16 April 2021

Reviving an industry

We take a look at AC Marine Aggregates and how it makes the waterways an even more efficient and sustainable transport system.

For the first time in almost 20 years, a barge has transported a commercial load (of grit sand) into Leeds by canal from a wharf located over 60 miles away in Hull.

The story begins a few years ago, with a concern in the mineral planning community that there would be a future shortfall in the onshore sand and gravel land bank in Yorkshire and Humberside, potentially leaving a significant hole needing to be plugged. 

Together with the mineral planning authorities of Leeds City Council and North Yorkshire Council, we jointly commissioned a market study into the supply situation. It confirmed the potential shortfall, and identified marine aggregates as a possible supplement to the declining land based resources, albeit with some cost and logistical barriers to overcome.

At the time, AC Marine Aggregates was a relatively small but well-known local company trading building materials in the region. They made contact with our customer, the Dutch dredging and marine works company, Van Oord, which resulted in a supply agreement. With the supply contract in place, AC Marine Aggregates opened a wharf in Hull around five years ago, and has built up a business supplying marine aggregates to the local market. They had started the venture with a long-term vision of using commercial barges and the nearby waterways network to supply other markets further inland, such as Leeds. 

The journey to transporting marine aggregates along the rivers and canals, with all the associated benefits it would bring, involved dredging of the waterways, locating suitable barges and bargees, and establishing receiving wharves at the destination.

With help from the Canal River Trust (CRT), Commercial Boat Owners Association and support from Leeds City Council, AC's vison started to become a reality. Last year CRT agreed to allow them to use a wharf in the centre of Leeds, which allowed the concept to become a reality.

The benefits of using a barge to transport marine aggregates over trucks are multiple. The distance from Hull to Leeds by road is 60-70 miles, considerably longer than a typical road journey for a bulk, low value commodity like aggregates. Using a 500 tonne barge takes the equivalent of 25 standard tipper trucks off the road, with the associated improvement in air quality and reduction in traffic congestion.

On 22 September 2020, the Farndale H working barge carried 400 tonnes of grit sand into Leeds, the first time in 19 years a commercial freight had come into the city by barge. The barge owner, John Branford, is a fifth generation owner and he was accompanied on the journey by his son Jonathan, who has a link to our marine business as he is the captain of a vessel working on offshore wind farms.

There's still more work for AC Marine Aggregates to do to make the waterways an even more efficient and sustainable transport system, but given the perseverance of all involved, anything is possible!

If you'd like to find out more, feel free to get in touch with Nick Everington who will be more than happy to answer any of your questions.

Photography credit: James Hardisty for The Yorkshire Post.

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