SILICA SAND: ILLUSION OR REALITY?
Building sand is familiar but silica sand is something new. Why has this valuable product just been found in the ground around Pulborough? What is it used for? Is it what it claims to be? As a new Minerals Local Plan for West Sussex gets underway, these are some of the questions discussed by Richard Bate, the distinguished environmental planner, on 3rd November before a packed audience at Pulborough Village Hall at a meeting arranged by The Wiggonholt Association.
Out of the blue, two sites near Pulborough, at the Wickford Bridge and Horncroft, are now found to contain very special sand. They are both in the National Park. Silica sand, said Mr Bate, was a kind of soft sand used for industrial or agricultural purposes (computer screens, golf bunkers). It was also used for water filtration and for fracking in gas wells (pumped under pressure to hold open the bedrock so that the gas can flow easily). Before 2002 these sands were classified as soft sand but then the Aggregates Levy was imposed on construction sand. As the above were not construction uses, they needed to be called something else and have since counted as “silica sand”.
Why should this matter? First because they command a higher price, second, they don’t attract the special tax, and third because the Government privileges their extraction. Silica sand is treated as nationally important whereas soft sand has only local importance (within W. Sussex). So while an ordinary sand pit is permitted for seven years, a silica sand pit is allowed ten years’ operation. A site operator will therefore be glad to discover silica sand. Often a quarry will contain a mixture of material, so that a vein of valuable silica sand is pursued over a large land-area. This has implications for the environment. But no significant sources of silica sand have previously occurred in this West Sussex sand outcrop. So are the sands at Pulborough really silica sand or are they soft sand? This will need to be explored very carefully before these sites are taken forward to the next round of the Plan.
Cllr Mrs Pat Arculus (WSCC, Pulborough) explained the process of the Joint Minerals Local Plan and spoke about local concerns for traffic and air pollution. There were many questions from the audience, some of which were answered by Claire Potts, Minerals Planning Officer for the South Downs National Park Authority, which is drawing up the Plan in tandem with the County Council. There will be further consideration by this Joint Minerals Planning Authority – and much debate by the public - before these sites are finally allocated in the draft Minerals Plan.
The Wiggonholt Association: www.wiggonholt.org