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25 September 2005
Thornborough henges quarry decision deferred

Campaigners must wait until next year to discover whether quarrying of another 2.2 million tonnes of sand and gravel is to be allowed near a Neolithic site regarded as the Stonehenge of the North. In 2002 quarrying and construction company Tarmac applied to extend its gravel extraction at Ladybridge Farm close to the 5,500 year old Thornborough Henges (North Yorkshire, England). Opponents fear it could destroy clues about the ancient earthworks' history but Tarmac says the land could cope with quarrying and conservation.
     North Yorkshire County Councilís planning committee had been expected to reach a decision on the application at a meeting on September 20 2005. However, after consulting with English Heritage, Tarmac applied for a last-minute deferral of the decision in order to undertake further archaeological surveying of the Ladybridge site. North Yorkshire County Council issued a statement saying: "We hope to have a full report for members to consider in January."
     Members of the North Yorkshire County Council planning board had visited the site in August and were recommended to refuse permission by planning officers. The henges are believed to be one of Britain's largest ritual gathering places from the Neolithic period and includes what archaeologists have described as "The largest collection of Neolithic remains of this type so far found in the North of England".
     Local campaign group Timewatch has collected a petition of more than 10,000 signatures against the plans which would see work about half a mile away from the henges. It said the quarry would contribute to the permanent loss of nationally important archaeology. US-based conservation group the Landmarks Foundation has also voiced its concern at the quarry proposals, describing them as a tragedy. English Heritage had expressed concerns that Tarmac had not provided enough information to establish whether the areaís archaeology was of national significance. The Friends of Thornborough campaign group has reacted angrily to the delay. "The county council has reduced the debate on this important issue to a simple argument between Tarmac and English Heritage over the value of the buried archaeology on this one site," said spokesman Mike Sanders.
     But some people have expressed their support for the quarry extension. Workers at the Nosterfield Quarry and local building firms have sent in 80 letters and a 350-signature petition arguing that more than 50 livelihoods depend on the application's approval. Tarmac has said the extension is on farmland where there is only "thin and scattered" evidence of prehistoric activity, according to a recent study by archaeological consultants.
     However Dr Mike Heyworth, Director of the Council for British Archaeology, said that the 2% of the site that had already been examined was not enough to make an accurate evaluation of its archaeological significance and that a sample of 10% was needed. Although he does not oppose the deferment, Dr Heyworth expressed doubts that further surveying would be finished by January. Although that, he said, was not the key issue. "It is our position that we do not believe further work will change our view that it is a site of national importance." he added.
     "Tarmac proposes to complete the operation between now and November", said George Chaplin, Chairman of TimeWatch. "We feel this is an unrealistic timescale for a proper evaluation of the area." A second concern for TimeWatch is that it will be very difficult for the report to be independent if it is carried out by Tarmac. Mr Chaplin said "We think this question should be settled for once and for all, and for that to happen we suggest an independent team, not funded by Tarmac should be used for the evaluation."

Sources: BBC News (20 September 2005), 24-hour Museum, Yorkshire Post Today (21 September 2005), Timewatch.org press release (22 September 2005), Nidderdale Today (23 September 2005)

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