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Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the consultation which took place last July showed the Government's commitment to early action and our recognition of the environmental issues which are involved in opencast mining. However, we believe that it is necessary to look at these issues in the round and that we could not approach the problem properly unless we took into account the outcome of the Government's review on energy policy. We believe that the guidance we shall eventually be able to give to mineral planning authorities will be the better and the fuller because of that approach.
Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that the problem raised by the right reverend Prelate is a real one? However, is she also aware that it is only one of a number of such problems now facing the opencast mining industry? One of those other problems is the position of deep mined coal. Has my noble friend seen a report published last week by Reading University which emphasises not only the need for deep mined coal--coal in the round--but also that it is particularly necessary to have a supply of such coal during the next few years? Having regard to employment in the coal-mining industry, which is by no means dead, does my noble friend accept that I absolutely agree that the full review that she has mentioned must take place?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am grateful for that support for a full review. It is certainly a relevant consideration that opencast coal is at present a significant source of fuel in the UK energy market; about 16 million tonnes a year compared to 33 million tonnes from deep mines. This is a factor that the energy
Lord Islwyn: My Lords, does the Minister recognise that opencast mining invariably takes place in areas that have had deep mining over the generations? Does she realise that opencast mining has a major detrimental effect on the environment? Does she not feel that priority should now be given to improving the environment in these coal-mining communities, which have suffered so much for so long from the ravages of deep mining?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am aware of those strong concerns about environmental effects. We have to consider sustainable development. Social and community issues also have to be considered, not simply the balance between the economic and the environmental issues. When we published our consultation on a sustainable development strategy on 4th February we recognised that we had to take account of that wider balance. I am sure that is the right approach for the former coal mining areas.
Lord Ezra: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that during my period at the Coal Board opencast mining was regarded as supplementary to deep mining and not a replacement of it? Can we be assured that that policy will be continued by the Government in their forthcoming review?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the noble Lord's comments show exactly why we need a thorough review of energy policy which considers exactly that balance between opencast and deep mined coal and between coal and other forms of energy.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I believe I gave a comprehensive answer as regards planning and brownfield sites and the work that is being taken forward by the task force, chaired by my noble friend Lord Rogers of Riverside, which considers the availability of brownfield sites, when I made a Statement in this House only two weeks ago. As regards Scotland, separate consultation exercises were carried out in England, Scotland and Wales last year on the review of opencast coal planning policy reflecting the different circumstances in each country. The announcement that my honourable friend is to make in another place today relates solely to conclusions in relation to England. My right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales are considering the best way to proceed in the light of responses to their respective consultation exercises.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that encouraging reply. But is he not concerned, as I am, that an excellent scheme such as this is being held up by this review? I am sure he is aware that the scheme was specially designed for Shotton Paper, one of our major newsprint manufacturers and a heavy energy user, and will assist the company in its international competitiveness as well as bringing obvious environmental benefits. In view of all that and the case for the scheme, will the noble Lord do his utmost to expedite the exemption and let the scheme be carried out?
Lord Haskel: My Lords, certainly it is a good application, and that is why it is being actively considered. The current situation is that there is a local environmental issue raised by Ellesmere Port and Neston Borough Council; namely, whether the mound on which the proposed station is to be built can be reduced. A study has been carried out and the position as of this morning is that the relevant officials are urgently trying to set up a site visit with the DTI, the Environment Agency and other people involved to discuss the relevant problems. If the purpose of the noble Lord's Question is to place this application under the spotlight, I can assure him that the intention is that this visit will take place within days, not weeks or months.
Lord Ezra: My Lords, is not the Shotton scheme one that should be held up as an example? If the Government are really keen on expanding the use of combined heat and power, this scheme, which has more than 70 per cent. efficiency and which will replace the burning of heavy fuel oil, is the type of scheme to go for. Therefore, far from being held up in any way--which I hope will not be the case--it should be brought into operation and developed as a model for others to follow.
Lord Haskel: My Lords, it is certainly a good scheme. However, there is a statutory process for assessing what are called Section 36 applications, as the noble Lord well knows. This process is being completed as quickly as possible.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that Neston and Ellesmere Port are in England, and that this application has the full support of the Welsh Development Agency and Flintshire County Council? Shotton has suffered terribly from unemployment in the past. Special regard should be given to the feelings of people in that locality that no jobs should be lost as a result of delay.
Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, for those of us who are concerned about sustainable development, this scheme from Shotton Paper and Eastern Generation appears to be a prime example of that very attitude towards environmental and energy management? Does he accept that Shotton Paper has invested substantially not only in production in North Wales, but also in the forestry industry, and that we have a fine example in mid and North Wales of sustainable forestry by that company? Will the Minister also take that into consideration and the fact that the whole cycle of energy production undertaken by the company is a positive one?
Viscount Mersey: My Lords, I declare an interest as an immediate past president of the Combined Heat and Power Association. I have here a list of 13 combined heat and power stations which may be threatened by the moratorium. Rather than recite the list, I hope I may send it to the noble Lord. Will he comment on the future of each station in writing and possibly place a copy of his reply in the Library? Will he also confirm that the British Sugar combined heat and power station at Bury St. Edmunds has just been given the go-ahead?
Lord Haskel: My Lords, I can confirm that the British Sugar scheme at Bury St. Edmunds has been given the go-ahead and will be in operation in 1999 in time for the sugar beet harvest. As regards the noble Viscount sending me the details of other schemes, I shall certainly be happy to receive them but I cannot guarantee that I can give the noble Viscount more information than he probably already has.
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