HL Deb 21 June 1995 vol 565 cc272-4

3.1 p.m.

Lord Norrie asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why they decided not to call in the planning application for further mineral extraction at Swinden Quarry in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, our approach is not to interfere with the jurisdiction of local planning authorities unless it is necessary to do so. The Secretary of State for the Environment will therefore be selective about calling in applications for his determination and will, in general, take that step only if planning issues of more than local importance are involved.

I can assure your Lordships that the decision on whether to call in the application to extend Swindon Quarry, given the site's location in a national park, was taken only after the most careful scrutiny. It was decided on the basis of the information before us that the application did not raise issues of more than local importance.

Lord Norrie

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he recall that during our debates on the Environment Bill I tabled amendments with cross-party support to incorporate a statutory test? That test would ensure that major development would not be allowed in national parks unless there was either an overriding national need or there was no suitable alternative location. Does he also recall that my noble friend Lord Ullswater assured me that a statutory test was not necessary as the issue of national need and alternative location was covered by Planning Policy Guidance Note No. 7? Therefore, can the Minister confirm that that government policy still stands? If so, can he elaborate on why the Secretary of State did not call in this particular application?

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, the most important point to make to my noble friend is that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State did not call in the application because in his view the proposal, which was the extension of an existing site—by deepening rather than widening the site—did not constitute a major development. Nor did my right honourable friend consider that the application raised issues of regional or national significance. I stress to my noble friend that the Government's policy remains, as set out in PPG 7, that major development should not take place in national parks save in exceptional circumstances.

My noble friend also asked whether the statutory test that he proposed during our debates on the Environment Bill might be considered further. We do not accept that the policy for major developments in national parks is so special as to justify policy duplication in statute. Planning decisions involve judgment. Putting a planning test in statute will not make it any more or less likely that some people will disagree with particular decisions.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a 100-metre deep hole is being dug in a national park in order to produce high quality limestone, 96 per cent. of which is merely going into aggregate? Is that worth while? Is it not a real abuse of the procedures, and will the Government do something about it?

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, there has been a quarry on the site for the best part of 100 years. Therefore, the proposal—for the quarry to be deepened rather than widened—is not quite as controversial as the noble Lord suggests. The aggregate from the quarry can be manufactured to a very high quality aggregate suitable for high specifications. It is also appropriate for local use.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, is it not seriously wrong to suggest that a development that will lead to another 26 years of excavation in a national park which is of national importance, involving something like 37 million tones of aggregate, is a local matter?

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, national parks in themselves arc a national matter, but not all activities in national parks become national matters. I point out to the noble Baroness that the new proposal before the national park authority will lead to significant benefits. There will be a reduction in road traffic, an increase in the amount of material sent out by rail, a ban on night road haulage movements and relocation of unsightly buildings.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, will my noble friend continue to keep in mind the importance of industry and employment in the countryside, which are just as important as anywhere else? Secondly, since the quarry is already open, will he bear in mind that the standard of restoration is now very high and enables what would have been an eyesore to be transformed into good restored countryside in the end?

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, I agree with those points.