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From a rock to a hard place

James Cox 26 Jan 2018
Whilst much of the UK was being battered by Storm Eleanor, Lichfields’ Leeds office braved the elements in early January to go on a study tour visit to the Johnson Wellfield Quarry at Crosland Moor in Huddersfield. Johnson Wellfield – part of the Myers Group – has been a client of Lichfields for a number of years; the company is known as Britain’s leading supplier of hard Yorkstone. Most recently, Lichfields’ Leeds office has secured planning permission for the expansion of the Johnson Wellfield quarry site by some 23 hectares. So, Arctic weather notwithstanding, we were only too pleased to take Johnson Wellfield up on their invitation to all of us to visit the quarry and see how it operates. Extending to circa 121 hectares, the Crosland Moor quarry currently produces in excess of 60,000 square metres of ‘Crosland Hill’ dimensional stone on an annual basis. The vast majority of the product is used in the construction industry, with Crosland stone notably used in London to reflag Westminster Hall, in projects at the National Maritime Museum, and in the Southbank Centre. Closer to home, it has been used to renovate the cathedrals in Leeds and Sheffield, as well as in and around Leeds’ Millennium Square and Leeds Dock. It has also been used in the regeneration of St Georges Square in Huddersfield which, located just outside the railway station, is where we started our afternoon visit. Thewlis Lane Quarry The Crosland Moor quarry is located some 3.5 kilometres to the south west of Huddersfield town centre and, having been kitted out with Personal Protection Equipment, a short minibus journey took us first to Johnson Wellfield’s most recent quarry at Thewlis Lane, where quarrying works have been underway for just 3 years. Starting life as an open, agricultural field, it was explained that the first task following the grant of planning permission was for earth-working machines to move onto the site and create earth bunds from the topsoil, helping to screen the quarry straightaway from neighbouring residential properties. Maintaining good relationships with neighbouring residents is clearly important to the Myers Group and this is reflected throughout their operation, with internal access roads having been lowered to preserve open views from nearby properties across the moorland and certain parts of the site having being made available for dog-walking. Bedding structure Following the repositioning/ removal of topsoil, it was explained that the second stage of quarrying works is to extract the first layer of stone using a digger fitted with a ripper-tooth. This layer of stone is usually very fragmented in nature and, typically, is either used as a material for stone-walling or is crushed to an aggregate. Sitting below it is a layer of block stone that forms the quarry’s primary output and which we were able to see being extracted by diggers during our tour. Incredibly, the block stone is around 320 million old, with individual blocks ranging from 1-100 tonnes. We were told that one of the main challenges of the entire quarrying operation is the logistical difficulty of ensuring that any extracted stone is moved away from the quarry basin in a timely manner so as to avoid it becoming congested with material. As such, we were able to watch a steady stream of dumper truck vehicles transporting the extracted stone from the quarry to the cutting sheds for processing. And it was here we headed next. Extracted block stone Inspecting the wire saw Once the block stone has been extracted, it is cut by a series of three computerised saws, each of which is capable of cutting the stone in a different way and producing a variety of finishes. This was likened to the slicing of a loaf of bread – first of all the uneven ‘crust’ is cut off by a wire saw to provide a flat surface and then it is ‘sliced’ into slabs by large circular saws. We then watched the stone being moved to the secondary cutting sheds where it can be cut into more intricate shapes and sizes, using digital templates to ensure that the most efficient use is made of any individual slab. Any excess is then recycled and crushed to form aggregate or walling material, with even the smallest of stones capable of being crushed on-site to form sand that can be sold to the building industry. In the cutting sheds           Cutting the stone - part one     Cutting the stone - part two   The final part of our tour took us to the robot sheds; recent, state-of-the-art additions to the quarry that, based on computer programming, are able to shape stone with incredible accuracy– much like a 3D printer. It was explained that the robots are able to produce stoneware with a greater degree of accuracy and consistency than a stone-mason ever could by hand; this is an important factor when, for example, like-for-like replacements are required for renovation works in listed buildings. It was heartening to hear, though, that Johnson Wellfield still insists on employing manually-skilled stone-masons to operate the robots, benefitting from their unrivalled knowledge of the material. Robot-controlled cutting A hand-cut tribute to Compo At the end of the tour, there was time to reflect on how the overall sustainability of the quarrying process we saw. It is clear that practically no material is wasted - and of course, the quarry sites themselves are required by the planning process to be reclaimed – potentially as future development land. Indeed, once the Thewlis Lane quarry site (where our tour started) reaches the end of its life in 2025, it is expected to be infilled with shale, compacted and developed for housing, with an allocation in the emerging Kirklees Local Plan for over 300 homes. Who knows, perhaps some of these new houses may even be built out using the same material that was once buried beneath them. Our thanks go to the Myers Group for providing a very enjoyable and informative afternoon.

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Where the cold wind blows. Meeting the need for natural building materials
Lichfields has been successful in obtaining a positive determination from Kirklees Council for a proposal by Johnson Wellfield to extract a million tonnes of sandstone over a term of 20 years from a new 24ha mineral working area at Crosland Moor, Huddersfield. Stone-built properties are a familiar feature of the northern landscape, no less so than in the former mill towns of the West Riding, where the wealth of the area derived from the local manufacturing industries was displayed in the form of magnificent civic, commercial and community buildings.  The local quarries from which dimension stone for those buildings was extracted are often long since exhausted.  However, new stone workings now operate to meet today’s demand for the high quality ashlar sandstones known in the trade as ‘Yorkstone’;  they are used in high specification architectural and masonry applications, often for heritage projects, not only in the immediate area but also throughout the UK. Johnsons Wellfield, based at Crosland Hill, Huddersfield is the UK’s leading producer of natural Yorkstone building products[1], extracted from its Crosland Moor minerals workings and located in the locally-occurring Rough Rock sandstone outcrop.  With its presence in Huddersfield for over 150 years, Johnsons Wellfield’s history is interwoven with the local built vernacular.  More recently, its high quality ashlar masonry products have been used locally, with considerable acclaim, as part of Huddersfield University’s new Oastler Building, and for paving in the St Georges Square adjacent to the town’s suitably impressive Grade 1 listed railway station. Further afield, the company’s stone has been used recently in paving along the Thames Embankment, at the National Cenotaph and within Westminster Abbey. St Georges Square, Huddersfield Image courtesy of Myers Group Ltd To maintain its leading position, Johnsons Wellfield has made significant investment in new stone processing technology to meet challenging customer requirements. Advanced robotic masonry equipment now enables the manufacture of both intricate and specification-perfect architectural features, placing the firm at the forefront of this business sector. An established, skilled workforce of over 100 employees makes this happen, in turn significantly contributing to the local economy. Ashlar Block Processing Image courtesy of Myers Group Ltd Without a guaranteed and continuous supply of suitable stone block, the raw material in the ground from which the building products are derived, production would ultimately cease. Johnsons Wellfield- like all other minerals operators - therefore need to plan ahead and ensure that there will be continuity of supply of permitted reserves to sustain its business into the future. It can be a significant step between identifying suitable resource and converting this into a permitted minerals reserve, particularly given that minerals can only be worked where they occur.  In preparing a scheme for a planning application, there are often tensions between the sensitivities of the local environment (such as historic and conservation area assets and Special Protection Area designations), nearby settlements and justifying the need to extract an available and viable minerals deposit which outcrops in a particular location.  Potential objectors may say why here, why not somewhere else? Faced with exhaustion of their present minerals reserve, Johnsons Wellfield identified a new 24 ha extraction area located nearby, and secured the ownership rights to it. The Crosland Moor site offered a proven resource of a million tonnes of ashlar block, capable of sustaining Johnsons Wellfield’s needs over the next 20 years. The challenge was to design a scheme which met policy considerations particularly given its countryside location, on an unallocated site within the Green Belt.   A team experienced in preparing minerals planning applications was assembled by Lichfields to address the sensitivities presented by the proposal, not least: the proximity of the neighbouring settlement and conservation area of South Crosland; the upland landscape context; and biodiversity interests. Taking on board feedback from a community consultation event, a number of options for the development were considered through the process of environmental impact assessment and a scheme was designed which incorporated mitigation measures, thereby  minimising potential impacts from arising from the extraction of stone and site restoration. Such measures include: the restriction of hours of working; the implementation of  dust suppression measures and the application of noise controls to mobile plant used in the extraction process. An important design consideration was to ensure that the supply of ground water serving historic water troughs and spring-fed domestic water supplies located in the local area were not affected by the proposed development. The design of the scheme of phased extraction, screen bunding and restoration, together with state-of-the-art operational controls and the restriction of associated heavy goods vehicles movements mean that the operation will be low key in operation and will result in biodiversity enhancement throughout and beyond the restoration phases. Whilst the proposal was to return the site back to productive upland farmland following the completion of extraction and restoration, the statutory authorities required the inclusion of meaningful biodiversity enhancement within the scheme. Within the scheme, this takes the form of provision of habitat for hare and the creation of a wet scrape which will be of value to invertebrates. The site will ultimately be restored back to agricultural pasture in this countryside location, employing the existing configuration of drystone walling and gating, suitable for onward sale for farming in perpetuity.  An undertaking to create a new public footpath across the restored site will add much needed connectivity to the local network.  Extract from the Scheme of Phased Extraction The proposal has now been determined positively by the Kirklees Strategic Planning Committee,  with members having balanced the level of public support for the scheme (which reflected the need for the continued local employment of a skilled workforce) and the significant investment in manufacturing technology and the local economy coupled with concerns over the potential impacts of minerals extraction such as traffic, dust and noise over the permitted term. Development is due to commence on-site in 2019, following the discharge of pre-commencement planning conditions and the completion of working at Johnsons Wellfields existing minerals operation which the Crosland Moor site will replace. Lichfields provides: planning; technical team coordination; environmental impact assessment; economics and community engagement services to the project. [1] https://www.johnsons-wellfield.co.uk/

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