§ Mr. Ron Davies
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will issue guidance to planning authorities which would highlight the importance of refusal of planning permission for the extraction of peat from sites of special scientific interest.
§ Mr. Atkins
Local authorities have to reach decisions on individual planning applications on their merits, having due regard to all relevant material considerations. "Material considerations" include relevant national 189W policies, such as the protection of designated sites of special scientific interest. The Department of the Environment's existing guidance in circular 27/87 "Nature Conservation" and minerals planning guidance note 2 requires that proposals for the extraction of peat and other minerals from SSSIs should be subject to the most rigorous examination, in which the need for the mineral has to be balanced against environmental considerations. The Government are giving further consideration to the issues raised by peat extraction and nature conservation, and this includes whether there is a need for further advice.
I also welcome the agreement reached recently between the Nature Conservancy Council and the Peat Producers Association whereby, pending an agreed peatland strategy, members of the association will not make any planning applications to work existing or proposed peatland SSSIs without the prior agreement of the NCC.