HC Deb 23 February 1984 vol 54 cc618-9W
Mr. Squire

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the transfer to local authorities of planning responsibility for National Coal Board opencast coal sites.

Mr. Giles Shaw

At present, the NCB applies to the Secretary of State for Energy for authorisation of opencast coal sites under section 1 of the Opencast Coal Act 1958 and for deemed planning permission under section 2. The White Paper "Coal and the Environment"—Cmnd. 8877 — made clear the Government's intention to transfer responsibility for deciding NCB opencast coal applications from the Secretary of State for Energy to local authorities This will provide local authorities with increased opportunities to influence the choice of opencast sites in the forward programme of the NCB and to ensure that account can be taken of planning considerations relevant to their areas.

It is the Government's intention to effect this transfer by legislating to bring NCB opencast applications within the normal minerals planning machinery. The role of my Department in authorising opencast applications will then cease. Thereafter all opencast coal applications will be determined by mineral planning authorities — or in Scotland normally by district or general planning authorities — with appeals and call-ins of applications decided by the Secretaries of State for the Environment, Scotland or Wales, as appropriate. Consultations will take place shortly on the Government's legislative proposals. The objective will be to bring NCB opencast planning procedures as far as possible into line with those for other minerals, including licensed opencast coal working.

In the meantime, following consultations with the local authority associations, the NCB and other interested parties, the Government are to introduce transitional arrangements as from 1 March 1984. These will enable local authorities to determine as far as practicable all applications for opencast sites until the necessary amending legislation is enacted. Under these arrangements, the NCB will submit an application for planning permission to the local planning authority. In England and Wales the application will then be passed to the mineral planning authority for determination. In Scotland, planning applications, including those relating to minerals, are normally submitted to and determined by the district or general planning authority. If planning permission is granted, the NCB will then apply to the Secretaries of State for the Environment, Scotland or Wales, as appropriate, for an authorisation under section 1 of the Opencast Coal Act 1958. This will normally be granted unless there are outstanding objections as defined in paragraph 7 of schedule 1 to the Opencast Coal Act 1958, in which case a public inquiry will need to be held.

If planning permission is refused or the conditions are considered unacceptable by the NCB, the board will need to decide whether to appeal to the relevant Secretary of State, under either section 36 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 or section 33 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972. Should the NCB decide to appeal, it will at the same time apply for an authorisation. This will enable concurrent public inquiries to be held into the appeal against the refusal of planning permission—or against the conditions — and into any remaining statutory objections against the application for authorisation. The two applications will then be decided by the relevant Secretary of State in the light of the report of the inspector or reporter, as appropriate, and after consultation with my Department.

Full details of the transitional arrangements, together with further guidance on opencast working, will be issued to local authorities and the industry shortly by my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for the Environment, Scotland and Wales.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will shortly put before Parliament proposals in relation to the security of tenure of agricultural tenants on new NCB opencast sites. Such tenants are at present provided with protection under the Opencast Coal Act 1958. My right hon. Friend's proposals would ensure the continuance of that security of tenure which would otherwise be removed whenever normal planning permission is granted under the transitional arrangements.

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