HL Deb 22 April 1971 vol 317 cc899-903

8.13 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that these Regulations be now approved. When comprehensive planning control was introduced in 1947 it was recognised that mineral working involves special problems and that in some respects it would be necessary to adapt and modify general planning law in relation to minerals. Successive regulations have been made and approved by your Lordships from time to time. The most recent were the Town and Country Planning (Minerals) Regulations 1963, which followed the consolidating Town and Country Planning Act 1962. These are now to be replaced by the Regulations which are before your Lordships for approval.

The need for fresh regulations stems from the Town and Country Planning Act 1968, which changed some of the provisions referred to in the 1963 regulations dealing with various enforcement powers and procedures. With the exception of Regulations 6 and 7, there is nothing new in substance in the latest Regulations, and I need not detain your Lordships with a description of these.

But the exception is an important one. Regulation 6, to which Regulation 7 is ancillary, modifies Section 65 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1968 so far as mineral working is concerned. The purpose of Section 65 was to deal with redundant planning permissions—"shake them out" as the phrase goes. Over the years there had been a steady build-up of permissions for various forms of development, some of them no doubt highly speculative, others possibly better grounded but not pursued for one reason or another. The intention was to clear the decks and make it easier for local planning authorities to assess the reality of unexercised permissions.

Section 65 of the 1968 Act attacks this in two ways, one concerned with the past and one with the future. Subsection (1) deals with planning permissions granted before April 1, 1969. Any such permission will lapse on March 31, 1974, unless the permitted development has begun by then. Subsections (2) and (3) deal with permissions given from April 1, 1969, onwards. These permissions will give the developer five years to get started, or such other period as may be specified in the permission. In other words, there is a fixed five years period for pre-April, 1969 permissions, but a more flexible arrangement for later permissions. The Regulations now before your Lordships are concerned only with subsection (1), past permissions—that is to say, they modify the general law in that respect.

Regulation 6 will give mineral operators an extra five years in which to begin operations under permissions granted before April 1, 1969. Any unexercised mineral working permissions will not lapse, therefore, on March 31, 1974, as they otherwise would, but will run until 1979. Of course if the development begins before April 1, 1979, it will be free to continue after that date. Section 65 is concerned only with the starting of development, not with its completion.

When the local authority associations were consulted about the proposed modification they were far from unanimous in approving the five-year extension for minerals. I think it would be fair to sum up their reactions as a grudging acquiescence. It was quite clear that any period going beyond 1979 would not have been acceptable to them, since it would have militated against their desire to see the end of a number of quite unreal and speculative permissions. On the other hand, the Confederation of British Industry made it clear that they would have liked much longer than ten years—even complete exemption, as was proposed during the Committee stage of the 1968 Town and Country Planning Bill in another place.

The Secretary of State recognises that mineral operators must plan ahead and must have reserve land, especially when heavy capital investment is involved. Indeed, it is in everyone's interest that the mineral industries should look well ahead, as should the local planning authorities. The conferences dealing with sand and gravel production in South-East England, launched by our Department, bear witness to the importance he attaches to foresight and the need to steer mineral working to the places where it will least harm amenity, while ensuring future supplies of essential minerals. But it is essential to bear in mind the whole point of Section 65—to clear the board of clutter so that realistic proposals can be looked at afresh. It is quite impracticable to sort the sheep from the goats in any other way. No one can say with authority that operator "A" means business, but operator "B" never intends to work the land.

As it is, mineral operators will now have plenty of time to make new applications for land which they do not expect to start working before April 1, 1979. And, although it is a minor point, the procedure for re-submitting an application for a lapsed permission has been simplified, so that fresh application forms and plans are not required so long as sufficient information to identify the lapsed permission is supplied.

I understand that there may be some apprehension lest new permissions carry more onerous conditions than the earlier ones. This is a distinct possibility. Some early permissions were very lax about restoration, and it will be to the general good to tighten up where it is justified. On the other hand, conditions could equally well be relaxed in the light of experience. 'Operators who are aggrieved by conditions, like operators who are refused permission, have a right of appeal to the Secretary of State. It would be unrealistic to assume that Section 65 will be allowed to bring essential workings to a halt

My right honourable friend will be there to hold the ring and to see fair play, and in any appeal against new conditions he will obviously have regard to both amenity aspects and producers' economic needs.

For the comfort of the mineral industries I should add that the Secretary of State proposes to send a circular to local planning authorities saying that it should not be assumed that the substitution of ten years for five years for pre-1969 permissions means that ten years win be a standard period to allow in future mineral cases.

Each application will need to be considered on its merits, and authorities must have regard to the operators' reasonable requirements in planning his production and investing in plant. A period of substantially more than ten years may be justified in certain cases, just as on occasions a shorter period may be proper.

I therefore hope that the five-year extension provided for in Regulation 6 will commend itself to your Lordships as a fair modification of the general rule laid down in the Act of 1968 and as one which makes a reasonable compromise between the needs of the industry and the success of the shake-out operation. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Town and Country Planning (Minerals) Regulations 1971 be approved.—(Lord Sandford.)

8.20 p.m.


My Lords, I think it would be wrong to take up your Lordships' time by going in any detail into the proposals in the Statutory Instrument, but I should like to say that I broadly support what the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has said. I have taken the views of the Association of Municipal Corporations and the Urban District Councils Association, and also of the C.B.I. I refreshed my memory about the discussions which took place, both with industry and also with the associations during the time that the 1968 Act was going through Parliament, and my recollection confirms what the noble Lord has said; that although there was pressure from the mining interest at the time the local authorities associations reluctantly acquiesced in what was proposed.

My Lords, I think that these Regulations represent a reasonable compromise between two points of view, and that there is sufficient flexibility and scone for discretion on the part of the Secretary of State to make this a perfectly fair and workable proposition. I am glad to hear that the Secretary of State is to issue a circular to the industry, and I think it only right that I should say how greatly one must be impressed at the way in which the best of the sand and gravel merchants have reinstated the gravel and sandpits for which they have been responsible. Some are extraordinarily good, and I believe that reasonable co-operation between the local authorities and the mineral extractors can make this a most valuable instrument. I am grateful for the clarity and the brevity with which the noble Lord explained the matters to your Lordships' House.


My Lords, before the Question is put, I wonder whether we could just get it clear, for the Record, that the circular is for the benefit of the mineral operators, though it is a circular to the local planning authorities.

On Question, Motion agreed to.