Environment, Food and Rural Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by CBI Minerals Group

1. The CBI Minerals Group is pleased to have the opportunity to submit comments to the Committee on the Water White Paper and on those measures which are likely to be included in forthcoming draft Water Bill announced in the White Paper.

2. This submission represents the views of the CBI Minerals Group and focuses on the concerns of the mining and quarrying sectors. It focuses on the second area identified by the Committee on which submissions were invited:

Are the proposals to protect and enhance water resources, for example on abstraction regime reform, likely to be fully effective?

3. The CBI Minerals Group represents the minerals extraction industry within the United Kingdom including all major non-energy minerals and coal. The Group represents some 500 mineral extraction companies either directly through being members of the Group or indirectly through member trade associations.

4. Minerals are essential for sustainable economic growth, and sustainable development is only achievable by ensuring an adequate and steady supply of all minerals. Adequate supplies are crucial for meeting the Government’s growth agenda and in particular its plans for investment in new infrastructure such as the new generation of nuclear power stations and high speed rail.

5. We recognise the need to introduce a new abstraction regime and we welcome the proposed long-lead time for its development. We also welcome the Government’s commitment to work closely with key stakeholders in designing the new system and to create a new national advisory group to guide the design process.

6. Many minerals reserves lie below the water table and it is usually necessary to dewater these sites to enable the mineral to be won. The impact of such operations is fully examined during the planning process through rigorous environmental impact assessment procedures.

7. Mine and quarry dewatering usually involves little, if any, water consumption and the water is normally returned to the same catchment. Dewatering is currently exempt from abstraction licensing.

8. The Water Act 2003 introduced new legislation effecting abstraction. In particular, it included proposals for the removal of the exemption for mine and quarry dewatering. The 2003 Act introduced three abstraction licence categories—full, transfer and temporary licences to replace the single licence used. It proposed that mine and quarry dewatering would in future require a transfer licence.

9. Despite the Act being on the statute book for nearly 10 years, the provisions for the removal of the dewatering exemption have not yet been implemented. This has led to uncertainty for the industry regarding the long term security of the permitted minerals reserves that occur below the water table.

10. At the time the Water Act was being debated in Parliament, we emphasised the importance of mine and quarry abstraction licences being issued for the same period as the planning permission so there is certainty over the planned life of extraction operations. The implications of time limiting abstraction licences for dewatering with no certainty of renewal is of great concern to the industry not only from a financial investment point of view but also in terms of maintaining mineral supplies. Unintended safety and environmental consequences may also arise if an operation were required to cease extraction below the water table prematurely because it might then not be possible to adequately restore the site.

11. We do not believe that the issuing of transfer licences to coincide with the permitted life of an extraction operation would inhibit the management water resources in a sustainable manner. The requirement to dewater is rigorously examined at the time planning permission is applied for and, if at that point, there were concerns about the impact on water resources that cannot be mitigated, the permission would be not be granted.

12. The need for transfer abstraction licences to be granted for the same period of time as planning permissions is further justified by the unique position of mineral extraction. Unlike other industries, minerals can only be extracted where they occur in economic quantities and thus the option to relocate does not arise. If dewatering cannot continue at a site for its planned life, extraction would have to stop and, for a small operator that could mean going out of business.

13. It is essential that the proposed new abstraction regime retains the distinction between transfer licences and full abstraction licences. However, since quarry dewatering often does not result in any water consumption because it is returned to the aquifer from which it was extracted, consideration should also be given to retaining the current exemption, in order to limit the regulatory burden on industry.

14. The proposed new abstraction licensing system should also preserve the option for mine and quarry operations to use water abstracted during dewatering in the production process where this is environmentally acceptable. Using untreated water in this way has the benefit of increased resource efficiency through the reduction of the use of mains water. It would be regrettable if licensing deterred such developments.

Summary of the CBI Minerals Group Submission

15. We submit that for the abstraction regime reform should take full account of the following:

The particular circumstances of the mining and quarrying industry and the need for certainty regarding the dewatering of mining and quarrying operations over the permitted life time of the operations.

The need to retain both transfer and full abstraction licences. In order to limit the regulatory burden on the mining and quarrying industry, consideration should also be given to retaining the current dewatering exemption.

The need to ensure any fees or costs associated with transfer licences should reflect the cost of administration of the licence process only and should not act as a deterrent to an activity which has no adverse environmental impact.

January 2012

Prepared 4th July 2012