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Viscount Addison moved Amendment No. 126:


Before Clause 54, insert the following new clause:

("Old mineral planning permissions

. After section 22 of the Planning and Compensation Act 1991 there shall be inserted—
"Old Mineral Planning Permissions.

22A.—(1) For the purposes of this Act "old mineral planning permission" means any planning permission for development—
(a) consisting of the winning and working of minerals; or
(b) involving the depositing of mineral waste,
which was deemed to have been authorised after 1st July 1948 and before 22nd February 1982.
(2) Any person with an old mineral planning permission to win or work minerals or to deposit waste shall, within 5 years of the date of coming into force of section (Old mineral planning permissions) of the Environment Act 1995, apply to the relevant mineral planning authority for approval of the environmental conditions to which the permission is subject.
(3) Where the mineral planning authority refuses an application under subsection 2 above, or in granting such an application determines conditions that differ in any respect from the conditions set out in the application, the applicant may appeal to the Secretary of State.
(4) An old mineral planning permission shall—
(a) if no application for the registration of the permission is made under this section, cease to have effect on the day following the last date on which such an application may be made; and
(b) if such an application is refused, cease to have effect on the day following the date on which the application is finally determined.".").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I should like to return to the issue of old mineral planning permissions which I raised in Committee. The issue is addressed by Amendments Nos. 126 and 127. They tackle the environmental problems of old mineral permissions granted between 1948 and 1981. They were widely welcomed both within and outside the House when they were discussed during Committee.

In previous debates I highlighted the particular environmental problems caused by old mining permissions. It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves just how serious the problem is. These permissions often lack proper working conditions, such as noise limits, and frequently contain no requirement for the restoration of sites. By operating to lower standards than those applied to other mineral planning permissions, they also introduce distortions in the market.

In addition to the large number of active quarries currently operating with outdated working and restoration conditions, there are about 1,600 old mineral permissions which are dormant. They can be reactivated at any time, and many are in environmentally sensitive areas. I believe that this is an issue that requires urgent action if we are to avoid serious environmental consequences. I am aware of a number of shocking examples of environmental harm that has been caused by old mineral permissions. A particularly disturbing case can be seen at Druridge Bay on the Northumberland coastline. Here, a planning permission

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for sand extraction was granted in the 1960s on the condition that only a small mechanical digger should be used. This digger now scoops 2 tonnes in its bucket and erodes the beach and dunes by the extraction of 40,000 tonnes of sand a year. Similar damage occurs in the national parks. Eldon Hill quarry in the Peak District was granted permission in the 1950s and is now called the best known eyesore in the Peak. Currently, it is the subject of a further planning application to extend the workings.

There is general agreement both within the minerals industry and more widely that these old mineral planning permissions are in need of review. The Government have consulted widely on review options, and I believe that my amendments reflect the outcome of those consultations. The amendments offer a real opportunity to get things moving. I was delighted by the positive response of the Minister at Committee stage and in discussions since then.

I should like to explain the exact purpose of my amendments to ensure that there is no misunderstanding. Amendment No. 126 would introduce a statutory time limit of five years for mineral operators to register their old mineral planning permissions with the mineral planning authority for the approval of modern working conditions. Since Committee I have modified the amendment to include a right of appeal for mineral operators, as it is important that the system is as fair as possible to all parties. This issue was tackled originally in the Town and Country Planning (Minerals) Act 1981 which placed a statutory duty on mineral planning authorities to review mineral sites in their areas. The measures set out in that Act, however, have failed as they establish no time limit on the duty. Consequently, very little progress has been made in reviewing permissions that cause damage. This is a real problem, especially in designated areas like national parks. In my view, these areas should be given priority when updating old permissions. By requiring mineral operators to register their old permissions with the mineral planning authority for review within five years, the first amendment would ensure that real progress could be achieved. I hope that my noble friend will be supportive of my amendment.

The second amendment tackles the problem that old mineral planning permissions remain valid for much longer than any other type of planning permission. Consequently, working and restoration conditions fall below current environmental standards. At the moment, mineral permissions granted before 1982 are valid until 2042. It is widely acknowledged and accepted by the Government that that is too long a period. The purpose of the second amendment is to shorten the period to 2012. I believe that this approach brings significant environmental benefits without causing problems for the mineral industry. Under current legislation a mineral planning permission granted in the 1950s could remain valid for nearly 100 years. During that time the importance attached to the environment and the attitudes and needs of society would be likely to alter greatly.

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Obviously, the review of old permissions is crucial to bringing their operating standards up to date, but it will not address the fundamental question of whether or not the workings should carry on at all. In some cases, for example in SSSIs, there may be a real argument that workings should cease. At the moment, those workings can continue until 2042. My amendment will bring the end date forward to 2012. At that point mineral operators would be free to reapply for planning permission to carry on. If no environmental damage is being caused by the mineral extractions they should have little to fear from the procedure.

I believe that the amendment strikes the right balance between reducing the time during which old permissions that cause damage may remain valid and allowing ample time for mineral operators to secure a return on any investment. I believe that it is a reasonable approach to this difficult issue and will greatly help to reduce the lurking environmental threat posed by old mineral permissions. I beg to move.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: My Lords, we on these Benches support both amendments moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Addison. He has dealt with them comprehensively. I merely add that this is a consequence of the early years of planning after 1948. Many planning permissions were granted at a time when there was less understanding than now of the effects of mineral workings on the environment, those who lived near them and the roads that served them. The permissions granted in those early years were not made subject to the kind of conditions which would be imposed if granted today. Modern working practices are much less environmentally destructive than those of 50 years ago.

The 1981 Act was intended to equip mineral planning authorities with power to review old permissions and impose new ones where necessary. However, it contained compensation provisions which in practice were so broad as to make it prohibitively costly for authorities to make extensive use of that power. Mineral planning authorities are concerned about the local economy, local environment and the overall well-being of local people. They have to balance those different considerations. They fully understand the importance of the minerals industry as a provider of jobs and essential raw materials. However, county councils, London boroughs and metropolitan authorities believe that the noble Viscount's new clause will establish a proper framework for an orderly staged review of old permissions, balancing all of the relevant considerations.

Moreover, in relation to Amendment No. 127 there is a general perception that the date 2042 is too far in the future and that a reduction in the end date will afford an opportunity to reconsider sites which may now be considered to be in the wrong place: for example, national parks and SSSIs. A reduction of the end date to, say, 2022 will give the industry ample time to amortise its assets and yet also emphasise that the very long permission periods are inconsistent with the current need to protect the environment.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I should like the support of these Benches for the two amendments that

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have been moved. They seem to us to be very well balanced. I hope that the House will take the opportunity that this Bill offers to rectify a matter that I know has been of widespread concern.

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, my name is attached to these amendments and I therefore wish to speak in support of them. The noble Viscount, Lord Addison, has clearly outlined the purposes of the amendments but I should like to illustrate the problems involved by giving two examples. Many of your Lordships will realise that, because of the magnificent limestone formations in the Yorkshire Dales, which is the area I know best, the dales have suffered in recent years through the quarrying of the limestone. That has made a great impact on the environment of the dales, both the living environment and the landscape.

The amendments would not stop the quarrying of limestone. Recent planning permissions have been given in the Yorkshire Dales for further quarrying. However, the conditions that have been attached to those planning permissions are far more stringent than those attached to the permissions that were given in the early 1950s. If the old planning permissions are to remain, it is important that they should be subjected to the same stringent environmental considerations as the newer planning permissions. The effect of the amendments would be to ensure that that was done.

One of the areas in the Yorkshire Dales is an example of a dormant planning permission which could be reactivated at any time up to the year 2042. The area is at Ribblehead in the centre of the Three Peaks which are well known to fell walkers. They are also well known to railway travellers as they are on the scenic railway route from Settle to Carlisle. Planning permission for quarrying there goes back to 1952 and 1956. The quarries have not been worked since the 1970s but they could be reactivated at any time, and reactivated on conditions which are far less stringent than the conditions that would be imposed today. If they were brought into line with new planning permissions, any reactivation of work in the quarries would mean that it was being done on a level playing field.

A further example is an area for which, again, planning permission was given in the early 1950s. It is for the removal of limestone from a limestone pavement known as Winskill Stones, just north of Settle. The planning permission gave unlimited scope for the removal of that limestone paving and I understand that around 1,000 tonnes of limestone are cut from the pavement each year, the main reason being to provide stones for rockery gardens. This is an irreplaceable heritage which is gradually being eroded and destroyed at a time when limestone pavements are being given priority status under European legislation.

Limestone is a finite resource and its use should be limited strictly to those processes where its qualities are essential. It should not be used as just another aggregate or as a garden ornament and decoration. In the quarrying process the unique limestone formations which have led to the designation of these areas as national parks in the first place should be carefully preserved.

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The amendments seek to provide the proper framework in which planning permissions could be given for work within the national parks as well as in other areas. We should respect the purposes behind the amendments. I hope that the Minister will be able to accept them.


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