Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by The Quarry Products Association (QPA) (DWB 09)


  1.1  QPA represents members producing over 90 per cent of aggregates and related minerals quarried in England and Wales. Our members produce sand and gravel, crushed rock, silica sand, limestone and chalk for agricultural and industrial lime and they are also involved in many cases in the subsequent landfilling of the quarries. They thus have a direct, relevant and financial interest in water abstraction licensing.

  1.2  Abstraction of water for dewatering quarries has long been exempt from licensing control—current authority for this being Sections 29/30 of the Water Resources Act 1991. Many quarries are currently dewatered either to make the extraction of the mineral more efficient, as in the case of sand and gravel extraction, or, as in the case of permeable rocks such as limestone, to make the extraction possible. Working of rock underwater is not usually possible. It is not economically viable, neither would it be desirable from an environmental point of view. Stricter regimes of control for quarry dewatering would therefore have serious consequences both for the companies involved and for strategic aggregate supplies in the UK, and the details of the proposals are of concern as now explained.

  1.3  Dewatering of quarries is a well-established and essential part of the quarrying process. Unlike other forms of abstraction, the abstracted water from quarries is not consumed, but is rapidly discharged in the same condition and volume, and as close to the quarry as feasible. Often sophisticated schemes of aquifer recharge are developed to ensure the effects of dewatering on the same water body are minimised or eliminated.


  2.1  QPA responded in great detail on this issue during the 1998 DETR Consultation. The essence of our view was that the quarrying industry was prepared to accept the loss of its exemptions for quarry dewatering provided adequate safeguards could be assured, in particular covering the following points:

    —  a 15-year term for dewatering licences would be insufficient for the long timescale of most quarries;

    —  any future abstraction licensing system should closely parallel the planning system, particularly in respect of review of permissions, appeals and compensation procedures;

    —  there should be no volume charges for quarry dewatering.

  2.2  The essence of our evidence is that abstraction of water from quarries for dewatering purposes is different to any other form of abstraction, and therefore merits a special legal regime. The main thrust of this part of the proposed legislation is directed to major consumers of water. Abstraction of water for quarry dewatering does involve large volumes, but the water is not consumed—it is returned as quickly as possible to either the acquifer or an adjoining watercourse.

  2.3  It would seem from Clause 1 of the proposed legislation that quarry dewatering abstraction will be covered by the "transfer licence" system. Clause 10 sets out the provisions to time limit such licences, although no indication of the likely term is included in this consultation; the earlier consultation papers suggested a 15-year limit. Since the right to continue dewatering a quarry is essential to ensure continued extraction, it would be impossible for the industry to plan investment in the large rock quarries without the assurance that quarry dewatering would be permitted for the life of the planning permission. Since areas like South East or North West England rely heavily on limestone imports from large quarries in Somerset and North Wales respectively, any legislation which resulted in restrictions on dewatering, and thus supplies, could have serious strategic aggregate supply implications.

  2.4  It is thus our view that any legislation/subordinate legislation/policy guidance should provide for quarry dewatering abstraction transfer licences to be limited to the life of the planning permission. Furthermore, because the proposed legislation will abolish the longstanding exemption from licensing which the industry has enjoyed and planned for, we believe it is essential that, where any licences are curtailed or their conditions made more stringent, there should be a right of both appeal and provision for compensation.

  2.5  We will be suggesting to the DETR an additional Clause in the Bill after Clause 10 on the following lines:

  "10A In the case of a transfer licence or licence granted to abstract water for the purposes of dewatering a quarry, the expiry date specified in Section 10 (5) (b) shall not be earlier than the date specified in the planning permission for that quarry".

  "10B Where, notwithstanding the provisions of Section 10 (5) (a), an expiry date specified in Section 10 (5) (b) is imposed earlier than the date specified in the planning permission for that quarry, or where the licence is subsequently modified to that effect, the holder of the licence shall:

    (a)  have a right of appeal against that decision to the Secretary of State

  and, notwithstanding the provisions of Section 17,

    (b)  in the event of the modified expiry date being confirmed by the Secretary of State shall have a right to compensation consequent upon the loss or damage to his rights to extract the mineral."

  2.6  With regard to the proposal to charge for quarry dewatering, this is of very great concern, not least because this is not an activity that has been chargeable before, and thus is not a charge that has been planned for in the investments at the quarries affected.

  2.7  We are concerned that authorisations and charges for quarry dewatering could end up being part of the general approach to water charges without the necessary consideration that quarrying is not a major user of water, nor do its abstractions generally have significant environmental cost. Issues of efficiency of use, in this respect, therefore do not arise. It is essential that quarry dewatering should not be subject to volume charges.

  2.8  The introduction of economic instruments could make mineral extraction below the water table much more expensive and less efficient, or even impossible. This could have the effect of sterilising reserves and/or creating pressure for an increase in the total land requirement for mineral extraction The environmental consequences of mineral extraction should be assessed through the planning system and not be influenced by an artificial pricing mechanism for the abstraction of water.

  2.9  In terms of charges for water abstracted for use in quarry processing plants we believe these are acceptable provided they are based on a fair assessment of the net loss of water involved, They should be based on actual net volumes abstracted, rather than licensed volumes, to ensure that fluctuations in quarry output are not penalised and to encourage economy in the use of water. Any charging system needs to give due allowance to re-circulated, re-used water from mineral washing systems to avoid double or greater payments for the same water usage.

  2.10  Generally, since abstraction charges would be new to our industry, it is essential that we are fully consulted when the relevant Clauses to the Bill are drafted.


  3.1  As we have explained, the proposed loss of the current exemptions from licensing for quarry dewatering is of very great concern to us. It has the potential to do great harm to one of the UK's essential basic raw material producers and could, in some circumstances, particularly limestone extraction, result in closure of quarries.

  3.2  We believe the quarrying industry is different to other abstractors. Our members do not consume water when they dewater quarries, but simply extract it and put it back unchanged both in quality and volume. For those reasons, and because the industry is being brought into the licensing system for the first time, we believe quarry dewatering merits a special legal regime in the forthcoming Bill, on the lines that we have set out above.

  3.3  We will be pressing DETR to incorporate adequate safeguards when the Bill is tabled.

January 2001

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