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Column 207Question accordingly negatived.
(c) in paragraph (c) after the word "tonnes" there shall be inserted "except that no operation shall proceed where the land was included in Acts of Enclosure which were enacted prior to 1840 and is currently devoted to agriculture, forestry or recreational purposes.".'.
Mr. Speaker : With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments : No. 5, in page 2, line 27, at end insert (c) in paragraph (c) after "tonnes", there shall be inserted "and when undertakings have been made by the operators for the restoration of the land affected by the working of coal or by operations incidental to such working.".'.
No. 1, in page 2, line 27, at end insert--
(1A) After subsection (2) of that section there shall be inserted--
"(2AA) Applicants for a licence under subsection 2(c) above shall undertake to deposit a bond, with the relevant local authority, sufficient to cover the costs of the restoration of land affected by operations under that licence as estimated by that local authority.".'.
Mr. Dobson : This group of amendments is intended to ensure that the activities of private opencast operators are brought up to the standards of the opencast operations of British Coal. That does not mean that we think that British Coal's opencast operations are necessarily as good as they should be.
Amendment No. 4 is a shrewd amendment, which was originally tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy). It relates to the enclosure Acts, many of which specified that when common land was enclosed hedgerows should be established and then maintained in perpetuity. My hon. Friend will explain at greater length that, although that legislation is still in force, regrettably--even under the present law-and-order Government--it is not enforced. Amendment No. 4 seeks to offer protection wherever there is a threat of opencasting.
I am reminded of a piece of doggerel that was popular at about the time of the Enclosure Acts, which my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) will recall, as may other right hon. and hon. Members :
"The fault is great in man or woman
Who steals a goose from off a common.
But what can plead the man's excuse
Who steals the common from the goose?"
Common land is now enclosed only because hedges were erected around it--and if they are required to be removed, eventually they should be replaced.
We argue that private operators of opencast sites should not be allowed to expand the scale of their operations from 25,000 tonnes to 250,000 tonnes, but if the Government persist in increasing the maximum take tenfold, there should be a substantial improvement also in the protection given to local communities, to match the operators' degree of exploitation.
There is no doubt that further protection is needed. Over the years, many reports have illustrated the problems created by licensed opencast sites. One of the most thorough--albeit that it is now somewhat old, having been
Column 208published in 1984--was that produced by the minerals and reclamation group of the County Planning Officers Society. It describes problems that confronted its members and local communities in no fewer than six counties. The report runs to 17 pages, and its contents should be noted.
One of the problems that the report reveals is that operators do not observe conditions of operation, nor do they fulfil their obligations to restore an opencast site when their work is finished. Amendments Nos. 1 and 5 require operators to enter into an agreement to meet certain conditions. Also, after an operator has sought and obtained planning consent, the planning authority will secure a bond to cover the cost of the required restoration work. If the operator does not honour its obligations, the county council will have the funds to undertake the necessary work in default, at the operator's expense. That is only right and proper.
The planning officers' report lists numerous examples of conditions not being fulfilled. In one case, a condition restricting the height of the overburden mound was disregarded. The mound was too high and caused a nuisance to local people. A condition restricting the noise emanating from the site was also disregarded, causing trouble to local people.
The report cites an example of the shady behaviour of which operators are capable. At another site, an operator
"was unable to comply with agreed working scheme because of the cost of replacing overburden in worked out area."
The planning authority was virtually blackmailed into granting additional planning consent for another area of opencasting, so that the operator could finance the restoration work required at the first site. That approach is typical.
The report describes flooding in a village adjacent to an opencast site in another county because of inadequate drainage. At the same site,
"non-compliance with approved time period and phased working scheme caused greater disruption in the area than necessary, and lasted longer than necessary."
On a different site in the same county, a condition to protect the stability of the highway and road safety by providing a 40 ft safeguarding strip alongside the highway boundary was disregarded. Instead, extraction took place right up to the highway boundary, which undermined the highway itself.
At another site, consent was given for only 18 months' working. The report observes :
"Slow rate of working because contractors kept diverting' machinery to sites which they considered more urgent"--
and which presumably paid better. On that 52-acre site, the operator won about 40,000 tonnes of coal over seven years--but the neighbouring community had to pay a big price for that.
As to the original amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for the Member for Wentworth, the report gives another example of an operator being provided with a detailed working plan and conditions relating to the safeguarding of hedges--but removing the hedges and then applying for retrospective planning consent to do so. Meanwhile, severe damage was caused to the landscape.
My final example relates to a site that was inadequately restored because the operator went bust. If the operator had been required to lodge a bond with the county council, money would have been available to complete the restoration. As it was, the council was left to decide
Column 209whether to use the money of its ratepayers-- soon, poll tax payers--to compensate for the fiddles perpetrated by the private operator. I notified the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) of my intention to mention a site in his constituency, which he may recognise from the photographs that I have. I refer to the Rope walk north site worked by United Mining Ltd. which won 18,265 tonnes between June and August 1987. The photograph was taken in December 1989 and shows that the promised restoration work had still not been undertaken. It may be that it was completed over Christmas and in the new year, but that seems unlikely. That is another example of things going wrong in the east midlands because an operator failed to comply with its original undertaking or with the planning authority's conditions.
Other examples are to be found in the report, "Opencast--casting a shadow", published in 1989 by the Durham Area Miners Support Group. The chapter on private opencasting is entitled, "Licence to make a killing?". That is certainly what some operators have been doing. In Northumberland, R and A Young was working both the Jacks Law extension and Wandylaw moor sites under two licences so that that company could keep within the tonnage limit.
Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham) : The company that my hon. Friend mentioned is considering submitting an application for a further site in my constituency. The life of that site will probably be 30 years. The initial application for a site at Gassop near Bowburn in Durham is for opencasting for three years and drift mining for 26 years. The opencast mine will probably be expected to last even longer than that. It is appalling to have such an application in an area of landscape beauty and scientific interest. How will the amendment prevent companies such as R and A Young from exploiting the countryside in my constituency and making life miserable for many people? If its application were to be accepted, life around Bowburn would be unbearable for 30 years.
Mr. Dobson : I understand perfectly what my hon. Friend is saying. As was explained in Committee, opencast sites are a great menace, not only on environmental grounds but because they are a threat to health with the dust that blows from them. There is little evidence that private contractors are willing to comply with any conditions that anyone may seek to place upon them. If my hon. Friend's constituency is of such outstanding natural beauty, but without the capital letters at the beginning of each word, it is probably best if the county council turns down the application. If the company then wants to appeal to the Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member who has moved from being the coal Minister to being the appropriate Minister at the Department of the Environment will give close attention to that application. We must recognise that the position is grotesquely unsatisfactory.
Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale) : I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that the Government have weakened the planning powers of local authorities to refuse permission on environmental grounds. Local authorities are now told to take the financial aspects into consideration--that means the commercial interests of those making the
Column 210application for opencasting. That is weakening the powers of local authorities and creating havoc for the local communities.
Mr. Dobson : That is certainly the case. Ministers say that they are green ; indeed, they are practically coming into the House wearing green suits. However, they have not withdrawn any of the ludicrous circulars that were issued when the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) was the Secretary of State for the Environment. He basically said, "If any rich Tories in business want to make a planning application, it will be granted." That is a rough summary of the circulars that he issued.
Mr. Dobson : As my hon. Friend points out, there was a caveat that that should not apply to an application for building development within the view of the former Secretary of State's house. There were obviously certain special considerations from time to time.
Mr. Dobson : Yes, they are snide remarks. However, it is humbug--the only description I can use in the House--for a Secretary of State to go around the country saying, "You must give up your view and put up with noise and filth for the sake of other people having homes or for the sake of the country's industrial development--but that does not apply to a planning application near my house."
On the problems of small operators in opencasting, the report from the Durham Area Miners Support Group says :
"As private operators tend to apply for smaller pockets of coal which can be worked relatively quickly, they claim that their operations are only temporary."
However, once operators have started on a site and obtained permission to work on it, they return and make further applications for work in adjoining or adjacent areas. That has proved a useful way of sidestepping the 25,000 tonnes licensing limit. In future, they will make multiple applications for 250,000 tonnes. They will do it in the same way, but on a much larger scale.
One operator in the north-east applied for four changes to the conditions, including to be
"allowed to run the washery on the site on a 24-hour basis" which was noisy. It also asked to be
"allowed to destroy a belt of trees which in their original application they had argued would be left as it added interest to the landscape while the site was recovering."
It took the trees some time to recover as they were chopped down. There is little sign that they are restored to their former health. Sites have been left unrestored for years.
I shall cite an example to justify our proposal for introducing a requirement for applicants to place a bond with the county council. At present, they can be required by British Coal to place a bond with British Coal, but that does not necessarily do the trick because British Coal's relationship with those people is not just to do with the environment. In Durham, the county council asked British Coal to invoke a bond. British Coal duly informed the council :
"No decision as to the possible use of the bond can be taken until the corporation has resolved other financial matters"
not with the orginal applicant, but
"with the receiver."
Column 211It was interested in taking the bond money to make up for other moneys that it did not get from the receiver when the company had gone bust. The problem was that that bond was not used simply to protect the environment. Our proposal means that the bond would be used only to protect the environment. It would have to be placed with the county council and, if the operators failed to comply with the conditions on the site or failed to restore the site, they would lose their bond money.
As anyone who has anything to do with opencast operators knows--and it can apply to British Coal sites as well--things that go wrong and breaches of the operating restrictions that are imposed when an application is granted are difficult to deal with. If they work all night for two or three days and ruin the night's sleep of a neighbouring village, there is not much that the county council can do about it. It can say three days later, "Don't do it again," but it cannot put things right. If operators louse up a watercourse and flood a field or village, that cannot easily be put right. We need the restrictions.
Other aspects of the performance of private operators are equally bothersome. Some of the sites move from the opencast executive of British Coal to the private operators or back again, depending on the size of the workings. That swapping about is not intended to improve the environment or to protect the interests of neighbouring communities.
Another aspect that needs to be considered, which is bringing the operators, the county councils and the system into dispute, in County Durham in particular, is what might be called the transfer of staff--that is the best interpretation of it--between the regulatory authorities and the organisations that they are supposed to be regulating. In recent times, a planning officer and a land and property officer from Durham county council went to work for one of the mining companies. Then a person who did land agency work for that council went to work for the same mining company, and shortly afterwards they were joined by the ex-chief executive of a district council in County Durham. I shall say no more about that, but corruption charges are outstanding at the moment.
I do not suggest that any of the interchanges of staff are necessarily corrupt. I certainly am not saying that about a person who worked in land management for Durham county council and who moved to another company, or a person who was the planning officer with the Gateshead metropolitan borough, who went to yet another of the operators. However, as one legal officer from Durham county council recently pointed out, due to the number of staff who have left the county council to go and work for the private opencast companies, the private operators now know the Durham county structure plan better than the planning department staff. That brings the system into disrepute, and it should be avoided.
If the Government purblindly and stupidly insist on going ahead with a tenfold increase in the maximum size of opencast private workings, there should be parallel strengthening of the planning laws to protect local people, who are sick to death of the sites that they already have. The amendments are intended to achieve that. The Minister may say that the amendments are technically at fault, or that the Government cannot accept them tonight. However, if the Government are serious
Column 212about trying to protect the environment of people in coalfield communities, they should either accept the amendments or put similar amendments into the Bill in the House of Lords, and we should happily give them a fair wind when they come back to the House.
I have considerable sympathy with his basic premise that if we intend to extract more coal by the opencast method, we must ensure that extraction is controlled by the most stringent planning conditions and environmental controls that can be conceived. The Select Committee on Energy has described opencast mining as : "One of the most environmentally destructive processes that is going on in the United Kingdom."
Certainly, in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire--the counties mentioned during discussion of the last amendment--the Committee regarded opencast mining as a most serious environmental problem.
In the previous debate, we talked about the cost of coal. It was said that one reason why it is not costed correctly is the lack of protest from those most critically affected by subsidence. Of course, subsidence arises after the coal has been extracted and not much can be done about it. The Secretary of State gave figures--the backlog of 37,000 unprocessed claims has been reduced to 25,000--which show the scale of the problem.
When we talk about opencast mining and the assets that we hope to extract, we are talking about the future. I can assure the Minister that opencast mining will not get through on the side, because there is understandably great opposition from local groups already. I pay tribute to the groups that operate in my constituency to oppose the principle of opencast mining. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Mr. Rost) in his place, and I know that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) will support my point of view.
Nowadays, it is not enough to say to people who live in mining or ex-mining communities that one should not be surprised if people want to extract coal when one comes to live in a coal mining area. No one who goes to live in a village knows how much coal lies underneath it.
Mr. Hood : I accept the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. Does he agree that many people who move into former mining communities do so on the understanding that there will be no more harrassment from mining works? When they move in they are confronted with proposals for opencast mining. One cannot say that it is their fault because they knew that they were moving into a mining community.
Mr. Lester : People make exhaustive surveys before they buy property, but I have never seen a survey which says that there are workable coal reserves underneath a house, and that one must anticipate that someone will want to extract that coal.
We are moving into green field sites. That is certainly the experience of my constituents. In the past, opencast mining has been sold on the basis that it uses derelict sites, and will improve them. I pay tribute to the Coal Board because it has certainly improved parts of
Column 213Nottinghamshire. The Flowers report suggested that 15 per cent. of opencast coal mining was on derelict land but the other figure given by local authorities--25 per cent.--is probably more accurate. With the increasing pressure from the Department of Energy to extract cheaper coal--opencast is usually cheaper--the question of the environmental effects of moving into green field sites is serious.
Mr. Peter Rost (Erewash) : My hon. Friend referred to the report by the Select Committee on Energy. One of its recommendations, which I strongly support, is that the licensing process should go back to the Department of Energy, as was the case with oil and gas licensing. That would provide a first vetting system whereby the Department could say which areas are environmentally suitable and which are not, before planning applications are entered. That would provide more safeguards than the present system, in which the Coal Board retains the patronage for issuing licences, subject only to planning approval.
One of the great things that has happened in Nottinghamshire, for which I give enormous credit to the present Secretary of State for Wales, is Operation Eyesore. People who work in local government may remember it. Under the scheme, the Government gave 100 per cent. grants to deal with problems caused by mining--to get rid of tips, to level areas and to introduce new controls to change the face of the countryside. That certainly happened in Nottinghamshire. The ugly, tall tips, the black- topped mountains and all the consequences of coal extraction without proper environmental controls are memories now.
I was chairman of the county finance committee at the time that Operation Eyesore was introduced, and we contributed a pound for every pound that the Government gave and doubled the funds. We cleared Nottinghamshire of the eyesores inherited from the coal industry. I still drive through Nottinghamshire and point out sites that used to be such eyesores. Now, one would not think that those areas had ever been affected by mining. I regret that we now seem to be taking the retrograde step of promoting opencast mining, which has serious environmental effects, and despite modern methods, we will recreate those problems.
As the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) said, in his constituency they are talking about opencast mining for 20 or 30 years. The potential opencast sites in my constituency, such as Shilo north, which is the subject of a planning inquiry, Beauvale, which is mentioned in the books of D. H. Lawrence, and Robinettes, are green field sites. As the name suggests, Beauvale is a beautiful place, and those areas are among the most attractive parts of my constituency. If the proposals for opencast mining go through, my constituency will be affected for between 25 and 30 years.
Mr. Steinberg : Applications are now coming in for development of the exceptionally beautiful landscape around a small village in my constituency that has been a coal extraction site for many years. Millions have already been spent on the reclamation of old industrial sites in villages within a two-mile radius ; now there is the possibility of a 20 or even 30-year extraction programme in this green field site. All that money has gone down the
Column 214drain, and now the descendants of the families who first experienced the problems of coal extraction--which has continued for hundreds of years--must put up with identical problems caused by opencast mining. It is crazy.
Mr. Lester : That reinforces my case. If we are seriously considering opencast mining as an active policy, we must view it more globally, as did the Select Committee on Energy. Under the new mineral- extraction procedures, need no longer has to be proved, but we must consider the cost and the likely impact on the environment. I believe that expensive inquiries such as the one that has already taken place in a site in my constituency are not "costed into" the eventual cost of coal extraction. Heavy legal fees may be involved, as the representation of all the objectors may last for two or three months. However, no one has considered the cost of overall compensation paid to a community for the noise, dust, lorries and general nuisance that the process will involve, and for the fact that the very face of the community will be changed. Under present legislation, that cannot possibly be taken into account.
It is, of course, possible to agree on the development of cricket fields or sports pavilions on certain sites, and we have helped such developments to come about. No one has anticipated the proposed work in these green field sites, however, and the principle of maintaining maximum control and the highest possible standards is therefore essential. I assure my hon. Friend the Minister that neither the House of Commons nor our constituents will simply acquiesce in the various schemes. We need an overall strategy on opencasting ; we should not rely on a hotch-potch of policies in the hope that we shall win where we can. My hon. Friend should think through such a strategy, along with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. A newspaper article headed "Opencast hot seat" describes a confrontation with my right hon. Friend, who freely admits that the most difficult decision that he must make--in a quasi-judicial capacity-- concerns mineral extraction, not just coal extraction.
The principle behind the amendments should be considered, in the interests of the environment as well as those of the coal and electricity industries. We need a range of much tighter controls on both private and public contractors, to ensure that the only sites to be worked are those that can be worked with the least damage to the environment and local communities. We should perhaps consider a system of preparatory licensing, rather than embarking on expensive planning inquiries that will take for ever and, having spent all that money, end up without enough safeguards. I ask my hon. Friend not to dismiss the amendments lightly, as they deal with a matter that concerns hon. Members on both sides of the House.
Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) : I endorse the remarks of the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester), who spoke with the aid of direct constituency knowledge. I am sure that the Minister will take his words to heart, and will recognise that the issue must be confronted. The bald statement in this short Bill that opencast mining licences will raise the production limit from 25,000 to 250,000 tonnes will ring alarm bells in many communities where the horrors of opencasting are already known. A possible tenfold increase will affect a much larger area and many more communities, and the Government must give us an idea of other criteria that may be applied.
Column 215The hon. Member for Broxtowe rightly referred to the pressure for an expansion of opencasting. He said that the coal would be cheaper, but that will depend on how we "cost" the environment, and unfortunately we have no mechanism with which to do that at present. The Secretary of State has said that he is looking into some of the suggestions made by academics and economists who have proposed the use of taxation or some other financial mechanism to put a price on environmental pressures, but at present not even the cost of a public inquiry--which imposes a considerable burden on the community--is counted in the cost of acquiring the coal, and certainly the disruption and damage suffered by communities is not taken into account. The Departments of Energy and of the Environment should put their heads together and try to establish improved environmental criteria and codes of practice.
The amendments--although useful, valuable and worth taking seriously--all relate to the restoration of sites after workings are completed. It should be written into the Bill, that advance funding will be provided, so that if a company goes bankrupt, the community is not left to bear the cost, but we must also ensure that environmental costs are taken into account while the workings are in place, through a code of practice guaranteeing minimum exposure. An operator may wish to open up an extensive area because that is the cheapest and easiest way of getting at the coal, but more limited workings that could later be reinstated and moved on to another phase would reduce environmental damage. We should also seek transport and access measures that would not put all the pressure on one area for 20 or 30 years. The environmental impact of workings must be minimised, even if cost is involved.
It is slightly disturbing that we should be asked to legislate for such an extension of coal-mining practice in the absence of new criteria and codes of practice, and the Minister will do the House and the public a service if he can inform us that the Government have any new ideas. Without such reassurances, the news of a tenfold increase in licence allocation will give no comfort to many coalfield communities.
Mr. Ashby : I welcome the Under-Secretary and the Secretary of State to the Department of Energy because I detect the presence of a completely new spirit in that Department. That new attitude represents, I believe, a breath of fresh air. The problems that have faced that Department over the years have been such that I hope that the window is always kept open and that we shall continue to have fresh air blowing in, because significant changes must be made in the extraction of coal in Britain.
I do not agree with those who say that we should support the coal industry no matter what. Rather, we must look at the total costing, including that to the environment, before we embark on a given project. I should be happier to import coal from, say, South Africa and Australia, where it is cheaper, in the sure knowledge that later our own coal will have risen in value to the extent that we can extract it at a price that will be profitable and
Column 216that will take into account the environmental impact of extraction, because, as I say, we must look at the totality of the cost. I represent a constituency that has been devastated by opencast mining. Indeed, I consider it to be one of the worst areas for opencasting.
Mr. Ashby : Yes. Not only do I have a home in the constituency but I have just purchased a new house there, and there are plans for an enormous opencast site right next door to that house, although I purchased it in the knowledge that the application would take place. I assure Opposition Members that I have witnessed the effects of opencast mining on my area and the people who live there. The Bill is intended to grant licences for large amounts of extraction. Will the Minister say--he may care to answer in writing--how many sites there have been in Britain over the years when extraction of 25,000 tonnes has been exceeded? In other words, does he know how often the licensed amount has been greatly exceeded? I assure him that there are many such examples, and if he does not believe me he should come to my constituency and see for himself. There has been sharp practice by British Coal over the years. We note that, for opencasting, British Coal deposits long-term plans. A private operator makes an application for a certain tonnage, and then goes over that amount. The opencast division of British Coal takes over the site and says that the operator is acting as its agent or under contract to it. In that way, British Coal gets more from a given area, and a lot of sharp practice of that type is going on. Over the years, British Coal, in most coal-mining areas, has been Big Brother. One need only examine the legislation on the subject to see the effect that that has had. For many years, large numbers of Opposition Members were members of, or were sponsored by, the NUM--whether or not under the Hastings agreement--and they used to kow-tow to British Coal. Whatever British Coal said, they agreed to. For a long time we lived with that attitude of subservience to British Coal-- [Interruption.] That was the case. I witnessed it. Indeed, in many areas in which people were employed largely by British Coal they had a feeling of subservience to British Coal. As a result, things took place which in other areas would never have been allowed to occur. People were afraid to object or to take on British Coal. They agreed to things to which nobody else would have agreed. British Coal got away with murder in some areas, and it is still getting away with murder.
In environmental terms, there is the possibility of the deposit of a bond. That is a good idea, but we must not lose sight of the fact that local authorities receive rating revenue in relation to the number of tonnes of extraction from sites. It has always been difficult to discover how much they get. It took me two years of questioning and research to find out the percentage, but I have never been able to discover how much a local authority receives for any one site.
Local authorities will never divulge that information ; that money goes into the general rating fund and never returns to the affected areas. The community is entitled to restoration and some compensation, and to a large extent the money for that is there and has come from the
Column 217extraction process. That money should be used--because it is available--by local authorities and county councils in the areas that have been devastated and destroyed by opencast mining. The money should be used not only to repair roads and so on but to make the environnmental improvements that are needed.
Mr. Skinner : Many years ago, the Tory-controlled Derbyshire county council had a policy which was, by and large, to allow any opencast application by the opencast executive of British Coal to go through. In 1981, we had a change of administration locally. The Labour group got control and it decided to adopt the policy that, when hon. Members who represented the areas concerned objected, such opencast applications would be opposed, and to a degree that policy has been successful. British Coal has on occasion conducted separate inquiries and won the day, with the support of the Tory Government and the Secretary of State for the Environment.
Meanwhile, the Labour-controlled Derbyshire county council has had a proud record in opposing opencast mining applications, and that flies in the face of what the hon. Member has said. I assure him that that council has been supported in its policy by those working in the mines and by local councillors, and many opencast applications have been opposed by me, supported by many of my hon. Friends. In other words, in my part of the world, the people who have supported British Coal have been the Tory- controlled Derbyshire county council, Tory councils in general and Tory Secretaries of State who have allowed mammoth opencastings to proceed. That is why I am currently opposing the application at the Pinnock site, the application at Slayley, the one at Stanfree that has reared its ugly head, and the application at Rainge near Morton and Clay Cross. I and many of my hon. Friends are opposing all of them, because those applications are designed to line the pockets of the friends of the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West.
Mr. Ashby : To some extent, I am pleased to hear what the hon. Gentleman says. I urge him to cross the border into Leicestershire and speak to those who run the Labour-controlled Leicestershire county council, who always lie down and do exactly what British Coal asks them, and who grant one planning permission after another. I attack the Labour party in Leicestershire, the members of which have acted disgracefully towards the people of north-west Leicestershire. I blame them for much of what has happened in my constituency. I did not want to put this matter on a party political basis, but the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) should know that the story of planning applications in Leicestershire is totally different from the story in Derbyshire.
We also have the problem of old consents which do not allow for the full and proper restoration of sites. There should be a review of sites with old consents, and modern conditions should be placed on them. There is a site-- one of the many areas of devastation in my constituency--which started off as a small clay extraction. It began with a pottery firm, and only a small amount of clay was required. After 10 or 12 years, that pottery firm was taken over by a larger pottery firm, and in due course that was taken over not by another pottery firm but by a company which was interested in extracting coal.
Column 218That firm is using the existing consent to make an application for the extraction of 25,000 tonnes. It has bought all the land, going way back. We all know that that is not a 25,000-tonne application but one for 250,000 or 300,000 tonnes. The consents in respect of the original site are old and do not provide for proper restoration. I am getting no satisfaction from the company or from the county council in terms of the proper restoration of the site.
What we really require is not the separation of the licensing and the planning, but a coming together of the two. We in Leicestershire want an insistence on long-term planning for extraction. We all understand that there is coal under the ground which at some time will have to be extracted by opencast mines, because we need the energy, but it is not difficult to accept that a certain hill or park has reserves that we plan to take out in 30, 40 or 50 years' time, and to put in a planning application now. Then we could specify that trees should be planted for afforestation of the area.
There is no need for us to devastate the countryside. We should plant trees around a site and then extract the coal from the centre. Nobody would know the extraction was taking place, as the forest would deaden the sound and the dust and would improve the environment.