in a national park. The authorities have failed to protect it. We are here to help defend it.”
Malcolm Dixon, former keyboard player with Captain Sensible, said: “We are still digging. We’re set up to hold out for several months. We have enough food stashes to stay that long or more. We ain’t going and it’s going to cost millions to get us out.”
The protesters, many of them from Derbyshire and Yorkshire, say they have been welcomed by the locals who have given them food, building materials and cash.
“We are not against quarrying but object to it being done in the national park on the scale envisaged. This will be 10 times bigger than all the quarrying that has been done here in 3,500 years,” said “Floaty” Sarah.
But their camp, which has its own postcode and is recognised by the local authority, has had a history of serious accidents which has led the company to call for the camp to be closed. Three protesters have died over the past four years. One person fell over a cliff, another died after a fire and a third fell into a river.
Yesterday the company defended its plans, saying it intended to restore the quarries even as it dug out the stone. “We’ve done noise and dust studies and looked at the impact on traffic and we believe it will have no discernible impact on the local communities. The effect will be minimal,” said Brian Wallace, managing director of Stancliffe Stone.
“We’ve consulted widely and explained the issues. We have adapted our plans to take account of their concerns. But we need this quarry as a reserve for when our other [nearby] quarry is worked out in a few years. Sixty-eight jobs are at risk,” he said.
John Bull, chairman of Peak District national park authority’s planning committee said legal advice was being sought. “This is a very sensitive site and we have said that we do not want it worked. But the quarries already have permission to reopen. It’s not in our power to refuse permission. Our role is to set the conditions for working the site appropriately.”
Yesterday the company admitted it was in talks about a possible land swap which would allow them to mine an equivalent amount of similar stone in a less sensitive area. “We’re open-minded but there is no point swapping one piece of land for another with no value,” said Mr Wallace.