Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
WEDNESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2001
120. Overall in terms of the island, not of
Northern Ireland, was the question. You are just as interested
in the environment in the Republic as you are of that of Northern
(Mr Woods) Certainly.
121. I thought that you would probably have
to say that.
(Mr Woods) We have our partners in the Republic, Earthwatch
as well. This is the unknown. From our point of view, sustainable
development is about the environment and about society and the
economy also. So for us the jobs issue is critical. We want jobs
to be stimulated in other areas also as a result of the tax. That
is the unknown. There could be effects from a movement of extraction
to the Republic. The industry has suggested that most of the extraction
will probably stay in the north; that it is the processing that
will stay in the Republic, with its attendant transport costs
and so on.
122. With several environmental disadvantages?
(Mr Woods) Yes, with environmental disadvantages.
But there may be advantages elsewhere. I come back to my point
about a dynamic economy. We could be in danger of throwing the
baby out with the bathwater. Northern Ireland needs these taxes
to move on and be innovative in the future. It is critical that
we hang on to this and find a way to make it work. But I agree
that we must find that way, and it depends on research. We feel
that it could be done swiftly. We should not like it to delay
the implementation of the tax, and we believe that that is still
123. What you have said, and acknowledgedand
I am not trying to back you into a cornerdoes not quite
add up. You said that the result of the introduction of the tax
will be that just as much aggregate will be extracted in Northern
Ireland but that, instead of being processed near its point of
extraction, it will be taken to the south where the value-added
aspect will come into play and it will be taken back again. What
is the environmental advantage of that?
(Mr Allison) The main point is that the tax should
provide an incentive for Northern Ireland companies to move away
from quarrying rather than simply carrying on quarrying there,
shifting their stuff south, processing it and bringing it back.
The idea of the tax is that in Northern Ireland aggregates will
become more expensive so there should be a move from aggregates
extraction onto such things as recycling and alternatives such
as timber, for example.
124. Which you can achieve in Great Britain,
arguably, because there is a level playing field. How can you
achieve that environmental benefit in Northern Ireland. It seems
to me that you will just have to dig it up, move it, make it and
bring it back. So you therefore have a huge environmental disadvantage.
Is that not right?
(Mr Allison) To go back to the point that John Woods
made, we have to separate the jobs lost as a direct result of
the border and the jobs that will be shifted as a result of the
It must be remembered that quarry companies
in the north-east of Northern Ireland will be largely unaffected
by the border, so there is a considerable portion of land which
the border will not affect.
125. Which would you say was the lesser evil,
the loss of the jobs or their transference?
(Mr Allison) There should not be too many. Perhaps
along the border there may be slight job losses to the Republic,
but on the whole we would see a shift away from quarrying into
more sustainable alternatives. There would merely be a job shift
into alternatives rather than job losses.
126. You have said that this is what you wish
to see. What makes you think that you will see it as opposed to
the other scenario that I painted to you? What is the incentive,
the imperative, that will mean that Northern Ireland's quarries
will become more environmentally friendly and do less quarrying
when there seems to me to be no incentive to do this, and that
all that we are doing is increasing the amount of movement, therefore
the environmental damage, and losing jobs. I am looking for the
benefit that will override those disadvantages, and I am looking
to you, as people who are interested in the environment, to tell
me what the benefit will be.
(Mr Woods) I do not see that the disadvantages have
yet been proven. If independent research can be undertaken and
can demonstrate that what the quarry industry thinks will happen
will do so, then clearly we have a problem.
127. Do you need research to tell you that if
it costs a tax of £1.60 a tonne applied in Northern Ireland
but not applied 10 mines way in the Republic, it will not happen
in the Republic? You do not need research to tell you that. It
is common sense.
(Mr Woods) But it needs to be quantified. What percentage
of the industry being affected are we discussing? Will it be affected
fundamentally? It is also to do with questions of investment.
Companies will have to choose to invest in the Republic, which
is a pretty major decision against a background of economic uncertainty
generally, and of recession, and against a possible background
of the Republic doing something about this itself. Indeed, it
is also against the background that the general thrust across
Europe is towards taxation of resources and moving taxation away
from employment and onto resources. It might well be a fine judgment.
I am not saying that nothing will happen in terms of job transfers;
I am saying that we are indulging in an awful lot of guesswork
generally unless we have some seriously independent research to
look at it.
128. No one would argue with that. But I am
talking about the principle, not the practical aspects. You are
in principle in favour of imposing a tax for which you cannot
yet tell us there will be an environmental benefit. There will
be job losses, there will be some environmental damage and the
basic quarrying which I imagine is what you find the most environmentally
unfriendly will continue unabated. What I am looking for is a
balance; you have given me one half of it, but not the other half.
(Mr Woods) In principle, we do not want there to be
implemented a tax that does not meet
the test that such a tax should meet.
129. You do not want to see that.
(Mr Woods) So it should be properly researched; we
feel that proper research will achieve that. May I add that this
is not the only country that shares a land border that has, or
proposes, an aggregates tax. There is such a tax in Denmark, Sweden,
Belgium and the Netherlands. Those countries must be looked at
in detail to examine what effect there has been along their borders
borders before we come to conclusions about Northern Ireland.
130. Do you know what effects they have had?
(Mr Woods) Not along the borders, no, I do not.
131. Does Friends of the Earth in Belgium, Denmark
and Holland not know?
(Mr Woods) We do, and we could do some work on this.
132. Thank you very much gentlemen. I greatly
enjoyed the evidence session. I am very interested in two areas.
One is replacement for unemploymentand in the context of
the Northern Ireland economy, 6,000 jobs is of far greater significance
in percentage terms than in the rest of the United Kingdomand
the second is substitution of materials. I am reminded that last
year, Liverpool city council, in an effort to replace some of
the aggregates used in road building, decided to use the waste
by-products of Chester Zooan exercise known as the zoo
poo initiativewhich was extraordinarily ineffective. This
was because although the material was contained within a slurry,
it dissolved into the ground and was quite unpleasant. My concern
is that although Mr Allison said that you could, in domestic construction,
replace some aggregates and some minerals with wood, that is only
a tiny fraction of it, Can you give us more evidence as to a),
what substitution for the product there could be, and b), how
you justify the statement in your memorandum that the 6,000 jobs
in the Northern Ireland economy could be replaced?
(Mr Allison) Those figures were based on research
done elsewhere in the United Kingdom and Europe, and in the United
States, so the figures that we have are extrapolated from that:
no primary research has been done in Northern Ireland. Our ideas
were first, to address the needs of the rural economy, allowing
it to diversity into more sustainable employment, away from fundamental
unsustainable employment such as quarrying, and, secondly, to
reduce the need for virgin aggregates such as refurbishing empty
propertiesof which currently there are 35,000 in Northern
133. Thirty-five thousand?
(Mr Allison) Yes.
134. Sorry. I had not come across that figure
(Mr Allison) We would refurbish those properties,
going for more compact urban forms and mixed use, we could convert
empty spaces above shops and so on in town centres. There would
be more brownfield development and fewer roadswhich use
considerable amounts of aggregates.
135. Fewer roads?
(Mr Allison) Yes.
136. I cannot think of any local authority anywhere
in the world which actually talks of taking away a road. It is
a wonderful aspiration.
(Mr Allison) The idea is fewer road developments.
We currently have more per capita road capacity in Northern Ireland
than we do in the rest of the United Kingdom,
as well as considerably less rail network. There are other things
such as recycling and re-using materials involved in salvage operations,
and producing alternatives. So it not merely one or the other;
it is a combination of several factors.
(Mr Woods) On the opportunities for brownfield
building, a great proportion of Northern Ireland's building is
done on greenfield sites: in fact, our targets on that are petty
abysmal. Belfast has a density of the average North American city
and there is huge potential for development in Belfast, for example,
which would automatically result in less use of aggregates.
There are, of course other materials. An innovative
architect in Northern Ireland is developing the use of the hemp
building block as opposed to the concrete block.
137. That chimes with the Home Secretary's recent
(Mr Woods) So there are things that can be done.
138. God help you if the places catches fire.
(Mr Woods) Building regulations do count in this respect.
139. I was just thinking of people who might
(Mr Woods) Innovation is taking place and with it
real potential. When the correct signals go out, these things
tend to jump to the fore because they are bubbling under at the
2 The road network is 2.5 times more expensive, per
head of population, than in England and Wales. Shaping Our
Future: Regional Development Strategy for Northern Ireland 2025,
Department for Regional Development, 2001. Back