Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland

  Further to your letter of 21 November 2001 please find below additional information for the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. On question 131 of the inquiry, I have enclosed extracts from, "Study on Environmental Taxes and Charges in the EU", ECOTEC in association with CESAM, CLM, University of Gotheenburg, UCD and IEEP (CR), which details the situation in Denmark and Sweden.

  In this letter Friends of the Earth will expand on and claify several points made to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on the breakdown of employment figures in the industry, on employment opportunities created by the tax, on the disproportionate consumption of aggregates in Northern Ireland and on the potential for contraction of the industry.


  Questions 108 to 113 dealt with the breakdown of employment figures in the industry in Northern Ireland. There was some confusion about this and evidence given by the Quarry Products Association in a previous session didn't match that of Friends of the Earth. Hopefully the table below clarifies this.



Table taken from "Aggregate Tax" Quarry Products Association—2001.

  As can be seen from the table, 3,033 jobs, 54 per cent, are associated with quarries and pits. Friends of the Earth believe that these jobs are not at risk as a consequence of the border because imported aggregates will be taxed at the same rate as locally produced aggregates. The Quarry Products Association argue that up to 4,000 jobs are at risk as a direct consequence of the border. We believe, however, that only those jobs associated with the production of value-added goods, some 46 per cent, within the 20-25 mile zone cited by the QPA are potentially at risk. This amounts to about 1,840 jobs and can be considered the worst case scenario. It is important, therefore, that research is carried out as soon as possible to ascertain the real effects of the border and separate these effects from those of tax alone.


  Friends of the Earth have explained, both in our written and oral evidence, how the Aggregates Levy can help in the creation of up to 6,000 sustainable jobs. A sustainable alternative for farmers, who have turned to quarrying for a second income, is to convert to organic, or some other low input production, agri-environment schemes and invest in producer retailing. These are labour intensive and will result in a net gain in employment.

Organic farming

  European studies show that organic farms employ anywhere from 10 to 50 per cent more labour than conventional farms ("Tomorrow's World", McLaren, Bullock and Yousuf, Friends of the Earth—1998). Given that Northern Ireland has not gone completely down the intensive farming road the figure here could be 20 per cent. So, for example, if a modest target of 5 per cent organic production is attained this could produce up to 600 jobs. Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has said she would like to see the level of organic production rise to about 10 per cent potentially creating some 1,200 jobs. If, however, a target of 30 per cent (proposed in the Organic Food and Farming Targets Bill for England and Wales) was reached in Northern Ireland, this could produce about 3,600 new jobs. This would enable farmers and rural communities to get back to the core business of farming and deserves increased financial support from government.

  Furthermore, demand for organic food is growing at a rate of 40 per cent each year but 70 per cent of the organic food bought in the UK is imported. Northern Ireland will import an even higher percentage. Demand far exceeds supply and a market clearly exists.

Producer retailing

  The farmers' market in Belfast is still quite new but there are now 240 in the UK with an annual turnover of £65 million. Experience in the USA where farmers' markets have been flourishing for 15 years or more suggest they have an even greater potential for job creation and economic growth. Farmers' markets in the state of Georgia have a multiplier effect of 2.66 in the local economy. This means every dollar spent in the farmers' markets generates $2.66 in knock-on trade. Ontario's 127 farmers' markets directly employ 24,000 people ("The Economic Benefits of Farmers Markets", Friends of the Earth—2001). With a modest target of one farmers' market in each county, plus Belfast, Northern Ireland could see the creation of almost 1,400 jobs.

Agri-environment schemes

  Current expenditure in Northern Ireland on agri-environment schemes amounts to about £7.5 million or just over 3 per cent up take. This compares with spending on similar schemes in the Republic of Ireland of over £200 million. Average payments to farmers is £5,469 per year ("Money Makes the Countryside Go Round", WWF—2000). Agri-environment schemes will not provide the sole income for farmers but they are a valuable second income.


  Approximately 10,000 people, or 2 per cent of the Northern Ireland workforce, are employed in tourism. This compares with 6 per cent in the Republic of Ireland and 8 per cent in Scotland ("Tourism in Northern Ireland, A development Strategy 1994-2000", NITB—1994). Both these regions have similar landscapes, climates and population densities and have strong historical and cultural links. There is clearly enormous potential for growth in sustainable tourism. There are several rural tourism initiatives which can be studied as examples of best practice such as the Ring of Gullion Rural Tourism Group and Fermanagh Tourism Strategic Development Initiative.


  It is possible to significantly reduce our use of aggregates without adversely affecting our needs. Higher building densities on brown field sites and renovation of Northern Ireland's 35,000 empty properties is more materials efficient. Such practices enable Denmark to achieve a recycling rate of 80 per cent for all construction waste and there is no reason why a similar level can't be achieved in Northern Ireland.

  There are also many viable alternatives to aggregates. For example, timber construction is cheap, energy efficient and has a negligible environmental impact if the plantations are managed properly. Furthermore, the materials can be grown locally thereby reducing transportation costs and providing a valuable income. If enough mixed semi-natural broad-leaved woodland was planted and managed for timber production to replace the importation of tropical hardwoods then somewhere in the region of 100-200 jobs would be created in woodland management.

  Encouraging labour intensive practices through the Aggregates Levy, such as recycling of builders waste for aggregates and salvaging for re-use could result in a net increase in employment. An average salvage yard directly employs 10-15 people. There are already a number of salvage yards in Northern Ireland catering to home owners who want original bricks, slates, tiles and timber. Companies such as Power Screen International Ltd have established themselves as leaders in crushing construction waste for secondary aggregates. This is a very lucrative market with room for expansion if the right economic signals are sent out.

Aggregate Consumption

  Northern Ireland has about 3 per cent of the UK population but aggregate production runs at about 10 per cent of the UK total. In Northern Ireland we are using over three times more aggregate, per person, than the rest of the UK. Furthermore Northern Ireland has a higher per capita use of cement than anywhere else in Europe. We simply can't continue to use aggregates in this wasteful and unsustainable way. Northern Ireland needs to take a serious look at the way we use resources such as aggregates. Perhaps Northern Ireland is more in need of the Aggregates Levy than Great Britain.

Industry Contraction

  It has been stated that the average cost of aggregates in Northern Ireland is £1.60 per tonne compared to £6.50 in Great Britain. This is because the market is over subscribed and competition is extremely high. According to the QPA there are few quarries more than five miles from another. Clearly there is room for the industry to contract. Indeed, Friends of the Earth argue that this is imperative.

  Friends of the Earth welcome the announcement by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, to fully implement the levy as of April 2003. We believe the one year exemption on value added goods should be used by the Government to support quarry operators who wish to invest in sustainable enterprises and that research similar to that carried out by DETR in 1998 should be commissioned for Northern Ireland. Finally we reiterate our call for a similar measure in the Republic of Ireland and for timely contact between the two treasuries on the subject.

27 November 2001

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