THE first new quarries in decades may be excavated, depending on a government study on whether the industry should be allowed to die. Quarrying is one of the oldest industries in the area and, when the British arrived in 1841, about one-third of local inhabitants made their living from quarries. But within five years, three of the four local quarries, all producing aggregate for the building industry in the SAR, will be closed, forcing builders to rely almost entirely on imports. 'We have to look at whether Hong Kong needs its quarries,' said Siu Kong-lam, chief geotechnical engineer for mines and quarries. The study should be completed by the end of the year, he said. Only after a policy decision on principle would any search begin for suitable granite reserves available for digging, he said. Resident associations and green groups have long criticised the quarries, despite attempts to force the operators to invest in the cleanest techniques. Conservancy Association vice-chairman Gordon Ng Ting-leung said: 'We're not opposed to quarries if they are properly managed and there is a proper environmental impact assessment - we need the product. 'But with recycling and proper site management you can reduce demand by 20 per cent to 30 per cent and any study needs to take this into consideration.' In 1996, the demand for aggregate in Hong Kong totalled nearly 30 million tonnes - nearly five tonnes for every man, woman and child. Half is quarried locally. Islands just outside Hong Kong waters are dotted with relatively low-tech quarries and they have ensured price stability even as demand rose sharply in recent years for the airport and other projects. But Mr Siu said that if the SAR had no quarries, the price of imports might rise. Quarrying firms pay the Government a total of $50 million a year in rent.