HL Deb 14 December 1998 vol 595 cc1201-5

9.41 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) rose to move, That the order laid before the House on 25th November be approved [2nd Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I begin by recording my sincere appreciation for the opportunity to address your Lordships in the House for the first time. Planning matters are not part of my portfolio but, because of the importance of the minerals industry, I have taken an interest arising from my business responsibilities.

I wish to set out briefly to your Lordships the effect of two sets of regulations for Scotland, both of which pertain to minerals development. Equivalent regulations are already in force in England and Wales.

First, the Town and Country Planning (Minerals) (Scotland) Regulations are technical and non-controversial, updating existing regulations which date from 1971. Statute has long recognised that minerals development is different from other types of development. Successive planning Acts have contained a power enabling regulations to be made that modify provisions in primary planning legislation, relating to development consisting of the winning and working of minerals.

The Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 contains a number of provisions which either apply to developments which involve the use of land, or apply exclusively to operational development. The nature of mineral development is such that it does not fit exclusively into either category. While the winning and working of minerals is regarded as operational development, the depositing of mineral waste is regarded as a use of land.

The purpose of the regulations is, therefore, to prescribe how the relevant provisions of the 1997 Act, relating to use of land, apply to mining operations. The regulations update the statutory references in the 1971 regulations and repeal, by omission, those provisions which are now redundant.

The regulations do not, with one exception, contain any substantive change in policy or effect. The exception is the repeal of regulation 5 of the 1971 regulations. That provided that in relation to mining operations an enforcement notice for breach of planning conditions or limitations could be served within four years of the non-compliance with planning controls coming to the notice of the planning authority. The repeal of Regulation 5 means that the time limits for enforcement action in respect of a breach of planning control set out in Section 124 of the 1997 Act will now apply unmodified to minerals development. In effect, this means that enforcement action can be taken at any point up to four years after the operations were substantially completed. That is also consistent with the principle of the arrangements in Section 74 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997, which makes provision for the periodic review of all old mineral planning permissions.

I now turn to the Town and Country Planning (Compensation for Restrictions on Mineral Working and Mineral Waste Depositing) (Scotland) Regulations. As the regulations are technical, it may be for the convenience of the House if I do not go into a great deal of explanatory detail.

The regulations update, replace and simplify the existing regulations which date from 1987. They update the compensation arrangements which apply when a planning authority exercises its powers to revoke, modify, suspend, prohibit or discontinue mineral working. The arrangements in the existing 1987 regulations are inconsistent with those which apply under a scheme originally introduced by the Environment Act 1995 for the periodic review and updating of old mineral permissions.

All modern mineral permissions have operating and restoration conditions attached to ensure that operators meet modern environmental standards. Most old permissions have inadequate operating and restoration conditions.

The Environment Act 1995 required mineral permissions to be reviewed and updated periodically. The Act provided for compensation to be paid to owners and operators only where new conditions, other than restoration and aftercare conditions, restricts the working rights. That ensures a level playing field between old and new permissions.

However, periodic reviews take place only every 15 years and planning authorities may need to use their existing order-making powers to take action in urgent cases between statutory reviews.

The current 1987 compensation regulations provide for compensation to be paid where an order modifies any existing planning condition, although the amount of compensation can be abated in certain circumstances.

The new regulations will ensure that compensation entitlements following orders are consistent with those applicable at the time of periodic reviews as introduced in the Environment Act 1995. As such, they are consistent with the existing statutory framework and do not introduce further policy changes.

Both sets of regulations have received the consent of the Treasury. They have been the subject of consultation in Scotland with all those with an interest and there was widespread support for their effect. The regulations represent a useful and timely modernisation of the planning controls over minerals development in Scotland. I beg to move.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 25th November be approved [Second Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston.)

9.45 p.m.

The Earl of Courtown

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, for his excellent explanation of the regulations and I congratulate him on his fine maiden speech. We must not forget the noble Lord's major contribution to the shipbuilding industry on the Clyde, nor the great commitment that he has shown to STV and the Scottish media. What is less well known is the noble Lord's dedicated and sympathetic support for the Gaelic College in Skye, the library of which has benefited from his generosity.

I must apologise to the noble Lord because although before the debate I warned him of some of the questions that I was going to ask, another has just come to mind.

Will the regulations have any impact on the application for the super-quarry on Skye? Can the Minister say when that decision will be made? If the noble Lord would prefer to answer that in writing, I should very much appreciate that.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, on his slightly unheralded or covert maiden speech. I welcome him as the 11th noble Lord from Scotland to become a Member of this House since the general election.

I should declare the fact that I have a possible pecuniary interest in an opencast colliery development and also that I shall be living next door to it as well as being surrounded by four nodding donkeys from a coalbed methane project. I have also become a member of the Scottish Environmental Education Council.

These regulations are welcome. They certainly tidy up issues which have developed from the reviews of the older mineral commissions within the context of increased environmental protection requirements and expectations of enhanced reinstatement.

The second regulation clarifies the availability and extent of compensation, sorting out problems currently found between mineral operators and local authorities who are taking part in the review process. The order certainly spells out exactly what compensation can be claimed. I am sure that both sets of regulations will resolve the issues of use, modification, discontinuance, resumption and suspension of commissions. The inclusion of the huge piles of temporary waste will be very necessary and helpful.

At the end of the day success in these issues will depend on getting the balance right between efficient mineral extraction, which is a necessary activity within our economy producing raw materials and fuels, and achieving ever higher standards of environmental protection during the working phase and in the reinstatement phase afterwards.

It is certainly a big issue in the wee county of Clackmannan where there are many opencast mines and quarries in operation and in embryo. That is despite Clackmannanshire being the smallest county in the United Kingdom. But living in the immediate vicinity of a quarry or opencast mine can never be inconsequential for those who have to do so. Every effort should be made to mitigate the effects. I hope that these regulations will contribute towards that.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas

My Lords, may I from the Back Benches issue a word of welcome to the new Minister and congratulate him warmly on these orders. I should mention that my brother's companies have had an interest in mineral rights and the company of which I am unpaid director has had in the past, and it is not impossible it might have in the future. There would be considerable interest if the Minister could say something about the current situation of the Glensanda quarry in the Western Isles because a great many people have a general interest in that subject, especially the islanders of the Western Isles.

I congratulate the Minister on a very positive first performance. We look forward to many more contributions from him in the future.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, for his kind remarks. I shall certainly bear in mind what he said about the quarry in Harris. I am advised that the situation is that it is not appropriate to connect the super-quarry with this legislation. The Secretary of State will be able to advise as soon as he himself receives the reporter's final submissions on this matter. I thank the noble Earl also for his comments about my contribution to the Gaelic college in Skye. The contributions would have been scarcely possible without the good offices of the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk of Douglas. I also bear his comments in mind.

I turn to the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie. The regulations do not impinge in any significant way on the current policy review on opencast coal. Consultations on the consultative draft new policy guidance for opencast coal ended on 11th December. The responses are currently being considered and the conclusions will be announced in due course.

I take the point made earlier by the noble Earl. I hope that he will accept that this legislation is very similar to that already in place in England and Wales and that it has been consulted upon very widely in Scotland with local authorities, industry and other interested parties. Indeed, we received 34 responses in total and the vast majority of those responding confirmed that they were content with what was proposed. Although a number of technical points were made, they did not necessitate the regulations being amended. Therefore, as the provisions are working well in England and Wales, I hope that the noble Earl will accept that there is no reason why the situation should be different in Scotland. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.