The Quarry Products Association of Northern Ireland and a number of NI Members of Parliament have met with Exchequer Secretary, Damian Hinds.
The delegation raised concerns over the continuing negative impact the £2.00 per tonne aggregates levy is having on Northern Ireland quarry and construction material suppliers, particularly those operating near the border with the Irish Republic, and who are faced with competing against imported products not subject to the aggregates levy.
Gordon Best, Regional Director QPANI, who attended the meeting along with Margaret Ritchie MP and Sammy Wilson MP said: “We greatly appreciate the opportunity to meet with the Minister to brief and inform him about the continuing challenges being faced by the quarry and construction materials sector in Northern Ireland as a result of the high level of aggregates levy in Northern Ireland.
“We also took the opportunity to express, in the strongest terms, our frustration that the current BAA legal challenge against the levy shows no sign of ending. It is now abundantly clear that the greatest impediment to progress on addressing specific negative outcomes of the aggregates levy in Northern Ireland is the continuing legal case being progressed by the BAA.
“Despite the 13 years of challenge and a number of EU Commission decisions the validity and principle of the Aggregates Levy in the UK has never been questioned! The reality is that the exemption issues that are the current focus of the legal challenge could have been dealt with years ago through negotiation between Industry and the Treasury. The perverse fact that many commentators, and many in the industry, have missed is that the actions of the BAA over the last 13 years has actually increased the amount of levy the Treasury take from UK Quarry Companies.”
The delegation also pressed the Minister on the issue of unfair competition of imported concrete and asphalt products whose aggregate content does not attract the aggregates levy.
“We are pleased that he has instructed officials to consult with lawyers again to investigate, in more detail, what can be done to protect manufacturers of concrete and asphalt products from aggregates levy free imported products. We now await their reply.”
Mr Best added: “We have agreed to continue working together to leave no stone unturned to find solutions to the specific problems being faced in Northern Ireland, within the constraints of the continuing legal challenge of course. This is proving increasingly difficult as the evidence required to gain State Aid approval for another 80% derogation on the level of AGL in Northern Ireland is at present beyond our grasp. In addition new EU State Aid Guidelines will mean any new environmental scheme conditional on achieving a new reduction in AGL would subject the industry in Northern Ireland to significant additional costs.
!Realistically there will be no long term review and opportunity to restructure the levy until the current legal case has ended. It is unfortunate and extremely disappointing that the legal merry go round has started again with a new BAA appeal against the latest EU Commission decision.”