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Legislation & policy

In Britain the legal framework for land use planning is largely provided by Town and Country Planning legislation. This aims to secure the most efficient and effective use of land in the public interest and to reconcile the competing needs of development and environmental protection. It has an important role to play in contributing to the Government's strategy for promoting sustainable development. Most forms of development in the UK, including mineral extraction and related activities, require planning permission before development can take place.

Land use planning

The majority of land use planning decisions in Great Britain are made at a local level by local planning authorities. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has responsibility for the operation of the system in England, similarly, in Northern Ireland responsibility lies with the Department for Infrastructure. In Wales and Scotland control resides with the Welsh Government and the Scottish Government respectively. Each of these is responsible for developing national planning policy guidance, including that for mineral development, within which local authorities are required to operate.

Minerals planning

In the UK, ‘minerals’ are defined in Town and Country Planning legislation as ‘all substances in, on or under land of a kind ordinarily worked for removal by underground or surface working, except that it does not include peat cut for purposes other than for sale.’

Minerals are valuable national assets and vital to a modern economy. They are essential raw materials, which underpin the manufacturing industry, construction and agriculture. Society enjoys important benefits from their extraction and use through their contribution to wealth creation, our infrastructure, housing and consumer needs. However, the extraction of minerals can have impacts on the landscape, environment and the quality of life of people living nearby. These impacts can be minimised through the development and application of national, regional and local policies for the supply of minerals. The overall aim of mineral planning is, therefore, to meet the justified need for minerals, as far as practicable, at the least social, economic and environmental cost. Wherever possible, areas of designated landscape, nature conservation or heritage value are protected from mineral development.

Mineral working is different from other forms of development in that:

  • extraction can only take place where the mineral occurs in sufficient quantity and of the desired quality;
  • it is not a permanent use of land even though operations may take place over a long time;
  • when mineral working ceases, a well–restored site may provide new and diverse environmental, amenity or development assets. A good example of this is the Eden project in Cornwall, where a former china clay pit is being used as a national educational and tourism resource.
Glebe Fuller's Earth Quarry near Redhill, Surrey, BGS©NERC
Restored Glebe Quarry, BGS©NERC
National minerals planning policies

For England, the key national planning policies for minerals are set out in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), published in 2012. The focus of the NPPF is a presumption in favour of sustainable development. The NPPF recognises that minerals are essential to support sustainable economic growth and our quality of life. As a result it is important that there is a sufficient supply of material to provide the infrastructure, buildings, energy and goods that the country needs whilst ensuring that permitted mineral operations do not have unacceptable adverse impacts on the natural and historic environment or human health. The NPPF also recognises that, since minerals are a finite natural resource, and can only be worked where they are found, it is important to make best use of them and to secure their long-term conservation through the mechanism of mineral safeguarding.

In Wales, the land use planning policies for minerals are contained in chapter 14 of Planning Policy Wales , published in 2001, which is supported by a series of Minerals Technical Advice Notes (MTANs). MTAN1 was published in 2004, giving detailed advice on planning for aggregates and MTAN2 was published in 2009 giving advice about coal.

For Scotland, the planning framework is centred round the National Planning Framework 3. Published in 2014, it details the long term planning strategy for Scotland for a 20-30 year period. Mineral policies for Scotland are contained in Scottish Planning Policy (SPP), published in 2014.

In Northern Ireland, policy and guidance are provided through Strategic Planning Policy Statement for Northern Ireland (SPPS) published in 2015, this outlines the responsibilities of both Councils and regional government in a two tiered system, the Statement is planned to be revised in 2020.

Planning responsibilities: Mineral Planning Authorities

A local authority with responsibility for mineral planning, including deciding planning applications, is called a Mineral Planning Authority (MPA). In Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and some parts of England the responsibility for mineral planning resides with unitary authorities, which deal with all planning issues within their areas. In those parts of England with two tiers of local government (counties and districts), MPAs are the County Councils. National Parks are also MPAs.

The planning responsibilities of MPAs are roughly divided into three:

  • formulating policies and plans to guide future development ('forward planning');
  • regulating individual developments that are proposed through deciding planning applications ('development management');
  • policing of existing developments to ensure that they are working within any legal constraints outlined in the planning permission (‘monitoring and enforcement’).

In 2004 a new system of planning was introduced in England through the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. With regard to minerals planning, MPAs are now required to produce a 'Minerals and Waste Development Framework' (MWDF), which shows how the MPA will plan for future provision of minerals and disposal of waste in their area.

Forward planning: what is a Minerals and Waste Development Framework?

A MWDF, also known as a minerals plan or a minerals and waste plan, contains several Local Development Documents, (LDDs). These comprise Development Plan Documents (DPDs) and supplementary planning documents where necessary, together with a Statement of Community Involvement (SCI), a Minerals and Waste Development Scheme (MWDS) and an Annual Monitoring Report (AMR).DPDs form the statutory development plan for the authority upon which development decisions are made unless material considerations apply.

The key documents are outlined below:

  • DPDs: this suite of documents must include: a Core Strategy, setting out the key points of the policy; a set of Development Management Policies; Site Specific Policies and Allocations of Land; area action plans if necessary and a Proposals Map.
  • SCI: the preparation of a MWDF should include full public consultation, and an important document in any MWDF is the SCI, which states how the MPA intends to engage the general public in plan making and planning decisions.
  • MWDS: a MWDS is prepared in consultation with the Government Office for the region. It is a project plan and timetable for preparing the Minerals and Waste Development Plan Documents. It will enable anyone to see what the MPA is to produce, and when.
  • AMR: an annual report is prepared to compare the production of the plans with the MWDS and the extent to which the policies in development plan documents are being successfully implemented.

The production of the MWDF has in many cases taken longer than was initially anticipated. In the absence of an adopted suite of new plans, planning authorities apply to the Secretary of State to extend policies from the old system of local planning documents beyond the date of September 2007 at which time they automatically expired.

Development management: making planning decisions

Mineral development management involves making decisions on planning applications submitted to planning authorities by prospective mineral developers. Planning applications that are in conformity with the MWDF, and that are acceptable in other policy respects, will normally be permitted, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. The planning system is, therefore, plan-led. This helps to give certainty to both the minerals industry and local residents in respect of proposals for extraction.

If a planning permission is approved it will be subject to a number of conditions such as measures to mitigate environmental impacts, measures to control restoration and aftercare, and statements for the date of completion of the extraction and restoration of the site. Under exceptional circumstances, where the proposed development is very large or contentious, the Secretary of State may 'call-in' a planning application for his/her determination. Applicants may appeal to the Secretary of State against planning applications refused by the MPA or where the MPA has not issued a decision within a certain time or where the conditions attached to the permission are considered too onerous. Appeals can be handled by written representations, public inquiry or an informal hearing before a planning inspector.

Monitoring and enforcement: ensuring planning policy works

Local authorities (including all MPAs) are required to produce an AMR, which reviews what has happened in development planning throughout the year. For minerals this should state what progress has been made regarding the preparation of the documents for the MWDF / LDF and justify any inconsistencies compared with the MWDS / LDS. It should also identify progress against regional and national targets and identify if policies have had unintended consequences. This information will provide valuable feedback for drafting future LDDs.

In addition, once mineral extraction is taking place, the MPA has the responsibility to ensure that the operation is working in accordance with the conditions of the planning permission. The MPA has the power to stop operations if it deems the conditions to have been breached.

Environmental assessment

The EU Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive has resulted in the implementation of a number of regulations. These require that for certain types of project a developer must provide information to the relevant competent authority - the body who must give consent for the development to take place - about any likely environmental effects. This information is presented in the form of an Environmental Statement(ES).

In the case of mineral workings, all applications for sites of over 25 ha (150 ha for peat workings) must be accompanied by an ES. However, where applications are for sites smaller than 25 ha, the MPA must consider whether the proposed development seems likely to have significant environmental effects. If this is thought to be the case, an EIA must be requested and the applicant must provide an ES that accompanies the planning application so that the planning authority can make an informed decision on the application.

Strategic environmental assessment

The EU Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive was published in July 2001. The directive requires a formal environmental assessment of certain plans, such as mineral development plans, which are likely to have significant effects on the environment. Authorities that prepare and/or adopt a plan that is subject to the directive have to prepare a report on its probable significant environmental effects, consult environmental authorities and the public, and take the results into account. Basic procedural and technical requirements are set out in the directive.

Mineral resource and planning information

Efficient and effective functioning of the planning system depends on high quality, readily accessible information on the extent, quality and, if possible, quantity of mineral resources and their relationship to national planning designations, which might represent constraints on the extraction of minerals. This information is important for the production of mineral development framework documents, both in the context of identifying areas of future mineral working and the longer-term objective of minerals safeguarding by protecting important mineral resources against sterilisation. The BGS has produced mineral resource maps covering much of the UK. The mineral resource maps for England were produced on behalf of the Department for Communities and Local Government's predecessor department whilst those for Wales and the Central Belt of Scotland were produced on behalf of the Welsh and Scottish Government respectively and those for Northern Ireland on behalf of the Department of the Environment. Working with the Crown Estate, the BGS has also produced mineral resource maps of the UK Continental Shelf in order to assist spatial planning for offshore minerals.

Mineral Safeguarding

Mineral resources are finite and can only be worked where they occur. Increased land use pressure in the UK can result in mineral resources becoming sterilised (through restricted access) by other forms of development. When included in the planning process, mineral safeguarding can help avoid unnecessary sterilisation by providing a mechanism which allows for the consideration of mineral resources in the decision making balance.

Mineral safeguarding in England: good practice advice (BGS, 2011) provides information on how current national mineral safeguarding policies in England can be implemented whilst the Aggregates Safeguarding Map of Wales depicts mineral safeguarding areas defined on a national basis and an accompanying report describes the process.

Aggregates levy

The Aggregates Levy was introduced in April 2002 and is currently £2 per tonne. It applies to sand, gravel and crushed rock subjected to commercial extraction in the UK, including aggregate dredged from the seabed. To protect international competitiveness the tax is also levied on imports but exports are relieved. The Levy is intended to address the environmental costs associated with quarrying operations (noise, dust, visual intrusion, loss of amenity and damage to biodiversity) in line with the Government's statement of intent on environmental taxation. Its objective is to reduce demand for virgin aggregate and encourage the use of recycled materials and secondary aggregates such as china clay waste, slate waste and colliery spoil, which are exempt.

The Levy led to some distortions in the market, notably in Northern Ireland with increased imports from the Republic of Ireland. The Government recognised the problem and extended relief to virgin aggregates at 80% of the full rate. However, this was challenged in the European General Court by the British Aggregates Association and the relief was found to be illegal. The Northern Ireland Aggregates Levy Credit Scheme was therefore suspended with effect from 1 December 2010 and producers in Northern Ireland are consequently required to pay the Levy at the same rate as producers in other parts of the UK.

Material used for non–aggregate minerals are generally exempt from the Levy. These include shale, slate and clay. However, if material, such as shale, is extracted for commercial exploitation as aggregate or if it is extracted from the spoil of material extracted as primary aggregate it is still subject to the levy.

Landfill tax

The Landfill Tax was introduced on 1 October 1996 as a tax on waste disposal at landfill sites. The purpose of the tax is to encourage business and consumers to produce less waste, to discourage landfill and to encourage waste minimisation and investment in other forms of material recycling and/or resource recovery.

There are two rates of tax, these will rise in line with inflation rounded to the nearest 5 pence, as of 1st April 2016 these are:

  • £2.65/tonne for inactive or inert waste listed in the Landfill Tax (Qualifying Material) Order 1996. These are wastes that do not give rise to gases and have no potential for polluting groundwater.
  • £84.40 per tonne applying to all other taxable waste.

Some types of waste are exempt from the Landfill Tax, including mine and quarry wastes. Inert waste used in the restoration of active mineral workings and landfill sites are also exempt.