Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180
TUESDAY 7 DECEMBER 1999
180. Do you mean they do not have enough people
to monitor this but otherwise they are sensible and excellent
(Mr Burton) Yes. Minerals planning is an under-resourced
element of the local planning authorities, and enforcement and
monitoring is an under-resourced element of minerals planning.
That is a key gap which we believe could be addressed through
the revenue. There is also, as has been recognised, a need for
substantial new research in some of these key areas. One of the
blockages to the elasticity of demand could be that we are lacking
research to explore some of those issues in the way the Government
has actually addressed them in relation to other economic instruments.
So there are opportunities there for using the money in a positive
way to target the use of the revenue to meet the precise reasons
why the levy or the tax has been placed in the first place.
181. Do you not have any concerns that a taxation
system would not distinguish between quarrying which was having
a much more deleterious effect and other quarrying which was not
having a particularly deleterious effect; you are simply taxing
the aggregates? I asked the other two sets of witnesses this question.
You are only taxing aggregates which are coming out of the ground,
you are not taxing the process of quarrying, but it is the process
of quarrying which is causing the environmental impact and it
causes at least as much environmental impact whether it is quarrying
aggregates or quarrying something else.
(Mr Jenkins) On the issue of what role the tax has
to play, within the package the role of the tax is not aimed specifically
at your first point, looking at where those actual quarries are.
The other part of the package is that the planning system is precisely
designed to do that. The new elements of the package which the
tax will give would be able (a) to provide that incentive through
the price mechanism and (b) be able to provide some of its revenue
to be hypothecated back, to maybe increase the elasticity and
therefore enhance that effect. In terms of how wide the tax should
go, if you take the case of opencast you can see how other parts
of the package with recent changes and with now no presumption
for opencast mining has been one of the mechanisms to actually
squeeze down on opencast. Secondly, it should be said that Richard
Caborn did say, when he was in charge, they were not ruling out
being able to expand the tax at a future point to cover other
182. Just following up on that point that has
just been raised, how sensitive can a tax be made to deal with
local issues where you have significant differences between both
(Mr Burton) I do not think that a tax makes a difference
to that. I think that is precisely why the tax has to be in combination
with other measures which are size and place sensitive, particularly
the land use planning system. The tax is not a solution to the
local problems which we have heard about. It is not a solution
to the damage being done to SSSIs. There are other mechanisms
which we need to do that. The tax is about bringing a base expectation
up to recognising that this is a valuable resource which is not
being accounted for effectively in the current regulations and
which need to be addressed.
(Mr Jenkins) That is not to say we do not believe
that outside of tax there are things that should happen in the
regulatory package to actually give greater protection to Sites
of Special Scientific Interest.
183. What specifically would you like to see
as changes in the regulations?
(Mr Burton) Much stronger planning presumptions against
the development of SSSIs and a whole series of measures in relation
to designated landscapes. The lack of primary legislation on Areas
of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks is a case in
point. We need to value these environmental resources in wildlife
or landscape terms much more effectively. This will have an impact
on a whole range of issues, of which mineral extraction will be
(Ms Chambers) There are two forthcoming opportunities
with which the Government has to take these regulatory improvements
forward, one is MPG 6, and as we mentioned a policy issues paper
is coming out soon. There the Government has a very real opportunity
to improve the regulatory framework. The other is the Countryside
Access and Conservation Bill, which will have very important measures
of SSSI management in it. Two opportunities there for the Government
to look at this issue in the not too distant future.
184. How far should we be concentrating on SSSIs?
How far should we be thinking more widely about national parks?
(Mr Burton) I think there is a danger in all this
debate of just focusing on areas which you define on a map, draw
a red line around and say, these areas are special and the rest
by implication is not. The point of the aggregates tax is precisely
that it recognises the wider environmental issues at stake. That
is not to say those special areas do not need strong protection
and could be better addressed. The tax is not the solution to
the problems that they face. They will benefit, as will other
areas, from a tax but the other areas need the uplift as well.
185. Do you think that means that the DETR have,
perhaps, underestimated the environmental costs because of concentrating
on certain areas?
(Mr Burton) Undoubtedly. They explicitly recognise
the benefits of the countryside to non-residents outside designated
areas, where minerals extraction takes place, are not accounted
for in their estimate of £380 million. It is a very modest
assumption which the DETR presented for the environmental costs
of extraction. That is a baseline which is still way above what
current regulation is addressing.
(Ms Chambers) If I can add on that, some wildlife
and countryside local members feel that English Nature is being
slightly over optimistic in terms of its estimations for damage
to SSSIs. There is a very clear need here for proper and more
thorough research to be done on that and for that to be agreed
between all of the main parties. There is disagreement about that,
certainly from our members. In terms of national parks, one fact
to leave with the Committee, national parks actually occupy 10
per cent of the land area of England and Wales and actually provide
10 per cent of the United Kingdom's construction aggregates as
well, so they are suffering a fairly heavy burden. It is absolutely
right for us to be looking at them as special areas but as Mr
Burton says, that should not be at the expense of the wider countryside.
186. Just one question, would you not see something
perverse in putting a tax on all quarrying when some quarrying
could actually enhance and increase the biodiversity of an area
which the quarry was put in?
(Mr Burton) No.
187. Have you any argument other than an assertion?
(Mr Burton) The wider benefits of the tax are clear,
in our view. The problems of designing such a sophisticated tax
instrument which would be able to respond to that are too great.
The benefits for that site and for other sites can be achieved
in other ways, not least through revenues that are being raised
so we can compensate for any perverse impacts that the tax might
188. Thank you. Your purpose in coming here
is to persuade us of your view that there are wider benefits of
the tax system.
(Mr Jenkins) I think the wider benefit of the tax,
the matter that adds to the package of measures the Government
has in front of it, is that it is able to use price mechanisms
to actually achieve that prudent use or start to achieve the prudent
use of its natural resources. It actually provides a signal for
the industry to be able to manoeuvre itself. On the point about
whether the Government has communicated the purpose of the tax,
there have been points within this particular tax where that has
not been clear. I do not believe any government could have been
clearer saying, actually the objective of this tax is, within
the package of whatever we are doing, to manoeuvre those changes
within aggregates supply, increasing recycled, reducing primary
and that it will be able to augment many of the policies already
in place. There is lot to be said for that, it augments the land-fill
tax, quite clearly, in making those linkages. That is what, I
think, when the Chancellor says they have been persuaded that
it will deliver, that is what it is delivered on. The problem
has been that in the design that takes into account some of these
issues, there has not been a point where we have been able to
debate exactly what was on the table. I think, undoubtedly, it
presents itself as a new element in reducing the environmental
impact of the quarrying.
189. Can I confirm, you are in favour of a flat
rate tax, a broadbrush tax, which would appear to be all that
is on offer from the Government at the moment, which would make
no distinction between cowboy quarriers and, your words, the modern,
grown-up, environmentally-conscious quarrier?
(Mr Burton) Yes.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.
We have to draw the session to an end. Thank you for a very forceful