Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from The Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE)



  1.  We acknowledge that the QPA has worked hard to produce this comprehensive set of measures and consider that these would undoubtedly help to reduce bad practice in some areas and help to raise environmental standards across the industry. For this, it should be commended. Nevertheless, we do not consider the package provides an alternative way forward to the proposed tax on the extraction of primary aggregates. We explain this position further below.

  2.  There are elements of the package which we strongly welcome. For example, the proposed introduction of planning enforcement fees and the industry-wide introduction of ISO 14001. We remain concerned, however, at the "voluntary" aspect of the package, and unconvinced that it will be taken up sufficiently by the whole industry—particularly by non-members of the QPA.

  3.  A key weakness of the package is that the New Deal does not address the fundamental issue of how to influence demand for primary aggregates and therefore of reducing the actual amount of material that is quarried. This is key to CPRE's support for an aggregates tax which over time would tackle this issue by sending a clear signal to industry of the environmental costs of quarrying. The fact that it is usual for an extra 10 per cent of construction material to be provided on a building site to allow for wasted materials shows a clear need for a tightening up of practice even if only to reduce waste. Although we accept that in the short term demand for primary aggregate is likely to be relatively inelastic, we believe that an aggregates tax would provide an incentive which would mean that less primary aggregate would need to be quarried over time.

  Our main concerns about the New Deal are set out in more detail below.


  4.  The package seems to pass responsibility for action to others in several places. Bearing in mind this is a package of voluntary measures, the effect is to substantially weaken confidence in delivery. For example:

    —  it puts forward the case that in order to increase the amount of recycled materials used as opposed to primary aggregate, a revision of construction specifications is needed. Although this may help, the quarry industry should be looking for ways to increase the quality of recycled material itself in order to encourage greater use;

    —  it supports measures by the Government to ensure that Mineral Planning Authorities (MPAs) have the resources to monitor and regulate the industry. Good practice should mean there is little need to provide better monitoring and enforcement resources for local authorities and companies should already be taking measures to address past mistakes; and

    —  it promises to try to increase the amount of aggregate transported by rail—but stresses that this will require reliance to be placed on EWS and the rail system.

  CPRE feels that there is more that the industry could do to tackle issues such as these itself, as well as forming partnerships with other stakeholders.


  5.  Two major impacts which the London Economics report, The Environmental Costs and Benefits of the Supply of Aggregates, identified as being of primary concern to the public were the impacts of quarrying on flora and fauna and visual landscape impacts. Despite commitments to ISO14001 and other measures, there are no mechanisms for dealing with those specific problems in the new package. CPRE believes that the most important way to reduce these environmental impacts is to reduce the rate of extraction. While the New Deal offers to review permissions every 15 years, this will not tackle the issue that the current generation will have to put up with the impact now and is a desperately slow way of securing change.


  6.  The QPA has estimated that the package is worth £150 million annually. The Government's research into the costs and benefits of the supply of aggregates has come up with a figure of £380 million for environmental impacts—which is significantly more than the QPA's offer. Clearly this suggests that the package does not put a high enough value on the environment and the impacts that the industry has.

  7.  In addition, we believe it is worth submitting the package to a critical assessment of whether it achieves the objectives set by Government, that the package should be deliverable, guaranteed, proportionate and credible. We believe that it does not satisfy these tests and is therefore not an adequate substitute for the aggregates tax.

  8.  In our view the New Deal is:

    —  voluntary and not industry-wide and therefore is not fully deliverable;

    —  not able to demonstrate how the commitments can be guaranteed because of their voluntary nature;

    —  not proportional to the value of the environment as suggested by London Economics; and

    —  not credible on its own, since it does not tackle the demand side of aggregate provision, but it could complement other measures.


  9.  We are pleased that the industry is now thinking carefully about the impact that it has on the environment, and welcome the ideas that it proposes in this package. We hope that in due course the quarrying industry will realise the benefits of implementing many of these measures whether or not a tax is introduced in the interest of economic gain and protection of natural resources for future generations.

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