George Black, Sheep Hill above Bowling, Quarrying at Dumbuck, and ancient ring markings which have been found in the Bowling/Old Kilpatrick area.
INVESTIGATION by BILL HEANEY
Conservationists and the ordinary people of Milton on the outskirts of Dumbarton are enraged with the operators of Dumbuck Quarry for adopting a “blast as you please” attitude to rules and regulations governing explosions there.
The clash between community and contractor has been ongoing for many years.
Residents and local government representatives have complained endlessly about the dangers of falling rocks, flooding, unacceptable noise levels, choking dust in summer and muck and filth in winter, when huge floods cause traffic disruption caused by rain water running off the hills there.
Motorists also complain frequently that the roads at Dumbuck junction are in a permanent state of disrepair with dangerous potholes part of the problem.
However, it appears that West Dunbartonshire Council can do nothing to resolve this vexatious matter since the quarry owners appear to pay little or no heed to them and ignore their pleas for closer monitoring of the quarrying operation.
George Black, a former councillor for Milton, is dismayed by the lack of resolve of elected members of the council to get to grips with the problems, which appear to extend from Dumbuck and Milton through Dunglass roundabout to Old Kilpatrick.
He told council officer Mark Walsh that he had no grievance with the officers but the elected members “are a sorry bunch; dumb and dumber is a description of them which does not begin to cover the situation in which we find ourselves”.
Mr Black added: “The operators [of this quarry] must be ecstatic as there appears to be no one with the intellect or the intestinal fortitude to challenge them [and stop what they are doing].
“I have no doubt that Trump-like, they will become progressively more outrageous till we are all deaf [from the noise of unannounced explosions] or suffering from pulmonary ailments caused by the dust hazard.”
Mr Walsh, an environmental health officer, said he had asked BAM, the company who monitor the blasts for the quarry, to send him their results from a recent blast – “Unfortunately, [they said] their vibration meter did not trigger in this instance. This is quite possible as they were monitoring at Stirling Road when the blast was at the north face of the quarry. They have a rotation schedule of monitoring locations that they use.
“As they are going to be working on the north face for the next 12 months or so I suggested that they review their monitoring locations.
“There was no explanation for why we didn’t receive prior notification of the blast time, but we agreed that they would try to stick to a 12.30 pm blast time in future so that at least we can plan to have it covered.
“They will endeavour to give us proper prior notification in the future. Not much more we can do in the circumstances I’m afraid.”
Council planning officer, Pamela Clifford, confirmed what Mr Walsh had told Mr Black.
She wrote to him saying: “We were unable to monitor yesterday’s blast as we did not receive notification from the quarry of the blast time.
“Usual practice is for them to give us a couple of days’ prior notice of the day of the blast and then email us an hour or two before the blast giving an exact time.
“For some reason we did not get an email specifying the time on this occasion.
“I have contacted the quarry operator to query this and also asked for a copy of their monitoring results from yesterday.
“Once we receive these we will be able to confirm if the blast was within regulated limits. I’ll update you once I have this information.”
Meanwhile, other issues in relation to that area, are that over a period of almost 20 years, Clydebelt and others have been trying to save the demolition of the ancient iron age fort on Sheep Hill, and subsequent massive scar on the landscape when quarrying would extend down to the A82 at Dunglass roundabout, opening up the quarry for all to see and removal of a distinctive hill and part of the landscape.
This issue was a hot topic ten years ago, but there had been no developments until now when neighbours of the quarry claim to have seen excavations going on beside the scheduled ancient monument site itself.
The over-all right to quarry in that area was given in 1949 and included the Sheep Hill Fort which subsequently was given listed Ancient Monument status with the slope down to Milton Hill included in this.
An agreement was reached whereby quarry owner William Thompson agreed to forgo his permission to quarry down the side of hill behind the houses on the road to Overtoun House.
The quid pro quo was that Thompson would receive new permissions to extend quarrying to the north east
However, it was reported Thompson refused a similar swap with the Sheep Hill volcanic plug as it is more valuable rock than others in the vicinity.
He is alleged to have said he would swap if he received considerable (undisclosed) financial compensation for the loss in value in any such swap.
A government directive has been issued that quarries must have regular updates on their methods of working, safety, restoration, and so on.
Campaigners to save the site say that William Thompson and Son have been delaying complying with this for many years, the last in 2012 and that this perhaps means he can still use the 1949 permissions.
They maintain that these three elements were brought together to try to get Thompson to stop quarrying Milton Hill and the Sheep Hill Fort, but it seems that in 2002 Historic Scotland gave permission to allow the Scheduled ancient monument protect to be removed in face of threat of financial damages, the permissions to quarry of 1949 being still in place. Quarrying permissions do not lapse with time.
However, removal of protection orders for ancient monuments fall if not started within five years in this case 18th March 2007.
William Thompson and Son want to expand which would mean Sheep Hill itself would be mined.
But Clydebelt, the group which wishes to retain and enhance the natural heritage and Greenbelt status of the Kilpatrick Hills, is opposing the move.
A spokesman for Clydebelt said: “The removal of Sheep Hill, a very prominent area, would leave a gaping void in the hillside, allowing full views into the working quarry from a wide extent of West Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire; views which are at present, still mostly hidden.”
Archaeologist Dr Euan MacKie said: “I am not convinced that the archaeological uniqueness and importance of the late prehistoric Sheep Hill fort and the nearby, marked rock has been sufficiently stressed.”
Sheep Hill is the site of ancient Bronze and Iron Age forts. But local residents and experts say that they will be destroyed by the expansion of a stone quarry.
The hill also features in a famous painting by the 19th century Scottish landscape artist, John Knox, in the Kelvingrove art gallery in Glasgow. It is used by geology teachers to show how the landscape has been shaped by volcanoes and ice ages.
Allowing the hill to be wiped off the map would be “an act of wanton destruction of our environment and inheritance”, according to Clydebelt, who are calling for Scottish ministers to intervene to save the hill.
“Sheep Hill is liable to be destroyed,” said a spokesman. “This would leave a gaping hole in the side of the hills showing the workings of the quarry and fully visible from Bowling, Old Kilpatrick, Erskine, the Erskine Bridge and further afield.”
They say that, as well as damaging important archaeological remains and ruining the landscape, expanding the quarry would threaten wildlife and trees. The North Bank Environmental Group has filed a formal complaint to the ombudsman about the council’s handling of the development.
“The planning authority has kept the local community in the dark about this potential environmental vandalism for very nearly ten years,” alleged the group’s Derek Fabian.
Silverton and Overtoun community council pointed out that digging away the hill would be irrevocable. “When Sheep Hill is gone, it is gone,” said the council’s Rose Harvie. “Future generations will look back and wonder how such destruction could have been permitted.”
Dr Euan MacKie, a renowned archaeologist and honorary research associate at the National Museums of Scotland, has studied Sheep Hill since the 1960s. “It would an act of appalling vandalism to destroy it,” he said.
He accused the quarry company of having little concern for the area’s rich archaeological heritage, and the local authority of failing to capitalise on it. “Sheep Hill fort is an important archaeological site which should not be destroyed,” he said.
The government landscape agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, previously expressed concern that losing Sheep Hill to quarrying would damage the landscape. But according to one official, it won’t say anything now because its “level of involvement in planning cases has become more restricted”.
The quarry company,William Thompson and Son, did not respond to repeated requests to comment. It has extracted whinstone at its Sheep Hill quarry for use in construction projects for decades.
A company director, the late Andrew Thompson, was quoted then saying that a “hornets’ nest” had been stirred up by the revision of minerals permission. “I understand fully people’s objections to this but it’s not like we would be immediately drilling into the hill the next day,” he said.
“I’ve said all along that if someone can find another site where the minerals are as suitable for quarrying then we will move there. At the end of the day, I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. I either don’t use the land and my company has nowhere to quarry, or I do quarry the land and I’m the bad guy.”
West Dunbartonshire Council pointed out then that permission for quarrying at Sheep Hill was originally granted in 1949, and that would not be revisited. The purpose of the revision under discussion now was to bring the planning conditions up to date in line with current best practice.
A council spokesman added: “Sheep Hill itself, in the southern part of the site which has not yet been quarried, is the site of a prehistoric vitrified hill fort which is a scheduled ancient monument. Scheduled ancient monument consent for the removal of Sheep Hill fort was granted in 2002.”
Later, in 2013, the Sheep Hill decision is delayed again.
A spokeswoman for the council said then: “Determination of the application for Review of Minerals Permission was deferred by the Planning committee in December 2012 in order to allow further discussions and to obtain additional information, and this has taken longer than first anticipated. The application will return to the Planning committee as soon as the outstanding matters are resolved.”
It would appear that eight years later much of what is in dispute has still not been resolved.