for Sunday Herald, 17 December 2000
A 5.5 million dollar deal between WWF, one of the world's leading environmental organisations, and the French mining giant, Lafarge Redland, is threatened by a bitter dispute over the proposed superquarry on Harris.
Lafarge's refusal to give up plans to dig up a mountain at Lingerbay at the south of the island has so angered WWF internationally that it is planning to review its relationship with the company. Lafarge has promised to give WWF 1.1 million dollars a year for the next five years to help restore natural forests around the world.
On Friday Lafarge shocked environmentalists by announcing that it was appealing against the Scottish Executive's decision to refuse planning permission for the superquarry. The Environment Minister, Sam Galbraith, rejected the company's nine-year-old application last month because it would destroy a beautiful and protected landscape.
WWF yesterday condemned Lafarge for "prolonging the agony for everyone". The continued uncertainty caused by the appeal - which could last up to three years - will blight other, more sensitive, developments on Harris, the organisation said.
WWF's Geneva-based international director general, Claude Martin, has contacted Lafarge's chief executive, Betrand Collomb, in Paris to convey his "profound concern" over the decision to appeal. "WWF believes that rather than pursuing this fundamentally flawed project, Lafarge should allow the island of Harris and its people to benefit from development options which are environmentally sustainable and support livelihoods and the local community in the long term," Martin said.
A WWF spokesman accepted that the latest disagreement was a "serious blow" to the relationship with Lafarge but argued that it was too soon to say whether it would be fatal. "We will continue discussions with the company and within the organisation," he said. "But at this stage we can't rule anything in or anything out about what might happen in the future."
One possibility is that the company has lodged an appeal simply to buy more time to think. It is also possible that it is protecting itself from legal action from the owners of the land and mineral rights, who stand to lose a great deal of money if the superquarry does not go ahead.
If the appeal is dropped, WWF's deal with Lafarge will probably survive. But if it is pursued with enthusiasm - and Harris continues to suffer as a result - the relationship is probably doomed.
Lafarge declined to comment on Friday beyond confirming the appeal against Galbraith's decision. "The company believes that the decision is flawed and wishes to protect its interests," was all a company spokesman would say.
In addition to the 5.5 million dollar deal on forests, the partnership between Lafarge and WWF, announced in March this year, commits the company to protect wildlife at its quarries around the world. Lafarge employs 71,000 people in 70 countries and last year generated sales worth 10.5 billion dollars.
"This partnership demonstrates our commitment to the environment," said the company chief executive Bernard Collomb. "Through its worldwide presence, WWF will bring us the vision and the global expertise we need to set the environmental example for our sector."
Environmental groups pointed out, however, that appealing against a well-founded environmental decision did not set a good example. The Ramblers' Association Scotland accused Lafarge of hypocrisy. "Having criticised the Scottish Executive's delay in making a decision, it has decided to prolong the agony by appealing," said the group's director, Dave Morris.
Kevin Dunion, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said no-one should be surprised at such behaviour. He pointed out that Redland, the company that first proposed the superquarry before it was taken over by Lafarge, "previously threatened that if they did not get their way over the superquarry application they would go ahead using mineral permissions given thirty years ago."