HL Deb 01 July 1991 vol 530 cc805-14

45 Clause 18, page 27, line 22, after 'materials' insert 'and provides for altering the provisions relating to compensation for restrictions on mineral working and depositing mineral waste'.

46 Insert the following new clause:

Old mining permissions

'.—(1) In this section and Schedule (Registration of old mining permissions) to this Act, "old mining permission" means any planning permission for development —

  1. (a) consisting of the winning and working of minerals, or
  2. (b) involving the depositing of mineral waste,
which was deemed to be granted under Part III of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 by virtue of section 77 of that Act (development authorised under interim development orders after 21st July 1943).

(2) An old mining permission shall, if an application under that Schedule to determine the conditions to which the permission is to be subject is finally determined, have effect as from the final determination as if granted on the terms required to be registered.

(3) If no such development has, at any time in the period of two years ending with 1st May 1991, been carried out to any substantial extent anywhere in, on or under the land to which an old mining permission relates, that permission shall not authorise any such development to be carried out at any time after the coming into force of this section unless—

  1. (a) the permission has effect in accordance with subsection (2) above, and
  2. (b) the development is carried out after such an application is finally determined.

(4) An old mining permission shall —

  1. (a) if no application for the registration of the permission is made under that Schedule, cease to have effect on the day following the last date on which such an application may be made, and
  2. (b) if such an application is refused, cease to have effect on the day following the date on which the application is finally determined.

(5) An old mining permission shall, if—

  1. (a) such an application is granted, but
  2. (b) an application under that Schedule to determine the conditions to which the permission is to be subject is required to be served before the end of any period and is not so served,
cease to have effect on the day following the last date on which the application to determine those conditions may be served.

(6) Subject to subsection (3) above, this section —

  1. (a) shall not affect any development carried out under an old mining permission before an application under that Schedule to determine the conditions to which the permission is to be subject is finally determined or, as the case may be, the date on which the permission ceases to have effect, and
  2. (b) shall not affect any order made or having effect as if made under section 102 of or Schedule 9 to the principal Act (discontinuance, etc., orders).

(7) This section and that Schedule, and the principal Act, shall have effect as if the section and Schedule were included in Part III of that Act.'.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 45 and 46 en bloc. In moving these Amendments, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 100, 101, 102, 121 to 128, 130 to 134, 179, 181 to 184, 186 to 188, 264 to 266, 268, 283, 284 and 286.

I now come to the question of old mining permissions and particularly to those granted under interim development orders. This is a subject where we have all learnt a great deal in a very short time. It seems much longer ago than November that the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Newport, first raised this issue on Second Reading. Since then, as your Lordships will know, the subject of interim development order (IDO) permissions for mineral working has been debated several times during the passage of the Bill, and there has been extensive public consultation.

I am pleased to be able to tell the House that the concerns expressed here so well by noble Lords on these Benches and on those opposite have been very fully addressed in another place. Your Lordships will recall that my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate said in Committee that the Government were considering what action to take. Subsequently, I promised the House on Report that the Government would bring forward amendments during the passage of the Bill to deal with the problem of IDOs; and, after a widespread consultation exercise, my right honourable friend Sir George Young announced the Government's proposals on 1st May. Amendments Nos. 46 and 134 (101 and 188 for Scotland) give effect to those proposals.

First, the Bill now provides that landowners or mineral owners with an IDO permission who wish to apply to the mineral planning authority to have their permissions registered must do so within six months of commencement of these provisions, or the permission will fall without compensation. Disputes over the validity of permissions will be determined by the Secretary of State. This will get the records straight and ensure that the extent and terms of IDO permissions are known.

Secondly, once it has been determined that there is a valid IDO permission, either by the MPA or on appeal, the holder must—within 12 months of that determination, or such longer period as may have been agreed with the MPA—submit a scheme of operating and restoration conditions for the MPA's approval, or the permission will cease to have effect. This will get active sites up to standard.

In response to concerns expressed that the time period for registration and submission of schemes set out in our consultation paper was too short, we have provided for longer time periods and separated the two processes. There will be six months from commencement instead of four to submit applications for registration. As the time period is now public knowledge, applicants will in practice have a much longer period. There will be a full year from the date the permission is registered for the submission of schemes. Indeed we have built in extra flexibility by providing that that period can be extended if the MPA agrees. This should provide a reasonable length of time for the industry to prepare itself and the flexibility to ensure that the system is not overloaded.

Thirdly, in the case of dormant sites, that is sites where there had been no working to any substantial extent for a period of two years preceding 1st May 1991, operations cannot recommence until the permission has been determined as valid and a scheme of operating and restoration conditions has been approved. This is an important proposal which meets many of the concerns expressed about the reactivation of IDO permissions on environmentally sensitive sites. There will be no compensation for the cost of complying with any conditions imposed. But there is provision for appeal to the Secretary of State against the imposition of unreasonable conditions, and for the Secretary of State to call in an application for his own determination.

I know that the industry has expressed concerns about some aspects of our proposals and is worried about the effect on asset values. The minerals industry is very important to the nation. Without the raw materials it supplies, the country would have no houses, no roads and hospitals. But the nature of the industry is that many of the operations go on for a long period of time. It is essential therefore that it keeps pace with the latest environmental standards. It must demonstrate its commitment to high environmental standards across the board if it is to win the future planning permissions necessary to meet demand. I welcome the assurances that representatives of the industry have already given on this point.

Nevertheless, throughout the debates on IDOs, we have drawn a distinction between expropriation of the asset and working the asset in a way which meets modern conditions. We have made it clear that we shall issue full guidance on the preparation of schemes and model conditions and we are already discussing this guidance with representatives of the industry and MPAs with a view to publishing a draft for public consultation in September. That guidance will give clear advice to MPAs that, in the case of working sites, they should draw a distinction between, on the one hand, conditions which deal with the environmental and amenity aspects of working the site, which would not affect the asset value, and on the other hand, conditions which would fundamentally affect the economic structure of the operation. Conditions which would significantly affect the asset value would be more appropriate for MPAs' reviews under the provisions introduced by the Minerals Act 1981.

Full modern conditions will be appropriate to truly dormant sites—that is, where no working has taken place for a number of years—and will generally be appropriate to large areas of unworked land covered by otherwise active permissions. However, I know that my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, who spoke to me prior to the consideration of the Commons amendments, is concerned about sites which have been recently mothballed for operational and economic reasons. Clearly the type of conditions that will be appropriate in any particular case will depend on the nature and extent of the working that has already taken place. We shall advise MPAs that where an applicant can demonstrate that an otherwise dormant permission has been active in recent years and that operations have been only temporarily suspended, they should consider the extent to which the imposition of full modern conditions would fundamentally affect the developer's ability to work the site in the future, and to apply a degree of flexibility.

These amendments will ensure that in a relatively short period of time the details of all valid IDO permissions will be known, that these permissions are brought up to an acceptable standard, and that dormant sites cannot be reactivated without warning and without proper conditions. This will bring IDOs within the embrace of a modern planning system.

But, that is just the first step. As was made clear in the response to my department's consultation exercise on IDOs and in debates in both Houses of Parliament, permissions for mineral working granted in the 1950s and 1960s may also have conditions attached which fail to meet today's standards. With regard to these permissions, or indeed to any minerals permissions which are now unsatisfactory, MPAs have existing powers to take action, including powers to prohibit the resumption of mineral working where a site has been inactive for several years. They have a duty to review mineral working sites in their area and to make such orders as they consider appropriate updating those sites to modern standards. However, there is no time limit on the reviews, and orders can give rise to compensation. Progress has not been as fast as we would have hoped.

We therefore announced in the environment White Paper our intention to review MPAs' existing powers to take action to see whether any changes are necessary. That review is underway and that review is the rig:-it place to consider the problems of 1950s' and 1960s' permissions, whether active or dormant. We hope to consult on our proposals next year. I can assure your Lordships that we attach high priority to completing the review and we regard it as essential that any changes arising out of the review can be implemented quickly.

To that effect Amendments Nos. 121 to 124 provide a power for the Secretary of State to prescribe by order the periods in which MPAs must carry out their duty to review sites and the matters to be covered in such reviews. Amendments Nos. 181 to 184 make similar provision for Scotland. Amendments Nos. 125 to 128 and 130 to 133 replace the existing powers to make regulations abating compensation in relation to the winning and working of minerals, and those originally proposed in the Bill in relation to the depositing of mineral waste, with a single order making power to provide for the abatement of compensation following orders updating permissions for the winning and working of minerals or the depositing of minerals waste.

The amendments also remove the existing restrictions in Schedule 11 to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 on the circumstances in which and the amount by which compensation may be abated, providing instead for the amount of abatement and the circumstances in which compensation can be abated to be set out in the regulations themselves. Regulations will be subject to consultation and to affirmative resolution in both Houses, and the existing provisions will be retained until the review has been completed and there has been consultation on any change3. Amendments Nos. 179, 181, 186 and 187 make similar provision for Scotland. Amendments Nos. 45, 264 to 266 and 268, and for Scotland Amendments Nos. 100, 283, 284 and 286, are consequential.

The Bill now contains a comprehensive package of measures which demonstrates the Government's commitment to raising environmental standards in the mineral s industry. Taken together they will ensure that there is a rigorous framework in place to enable all old minerals permissions to be brought up to an acceptable standard over the next decade. These are tough proposals but I believe that they are in the long-term interests of the industry and local communities.

I beg to move that this House do agree with the Commons in the said amendments.

Moved, That this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 45 and 46.—(Baroness Blatch.)

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Blatch for her explanation of the new proposals which the clause contains. I think that they will be understood and accepted by the industry, even if not welcomed with open arms exactly, for reasons which my noble friend will understand. I must declare an interest as I work for a company which is one of the largest quarry operators and aggregate producers, ARC. The recognition of the effect upon the asset value of the relevant dormant sites which is addressed by these proposed changes, with which my noble friend dealt, is generally to be welcomed, because there would have been serious effects upon operators if the asset value issue had not been recognised. I am grateful to my noble friend for confirming the position as concerns consultation with industry and to know that that consultation process should be completed by September and, if I understood my noble friend correctly, that the appropriate guidance will be issued.

I am also grateful to her for stating that to a considerable extent the matter of sites which may form part of another site and which are temporarily taken out of use and mothballed for economic reasons is also recognised.

I am sure that she made the point, although I shall have to study carefully what she said in the Official Report, that there is a recognition that the two-year cut-off point, while in general being accepted by industry, is somewhat different when it comes to the mothballed sites. Operations there may have been taken out of effect for economic reasons. Under the Bill, if I understand it rightly, the provision would not be interpreted under the MPA reviews as applicable under the Minerals Act 1981. I believe that my noble friend has given an assurance on that point, but I wish to study carefully what she said because she will recognise the clear concerns of the industry on the matter. If she is able to give further reassurance on that point I should be grateful, but I welcome the remarks that she made.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, interim development orders or old mining permissions, as Amendment No. 46 and the rest of the enormous block of amendments call them, have been a blot on the landscape for far too long. As my noble friend said, they have caused concern in all stages of the Bill, not only in this House but in another place. Quarries, for example, are capable of extension or even subject to new construction —if that is the correct word—under permissions granted as far back as 1948 which have been forgotten by local people and even in some cases the planning authorities themselves which granted the permissions. That fact means that in recent years, quite rightly, there has been a great public outcry.

I hope that the whole House will agree with me that the Government have taken a giant step in the right direction in moving this series of amendments. I was interested, as the House will be, in what my noble friend said from his viewpoint about the subject.

However, I have one or two anxieties. My noble friend has briefly told us what will happen between the end of the first six months when applications are due and the end of the following 18 months when they are either confirmed and put on a proper recorded basis or denied. But one of my worries is whether the planning authorities or the department have enough records to ensure that they will be able to reject applications that have no basis in reality. The other side of the coin is that they will grant them where a record is supplied by the firm but not recorded by the local minerals planning authority. I hope that my noble friend will be able to answer these potentially serious questions when she comes to reply.

Having carried out a little research, I understand that a belief that an IDO was granted in the past will be sufficient reason for an application to be filled out and sent to the minerals planning authority. However, the proof will be in the mineral plans held by the authority. Thus I see a potential difficulty if there is a piece of paper, for example, from ARC, which my noble friend talked about, which proves that a permission was given in the past which is not in the local plan.

Although there is a potential difficulty—and I do not believe anyone pretends that this attempt at regulation and at restoring the position to what it should have been under the 1947 Act will be easy—the Government are to be congratulated on making this serious attempt to improve matters.

Lord Norrie

My Lords, perhaps we may turn from quarrying to peat extraction for a moment. I should be grateful if the Minister could clarify some points. Can she confirm that the principal Act, as amended by Commons Amendment No. 121, allows for periodic review by planning authorities of planning permission for peat extraction? How often would she expect such reviews to take place? Can she also give the assurance that she will look urgently into the two cases of Thorne and Hatfield Moors? Will the Government be prepared to assist the minerals planning authority, which may be sympathetic to the idea of revoking planning permission for these sites? The amount of compensation required to do this may well be beyond the means of the authority. Would the amendments to the Bill, including Commons Amendment No. 125, facilitate such a process?

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I wish to speak briefly to the two amendments which the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, has mentioned. First, I welcome the series of amendments which I believe will do an extremely useful job. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships of the importance of the peatlands in Great Britain. Most of our peatlands are of international importance, particularly the lowland raised mires, which are now in great danger because of old planning permissions which in many cases have been outstanding since the 1950s and in some cases earlier. It is very important indeed that they should be the subject of review, together with other mineral workings.

I know that the peat industry has given assurances in relation to sites of special scientific interest, but these sites can be severely damaged if the surrounding area is extracted in an unsympathetic way. The noble Lord, Lord Norrie, mentioned Thorne and Hatfield Moors. These were dug out by Fisons under a licence granted in 1951. The company used traditional hand cutting methods until the mid-1960s. However, I understand that it is now going back over those workings again with the new modern methods and stripping the moors to the bone. When that is done, the wildlife interest, not only of the bogs which are being stripped but of all the surrounding area, is severely damaged.

The peatlands campaign consortium, which comprises most of the conservation bodies in this country, is concerned that the peat extraction licences should also be subject to review and that where it is necessary for a local planning authority to give compensation, the Government should be sympathetic when the time comes. I hope that when the Minister answers the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, she will be able either to give a sympathetic answer or to promise that the matter will be looked at a little further.

5 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I am sure that the Government are wise to have dealt with this old and complex problem in the way that is proposed in the Bill. I should like also to refer to Amendment No. 121 and to ask my noble friend about the periodic reviews. As I understand it, the mineral planning authority will decide the length of period after which those reviews are to take place and it could make the intervals very lengthy. I hope that my noble friend can give us an idea of how long it is envisaged the intervals will be. It may be that in this complicated mass of amendments of the existing law there will be some opportunity for the Department of the Environment, or perhaps the Department of Energy, to ensure that the reviews take place with reasonable frequency.

The issue impinges upon the question of coal mining subsidence about which we had some discussion in the House last week. But that is not within my noble friend's responsibility and we shall come to the Third Reading of that Bill quite soon. However, in relation to mining subsidence, the Department of Energy does not seem to show quite the environmental sensitivity that the Department of the Environment shows on all other matters.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am afraid that we are back to modified rapture on these amendments. Much simpler and more far-reaching amendments which had been proposed were rejected in favour of what must be seen as a compromise. The Minister gave a long and comprehensive explanation of the amendments. I cannot claim to have followed everything that she said, although, if I understood her correctly, she promised fairly speedy implementation of the provisions and fairly speedy provision of draft guidance. I welcome what she said about draft guidance being available in September.

The critical point that must be resolved before we can be satisfied that the change goes far enough in the right direction is the issue of compensation. A review of the Minerals Act 1981 is taking place, but I do not think that mineral planning authorities will be satisfied that their position on compensation is clear until the review has been completed and incorporated in all the subsequent action that will be required as part of these amendments. Sir George Young, who is to be congratulated on the part that he played in the matter, distinguished between what would be reasonable conditions for the working of those rights and what he called expropriation of the asset. The trouble is that in many cases some of the working that would be permitted by interim development orders is totally unacceptable, regardless of the working conditions. We were therefore bound to find ourselves with expropriation of the asset. That will continue to concern mineral planning authorities until they are satisfied that they can do what is environmentally necessary without running the risk of exorbitant compensation.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, again I am grateful for the qualified welcome for these amendments. I can give ray noble friend Lord Glenarthur the assurance that I, e seeks regarding his point about multiple sites. We are looking at the terms of the guidance concerning types of conditions and different types of sites. Those issues will be addressed and there will be full public consultation which will include the industry.

My noble friend Lord Skelmersdale questioned how we shall deal with spurious claims to register IDO permissions. The amendments provide that only owners, tenants and persons with an interest in the minerals may apply to register a permission. They must certify that they have notified any other owner when applying to the mineral planning authority. The mineral planning authority must be satisfied that there is a valid permission or the application will be refused and disputes will be determined by the Secretary of State. The guidance that we propose to issue will spell out the procedures and advice on the evidence to be submitted with applications. We hope to consult on the guidance in September, as has already been said. As regards the absence of records, the purpose of registration is to get the records straight. If no application is made within the six-month period, the permissions will fall.

My noble friends Lord Norrie and Lord Renton and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, were all concerned about peat extraction. The Government fully recognise the desirability of conserving peatlands and are actively considering the ways and means of resolving the apparent conflict between peat extraction and major conservation issues. Officials have held extensive discussions with interested parties in the public and private sectors, including conservation bodies and the Peat Producers Association, which represents the majority of the companies involved in peat extraction. We hope to develop a common understanding of the problems and an agreed approach for future policy development. Our broader review of the provisions of the Minerals Act 1981, which has also been of concern to your Lordships, and the provisions that we have introduced in the Bill to ensure that the outcome of that review can be implemented quickly will deal with the issue of compensation and provide a sound planning framework for dealing with those problems.

Amendment No. 121 applies to all mineral working, including peat. It enables us to implement the outcome of our review of the 1981 Act quickly. We shall consider the correct period, which was a concern to my noble friend Lord Renton, for reviews to be carried out by the MPAs as part of our review of the Act. We cannot pre-empt the outcome of the review, but we hope to consult on proposals next year. With regard to the point raised by my noble friend Lord Renton, MPAs are currently under a duty to carry out reviews, but there is no time limit. Amendments Nos. 121 and 124 allow us to prescribe a time limit. We shall therefore look at whether we should prescribe time periods and what they should he as part of our general review.

Lord Renton

My Lords, my noble friend referred to Amendment No. 124, but the provision is not absolutely express there. It states: If regulations so require, the reviews shall be undertaken at prescribed intervals and shall cover such matters as may be prescribed". Does that mean that, when making regulations, the Secretary of State shall say how often the reviews shall take place?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my noble friend's interpretation is right. There is at present a power to review, but there is no power to prescribe periods between reviews. That will now be a power for the Secretary of State. It will be a judgment as to specifically what that time limit should be, but the power is enshrined in Amendment No. 124.

On the point about compensation made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, the distinction between the type of conditions will be covered in guidance. We shall look at the question of restricting working rights and compensation in our review of the 1981 Act and we shall consult, but we shall always make it clear that we shall not expropriate assets as part of IDO amendments.

Perhaps I may now turn briefly to Scotland. The available information on IDO permissions suggests that they are rare in Scotland and, to my knowledge, no representations for urgent change have been made. Nevertheless, we believe that it is prudent to take equivalent powers in Scotland so that they may be used to control troublesome IDO permissions, should they surface. A letter has been sent to all Scottish planning authorities and the minerals industry explaining the provisions added to the Bill and seeking to improve the available information on IDOs in Scotland. The provisions will not be commenced in Scotland until that further survey is completed.

On Question, Motion agreed to.