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Baroness Byford: I support the amendments to which the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, has spoken. I declare an interest. I do not have a financial interest but I live opposite what I believe is the biggest granite quarry in Europe. It used to be owned by Mount Sorrel Granite, then by Redlands and it is now owned by La Farge. It is a huge quarry. Interestingly—as I am sure is the case with many quarries—it forms part of an SSSI. I hope that eventually it will be returned to nature. I place on record my thanks to those who manage the quarry—I do not always bless them when they are blasting away—for trying to preserve the environment for those who live in the vicinity. It has been a nightmare situation. Locals and the quarry company have investigated ways of giving local people a better insight into the working of the quarry. I am digressing somewhat from the amendments but it is important to place that on record.

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Water is, of course, hugely important to the quarry. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, I shall not discuss the matter in detail. He explained the matter very clearly. But it is impossible to work limestone and sandstone quarries without dewatering through pumping. It would be virtually impossible to blast the rock under water and it would, in any case, be impossible to retrieve the rock from the water after the blast. Like all other abstractors the quarrying industry does not consume the abstracted water in the accepted sense of the word, as the noble Lord, Lord explained, but simply returns it almost immediately to the acquifer in virtually the same volume and condition. It is important that Members of the Committee appreciate that as it is not commonly known. Some people just think that the water is wasted and not reused.

The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, rightly appealed to the Government that the planning permission and the abstraction licence should run concurrently. I am sure the Committee understands that. The licence life should be tailored to the life of planning permissions, which often in the case of rock quarries are 25 years or more. In the quarry near to where I live there is still in existence a licence going back to 1948. If that had not been activated, 50 years on the licence would have expired. No doubt many local people would think that a 50-year period is far too long but that is another matter. As was said earlier, one has to consider the practicalities and the costs of running quarries. We need the commodities that come from quarries irrespective of the wishes of those who live close to them.

I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, did not mention a right of appeal. He mentioned compensation. I do not know whether he intended to mention a right of appeal but omitted to do so in error. I am not sure what kind of appeal system may already exist. The Minister may tell me that there is one already. I should be glad to hear that.

I have been contacted by the Quarry Products Association which informed me that it had pressed its case—which it considers a special case—with both DEFRA and the Environment Agency over the past three to four years. Sadly, there has been no apparent recognition of the unique case with regard to quarry dewatering. If that is true, it is disturbing. Quarrying is a big industry, which we need. I should like the Minister or perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Young, to tell us why nothing has come of that situation.

7 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I understand that where a Member of the Committee is a member of another body or chairs another body, they may not comment on that body's policy in this House. Only the Minister can reply to the point.

Baroness Byford: I am grateful for that clarification. I hope that the Minister will reply to the point. I believe that this is a critical issue. If it is not addressed properly, it puts the future of the industry at serious

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risk. As I said earlier, the industry is of national importance. It is extremely important that this strategic aggregate supply is not put at risk.

As was suggested, the proposed legislation will require that, for the first time, previously exempted quarrying dewatering abstraction will be covered by the transfer licence system. Indeed, as has been said, although no time limit is laid down, it is suggested that a 12-year cycle would be involved. That is not ideal. The Quarry Products Association holds the view that any legislation, subordinate legislation or policy guidance should provide for quarry dewatering abstraction transfer licences to be limited to the life of planning permissions. I am happy to support the noble Lord's amendments.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I, too, support the amendments. Quarrying is a controversial matter in some areas but where planning permission has been given it often provides excellent employment opportunities in areas which often do not have alternative employment. I refer to certain remote areas. It makes sense to have the planning permission contiguous with the abstraction licence. That seems eminently sensible. I support the amendment.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: I speak briefly to the amendment which has parallels with Amendments Nos. 5 and 55 where we discussed linking licences to the life of an asset. The argument against the amendment we are discussing is the same as that against those other amendments. In the case of quarries, planning permissions are often lengthy and sometimes not time limited at all. Indeed, some quarries operate under mineral permissions that are so aged that everyone has forgotten their origins.

Many of the environmental challenges posed by the dewatering of quarries are due to the lengthy timescales involved. For example, hard rock quarries generally work down to deeper phases and it is difficult initially to assess what the impact will be, particularly in fissured limestone. In the case of gravel quarries, it is also difficult to predict what will happen if the quarry is extended. There is a need to bring the dewatering permissions within the control system. If they have little impact on the environment, quarry operators have nothing to worry about. I query with the Minister whether the Water Framework Directive requires these kind of abstractions to be covered by the licensing system. Therefore, we would need to implement that if that is not the case.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I begin by saying to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that if a specific problem has arisen, we should be delighted to receive a letter setting out the details of what approvals have been sought. We could investigate such a case.

As the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, said, the amendments seek to introduce specific measures that would apply to this particular group of abstractors. The intention to remove the current exemption for abstracting water for dewatering purposes will affect the mining, quarrying and engineering construction industries. The current regime applies generally to all

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abstractors within its scope and it is right that there is equity of treatment for all. Special provisions for one group would be divisive. However, we recognise that that dewatering is not the same as other abstractions. That point was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford.

Amendment No. 15 would, in effect, completely remove from the Environment Agency the responsibility for determining the time limit to apply to all licences granted for these activities.

The position of mining and quarrying companies will be no different from that of any other industrial abstractor: the time limit on the licence is not linked to any end date for the operation concerned. We are not persuaded that there is justification to adopt a different approach simply on the grounds that it is subject to some other time-related restriction.

However, I can reassure the noble Lord that quarry and mine operators will have the same opportunities as all other abstractors to submit to the Environment Agency a business case in support of their applications. This can address issues relating to the proposed life of the licence to be granted. The time restriction on the operation would form part of such a submission, and the agency will have proper regard to it.

Mineral planning permissions can be very long. They are distinctive, even planning terms, and we believe that to peg an abstraction licence to such a permission could limit the agency's powers to protect water, the very point of time limiting. However, we recognise the importance of there being—this was a specific question that was put—a right of appeal against refusal or conditional grant of an abstraction licence. There is a presumption of renewal on consideration of the time-limited licence.

Licences for quarry operations should be subject to the same opportunities for review within the catchment abstraction management strategy process, as any other time limited licence in the catchment, particularly as they will have variable effects over time, as the workings develop, move, change depth and those need to be able to be reviewed.

We recognise the concerns that have given rise to Amendment No. 31 and in light of that we believe that this amendment is unnecessary. We propose to make, and Clause 95 provides for, transitional measures to ensure that compensation would be available in the circumstances described in the amendment. That is where a mine, quarry or engineering works operator is refused a licence or granted a conditional licence and as a result cannot take full advantage of any planning permission granted for the operation. This is already publicly stated government policy—in Taking Water Responsibly—paragraph 3.17, and there is an availability of appeal to the Secretary of State.

We also think the special treatment in respect of variation of licence conditions provided by Amendment No. 61 is not appropriate. The existence of planning permission has no relevance in the context of the limited extension of a licence, neither does it have any bearing on the environmental effects of

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abstraction or water resources. I hope that with those wide-ranging reassurances, the noble Lord will not press the amendment.

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