Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence from the Mineral Products Association

Summary/Key Points

The role performed by “guidance” and by “policy” in the planning system must be clarified.

Guidance has a continuing and essential role to play in making the planning system efficient.

The Mineral Products Association strongly support the presumption in favour of sustainable development.

The definition of Sustainable Development must be much clearer than that set out in the Consultation Draft

Additional weight should not be imposed on specific interests by NPPF policy; assessments of sustainability should be made in accord with the core land-use principles.

The lack of acknowledgement that minerals matters are dealt with by specific planning authorities and through stand-alone Minerals Local Plans will give rise to confusion.

Responses to Questions Posed by the House of Commons CLG Committee

1. Does the NPPF give sufficient guidance to local planning authorities, the Planning Inspectorate and others, including investors and developers, while at the same time giving local communities sufficient power over planning decisions?

Firstly; it is not clear from the draft NPPF (The Draft) what function policy and guidance respectively have in the planning system. The wording of Question 1 is evidence of the misunderstanding that prevails about this matter. By virtue of the title, the role of the NPPF is to set out national planning policy, not to give guidance.

It is intended that the document taken as a whole forms the basis of what constitutes sustainable development. Differing interpretations are possible from the 52 pages, depending on the weight given to any particular section or whether sections are interpreted as policy or guidance. Greater policy clarity would be helpful throughout the document.

As the MPA understand it, planning policy must be adhered to by those who operate or otherwise interface with the planning system. If they choose to depart from policy, they must justify that departure and the arbiter of that justification in cases of dispute would be the planning inspectorate.

On the other hand guidance must be taken account of in the planning process. Like many things, it is a material consideration. A decision maker may be called upon by a planning inspector to show evidence that guidance has been taken account of but that is where the obligation of the decision maker ends.

Guidance clearly carries less weight in the planning system than policy and there must be a proper understanding of the function of each to assess the adequacy of the planning policies in The Draft.

Secondly, and as a subsidiary point to the first, there will continue to be a need for guidance to fill in the detail of the interpretation of policy as may be agreed between the different parties engaged in the planning process. This will obviate the need for separate agreement to be reached on the interpretation of planning policy principle each time that a decision is called for. The validity of parts of current guidance must be preserved in some way in order to ensure national consistency in the treatment of certain technical matters, such as sensory limits for mineral working conditions.

In the view of the Mineral products Association, The Draft should make reference to the future role of guidance and how Government believe it should be produced if it is to carry weight in the planning system.

Thirdly, it is not clear what power local communities will have over planning decisions. For minerals there is no clarity that “county matters” fall outside the scope of neighbourhood plans. It may not be not apparent to local communities that there will be two or perhaps three “local plans” for every area (except in unitary authority areas), with which all neighbourhood plans must be in conformity. The Draft gives the impression that there will be only one local plan and one planning authority for each area.

2. Is the definition of “sustainable development” contained in the document appropriate; and is the presumption in favour of sustainable development a balanced and workable approach?

The presumption in favour of sustainable development is a balanced and workable approach to planning decision making and it is fully supported by the Mineral Products Association. It represents formalisation of an approach that has been advocated for a number of years but has not been properly followed.

There has been a steady increase in the requirements placed on developers to provide detailed information on the natural and historic environment when submitting planning applications. Often the evidence required is not proportionate to the proposals being made. In the case of minerals development, it is sometimes doubtful that this level of information is necessary to support the decisions made. It has added substantially to the project costs and in some cases rendered potential mineral extraction operations unviable. Many operators have been left with the impression that detailed environmental information is sought in the hope that it would provide evidence on which to base a negative decision, rather than to identify issues that could be addressed in order to obtain a positive outcome. The fact that minerals are essential to the national economy, to the rural economy in particular and to society, is overlooked.

The new presumption in favour of sustainable development should restore that balance.

However, the definition of sustainable development in The Draft is unclear. In order to make decisions as quickly as possible and without wasting public resources, planning authorities will need a clear and sound basis on which to assess whether or not development proposals constitute sustainable development. There is no such basis for this “testing” in The Draft as presented.

A further concern is that whilst a good idea of what constitutes sustainable development could be derived from key sections at the beginning of the Draft, the principle of pursuing the three components in an integrated way (Paragraph 11) is undermined by exceptions set out later in the document. As examples: Paragraph 169 implies a very strong presumption in favour of proposals that enhance biodiversity and Paragraph 183 implies that the protection of heritage assets should be given particular weighting because they are “irreplaceable”.

Perhaps of greatest concern is that development likely to have an effect on sites protected under the Birds and Habitats Directives is automatically excluded from the category of sustainable development by virtue of Paragraph 170. MPA would contend that, provided such development could meet the tests of “appropriate assessment”, there should be a presumption in favour of it, particularly if the potential effect, though significant, was positive.

3. Are the “core planning principles” clearly and appropriately expressed?

The Mineral Products Association supports the statements of policy contained in Paragraph 19. However, they are heavily biased towards considerations related to built development and housing in particular.

Mineral resources are not evenly distributed across the nation and, unlike other forms of development, they can only be worked where they occur. The need for minerals development is something that must be based on consideration of what “this country needs” rather than a simple assessment of local need. Therefore minerals should certainly be mentioned as one of the “needs” in the second bullet point in Paragraph 19 and an additional and specific bullet point relating to minerals is perhaps justified. The “market signals” in the third bullet point should include “availability of construction materials and other minerals”.

The core planning principles refer to the key “sustainable development principles” (Second bullet point) but those principles are not identified in the draft NPPF.

4. Is the relationship between the NPPF and other national statements of planning-related policy sufficiently clear? Does the NPPF serve to integrate national planning policy across Government Departments?

The Mineral Products Association experience is that policy developed by different Government Departments is rarely integrated. A rapidly growing policy framework relating to minerals falls within the responsibility of DEFRA. As a result, the balancing-of-interests approach that used to be the principal basis for regulating of the minerals industry, through the planning system, is no longer apparent.

Environment Agency (EA) permitting procedures now overlap with the regulatory objectives of the planning system. The EA operates within a separate policy framework set by DEFRA which frequently duplicates and may conflict with planning. One important change would be to clearly re-establish the primacy of planning policy over environmental policy, so that environmental regulation was operated in support of the planning system where permission has been granted having regard to the principles of sustainable development. Not to do so could undermine the policy intentions for sustainable development. There is no evidence from the contents of The Draft that this position will change.

There is currently a Natural Environment White Paper out for consultation and several DEFRA initiatives such as biodiversity offsetting being progressed. Greater cross referencing of government policy intentions would be helpful.

In our view a further notable omission from The Draft is any reference to marine planning matters. Marine sources contribute a significant and growing proportion of the national need for construction aggregates and the Marine Management Organisation is currently developing their marine planning system. The successful integration of marine aggregates supply policy and practice with that which controls land-based aggregates operations is critical to maintaining an adequate and steady supply of these materials.

5. Does the NPPF, together with the “duty to cooperate”, provide a sufficient basis for larger-than-local strategic planning?

Recognition in the draft of the essential role played by National and Regional Guidelines and the Aggregate Working Parties in planning for a steady and adequate supply of land-won aggregates is welcomed.

However, reduced minimum landbank obligations and the omission of cement and lime production from specific mention in relation to landbanks is a significant concern for other mineral producers. This dilution of policy backing for the production of minerals will make investment decisions to secure security of supply more difficult for those materials, particularly where production and consumption are within different planning areas.

The production of the Guidelines and the terms of reference of the Aggregate Working Parties are typical of the matters that must be addressed in planning guidance (see the response to Question 1) if no further detail is to be included on this matter in the NPPF.

Stronger national policy statements from other government departments such as BIS and cross referencing within the NPPF for minerals supply would be helpful when considering the importance of planning for strategically important minerals.

6. Are the policies contained in the NPPF sufficiently evidence-based?

The MPA supports the principle of streamlining planning policy and guidance within the context of presumption in favour of sustainable development. Where current policy is taken forward in this manner the evidence base is self evident. Where new policy is introduced this must be within the context of a sound evidence base and this is not always clear. For example, there is no evidence base for restricting or withdrawing the criteria for sustainable development in the case of peat extraction or development affecting specified environmental designations.

9 September 2011

Prepared 20th December 2011