A family-owned quarrying company in Kent, Gallagher Aggregates, threw an unusual anniversary event last week when it held a “tunnel party” to celebrate not just its last twenty years but the extension of its license for a further quarter of a century.
Gallagher Aggregates, part of the Gallagher Group, made local headlines two years ago following objections by conservationists and the Woodland Trust to it extending Hermitage Quarry into 80 acres of ancient Oaken Wood.
But following a public inquiry, the support of the local authority in the area and the intervention of the then Community and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles permission was duly granted.
Mr Pickles said there were no veteran trees in the area while there was a “very considerable need for both crushed rock aggregates and stone.”
At the weekend Pat Gallagher, Chairman of the Gallagher Group, who came from to Kent from Leitrim with his family aged just 17 and started what was to become his business empire as a teenager with a digger he bought for £2,000 said he found it hard to contain his emotions.
Mr. Gallagher stayed on in Kent after his mother returned to Ireland when his father, Patrick, died after falling into a sewage tank at his job.
Addressing his guests, he said: “I bet none of you before have been invited to a tunnel party. Welcome to our tunnel party. We’re twenty years in quarrying this year, and we’ve got twenty-five more ahead of us.
“What I hope is we will continue in the way we are doing it now where it’s a safe, happy and great place to work. Where customers enjoy dealing with us, and where I can look at every field we put back, and when we start putting back woodland, it’ll be put back to a quality not seen here before.
“I am extremely grateful to my wife Mary and my four kids for all their help and support.
“The night before Mr Pickles made a decision on the quarry extension my son Richard and myself were sitting in the kitchen, and I don’t think we were two of the happiest bunnies on the planet.
“I said to Richard if we should win this, I’ve got one concern. He said ‘what’s that Dad?’ I said, when we started, and the promises I made about reinstating farmland, I hope to God I’ll be around to be able to do it. And thank God we are. An awful lot of promises are made and these promises have to be kept.
“That’s the important thing: we are a family, it’s a family business, it’s our land, we have to make sure we can. He said “Dad, I’ll be honoured to fulfill the promises,” and Richard, please God, you will.
“I’m sorry I’m a little emotional, but this is a huge day. We’ve talked about it and dreamt about it and we’re here today and it’s lovely that so many of you turned up to help us celebrate it.”
Sean O’Connor, Managing Director of Gallagher Agregates said the quarry was bringing back into fashion a local tone, Kentish ragstone, that graces some of the UK’s most historic buildings: “It’s bringing Kentish ragstone as a great British building stone back into the market place. It’s been used for centuries as a very famous building stone in places like the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey and Leeds Castle, and I’m very proud we’re bring that back into the market.”
Nick Yandle, Gallagher Group’s Chief Executive, said that getting permission meant the area had not been reduced to landfill: “If we were standing here today having failed to get the extension approved, I would think you would see a landfill operation, a bit of recycling and nothing else. So the significance for the people who work in Gallagher, the local construction industry, the family; for everybody this is an absolutely wonderful achievement, and it’s a team achievement, twenty-five years of business.
Gallagher Family Celebrates 25 More Years
“The planning process in this country requires people to be quite brave on occasion. To look at the need, which isn’t sometimes the sexiest thing in the world, not listen to the noisy few who are the ones bashing on the doors and throwing leaflets around. And fortunately the planning system on this application stood firm and allowed what I think we can all agree to be the right thing to be happening.”
Kent County Councillor Mark Dance, responsible for the local authority’s economic development policy, said the local community needed businessmen like Pat Gallagher: “Without people like Pat, without those leaders standing up there and saying ‘this is what we’re going to do,’ and then going forward and doing it – nothing happens. The bureaucracy is incredibly frustrating because he runs an extremely successful business.
“What comes through with Pat is his family and his life and his quarrymen. He sees himself as a quarryman, that’s why he loves it here and that inspired him to take that big step of taking on the government, beat them, and be here today to move forward for another 25 years.”