As the island's western duneland quarry nears the end of its life, Express digs down into the island's aggregate industry to explore where it could be going next...
As anyone who has ever mixed concrete or mortar will know, sand is integral to the building process. For more than a century, Jersey has extracted its own sand from its dunelands in the west of the island.
Pictured: The Simon family first extracted sand from their land in 1909, though it wasn't until the 60s that it became integral to the island's infrastructure.
Sand dug from a quarry in St Ouen’s Bay, still owned by the same family after five generations, quite literally forms the building blocks of this island.
But the quarry is nearing the end of its life, meaning that decisions about the future sourcing of building sand need to be made. The recently published draft bridging Island Plan, covering 2022-2025, proposes a solution - but not everyone believes what it suggests is the right answer...
Islanders are lucky to see sand every day, but its impact is more than just our connection with the coast. Sand is probably the most common construction ingredient: often providing bulk, strength and stability to other materials such as asphalt, concrete, mortar, render, cement, and screed.
Building-quality sand, however, has to be cleaned and filtered to remove stones and other impurities.And up to this point, the island has been self-sufficient, making it a cheap and readily available commodity. If building costs are high in Jersey, it hasn’t been because of the price of sand.
The Simon family first extracted sand from their land in 1909 but it wasn’t until the 1960s that it began to take on a more central role.
Pictured: The St Ouen's Bay quarry's license is to end in 2023.
First given a permit to extract in 1965, a year after the Island’s first planning law was passed, the family-owned firm has subsequently been given further permissions to quarry from the bay.
In 2004, a 15-year-licence was granted until the end of 2018. This period was supposed to be accompanied by the States identifying off-island sources of sand aggregate in preparation for the quarry’s restoration but the Government failed to come up with a firm importation plan.
So, without a Plan B, it extended the quarry’s licence by another five years until the end of 2023, to coincide with the drafting of the next Island Plan, which has been shortened from its usual ten-year period because of the pandemic.
The plan drops the Government’s previous hope to import all building sand into Jersey: “Full reliance on the import of aggregates through the harbours is not considered to represent a secure or sustainable minerals supply route, and therefore, protecting - and in some cases extending - existing quarries is considered essential to safeguard medium- and long-term supplies,” it says.
Pictured: A plan estimates that Simon Sand and Gravel has between 165,000 to 180,000 tonnes of ‘economically winnable reserves’ left, equating to less than three years’ worth of sand.
Using information provided by a consultancy firm called Arup, which has written a Government-commissioned ‘Minerals, Waste and Water Study’ that provides evidence for the plan, the plan estimates that, at current extraction rates, Simon Sand and Gravel has between 165,000 to 180,000 tonnes of ‘economically winnable reserves’ left, equating to less than three years’ worth of sand.
It adds that additional ‘winnable reserves’ for up to ten years have been identified next to the existing quarry, which includes extracting beyond its current boundaries to the north, south-east and south-west.
The Arup study identified that an extension of the sand quarry would enable a continuation of local sand supply and proposed that the continued use and expansion of Simon Sand - as an “integrated extraction, waste management and restoration site” - would make best use of the available resource, while also planning for its long-term future as a naturalised landscape.
However, the Island Plan itself has rejected this recommendation, on the grounds that “when assessing the desirability of expanded extraction sites, a balance needs to be struck between economic and environmental policy objectives.”
It has returned, therefore, to views proposed in a predecessor of the MWW Study called the Jersey Mineral Strategy 2000-2020, which was reflected in the policies of the 2011 Island Plan and envisaged the winding down of the quarry extraction site by 2018.
However, this recommendation was predicated on the building of an aggregates’ dock at the Harbour, something that was included in a previous Government planning document but has not been taken up by Ports of Jersey.
With no alternative plan to source sand from anywhere else, a five-year licence was granted to Simon Sand and Gravel in 2018, with conditions requiring restoration by 2026; beyond which it was not envisaged that the site would continue to operate because of exhausting the mineral reserve.
The new bridging Island Plan drops the call for an aggregates’ port but still recommends the sand quarry’s closure. But if that’s the case, where will the Island get its building sand from?
Pictured: The new bridging Island Plan drops the call for an aggregates’ port but still recommends the sand quarry’s closure.
Although the Arup-written MWW Study suggests extending the sand quarry in the medium term, it does identify other sources of sand and gravel. This includes the other two quarries in the island: Ronez on the north coast and La Gigoulande in St Peter’s Valley, creating their own building sand by grinding down rock quarried there.
However, this would not make up for the 55,000 – 60,000 tonnes of sand that is quarried from St Ouen’s Bay each year, so the plan recommends that the deficit is rectified by making sand by crushing building rubble, and some importation through the Harbour, although it doesn’t specify how much .
Accepting that the sand will run out in the not-too-distant future, and the site will have to be returned to nature, the owners of Simon Sand and Gravel say that the Island Plan does not come up with a feasible alternative supply of sand that meets current demand, and there is around a decade of extractable reserves which could be quarried at the same time as other parts of the site being restored.
A spokesman for the company said: “No credible information has been put forward to demonstrate that crushing rock from other on-island quarries, using recycled aggregates dug out from a disposal site, and ‘some’ importation will be more beneficial than continued on-island sand extraction.
“The first suggestion is for crushing rock to a ‘granite sand’ using local primary aggregate quarries but no evidence on the feasibility of this process has been put forward.
“Why is the Government supporting the extension of Ronez and La Gigoulande quarries outside their current site boundaries, yet it proposes to halt extraction of existing sand reserves from within the site boundaries by the end of 2023?
“By suggesting that half of current sand demand – around 30,000 tonnes a year – is met by crushing, it negatively impacts an already critical bank of on-island primary aggregates.”
Pictured: A spokesman for Simon Sand and Gravel questioned whether the Government's proposed process to grind down waste into sand, was actually proven to work.
The spokesman added that the Island Plan’s proposal to crush recycled material – effectively digging up waste at La Collette to grind it down to sand – was an unproven process.
“The construction and demolition waste disposal site at La Collette, from which they intend to extract recycled material, has already met the criteria of the ‘waste hierarchy’. In other words, it has already been processed to remove as much usable material as possible and what is left is only fit for disposal.
“There is also no evidence of the quantities of the sand to be generated, no understanding of the requirements of the industry and no information about the high volumes of water that are needed to ‘scrub’ the disposed waste to retrieve the ‘recycled’ sand.’
The spokesman added: “The draft Island Plan, around minerals and waste, contains poorly conceived, reactionary policies that have been hastily brought together. It ignores the recommendations of consultants and evidence provided by local suppliers to support continued on-island supply.
“With no evidence base to support the Government’s proposals for mineral supply alternatives versus continued sand supply from St Ouen’s Bay, this is nothing more than a costly experiment.”
The Government points out that the Island Plan is a draft document and it is inviting Islanders to comment on it until the 12 July, when a team of independent planning inspectors will begin to review all submissions. Ultimately, the States Assembly will have the final say when the plan is debated next spring.
However, the plan’s recommendations for the sand quarry are clear: “Proposals for the extension of extraction beyond the boundaries of the existing consented area at Simon Sand and Gravel, or the creation of any new mineral extraction sites, will not be supported.”
Pictured: The quarry owners say the Government has bowed to lobbying pressure over the closure of the site.
Neither does the plan envisage the quarry becoming an inert waste management site, with all the associated machinery needed for processing, because it sits within the Coastal National Park. Instead, it earmarks La Gigoulande joining La Collette, both already having planning permission to do this.
The restoration of the quarry, as soon as possible, has been publicly supported by the National Trust, who argue that Jersey is the only place in Europe still extracting duneland sand and the “responsibility for completing this work should clearly fall upon the very same people who have benefited from the extraction they have undertaken for the last 112 years.”
The quarry owners maintain, however, this view fails to deal with the lack of a credible alternative for building sand in Jersey, and that the Government has “bowed to lobbying pressure.”
The 2022-2025 Island Plan says that the quarry “is to be restored in the relatively short period of this plan period” and adds that “restoration plans should demonstrate that the site will be restored, with a positive enhancement of both the site and the landscape or coastal character of the area.”
Pictured: The water in the lake is contaminated by high levels of a man-made chemical called PFAS which has flowed into St Ouen’s Bay from the Airport.
However, the restoration itself is not part of the Plan as it is already being dealt with under existing conditions that came with planning permission given in 2003. There is an expectation from Government that any restoration will include a reduction in the size of the current freshwater lake but the details of what a restored site will look like, and what materials might be used, are yet to be determined in detail.
To complicate the issue, the water in the lake is contaminated by high levels of a man-made chemical called PFAS which has flowed into St Ouen’s Bay from the Airport. PFAS was an ingredient of a now-banned firefighting foam sprayed at the Airport until the early 90s.
The presence of PFAS is preventing Jersey Water using boreholes in the bay which are an important source of drinking water. The Government is planning to carry out a hydrogeological survey of the area to assess the extent of the contamination, but this has yet to be carried out.
At one stage, Jersey Water was eyeing up the quarry in St Peter’s Valley as a potential new reservoir but this is not supported by the draft bridging Island Plan. Instead, it proposed the site is used for inert waste processing and disposal, and continuing extraction.
The current quarry has around seven years left of ‘economically winnable reserves’ but, controversially, it also suggests a neighbouring agricultural field is ‘safeguarded’ for mineral extraction.
Pictured: “Why is the Government supporting the extension of Ronez and La Gigoulande quarries outside their current site boundaries, yet it proposes to halt extraction of existing sand reserves from within the site boundaries by the end of 2023?"
A number of people, including nearby residents, politicians and cycling groups, have strongly objected to the proposal, arguing that, if the field is allowed to be quarried, it will destroy a peaceful green lane and dozens of mature oaks, and severely impact the peaceful enjoyment of people’s homes.
Pointing out alleged flaws, oversights and discrepancies in the Arup report and previous reports that have underpinned the recommendations in the plan, they say it should be taken out of the three-year bridging edition to allow more robust analysis and consultation in time for the next ten-year plan, which will cover 2026-2036.
The quarry’s owners, Granite Products, who bought the field in 2018 for £1.65m, argue that La Gigoulande is an important source of local construction materials for homes, schools, hospitals and all other built development on the Island.
“With the long term in mind, we acquired extra land 18 months ago so that we had the opportunity to continue to meet Jersey’s needs for many years to come. Any proposal would be rightly scrutinised as part of the planning process, which will include consultation with local residents and the public,” the company said.
Ronez on the north coast is also earmarked for expansion, which was analysed in the May edition of Connect.
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