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Environment Bill [H.L.]

3.9 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Viscount Ullswater): My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.

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Moved, That the Bill be further considered on Report.—(Viscount Ullswater.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Lord Campbell of Croy: moved Amendment No. 125:

Before Clause 54, insert the following new clause:

("Planning permission for ironstone extraction

. After section 22 of the Planning and Compensation Act 1991 there shall be inserted—
"Ironstone extraction.

22A.—(1) Any person with planning permission to win or work ironstone or to deposit waste from such working but who no longer intends to win or work ironstone shall, within 5 years of the date of coming into force of section (Planning permission for ironstone extraction) of the Environment Act 1995, apply to the relevant planning authority for approval of the environmental conditions to which the permission is subject.
(2) The planning permission shall cease to have effect—
(a) if no application is made under this section, on the day following the last day on which such an application may be made; or
(b ) if the application is refused, on the day following that on which the application is finally determined.".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in Committee I spoke to an amendment covering a range of minerals. My particular concern was, and remains, one substance; namely, ironstone. I have now tabled a separate amendment, the one under discussion, because ironstone is a special case. Its extraction ceased 15 years ago. It is no longer wanted.

It may be asked: why then are some of the ironstone permission sites still being worked? The answer is that there are other substances to be extracted. Limestone and clay lie above the ironstone. It was permissible at the time of ironstone operations to extract also the limestone and clay in order to get at the ironstone. Those permissions are enabling work to continue for a quite different purpose to the one intended.

Ironstone was essential for our steel industry after World War Two. Decisions to grant the permissions were taken by central government, not by local authorities, because they were of national importance. A condition was attached that the ironstone should be transported by rail. The last ironstone was extracted in 1979 and the associated railway system no longer exists. As a result, heavy lorries now cart limestone around rural roads and through small villages, thereby causing disturbance, especially to the environment.

Permissions are due to last until the year 2042, which is nearly 50 years ahead. To conclude them now would not, in my opinion, be contractually incorrect because the permissions are no longer being used for the purpose for which they were applied for and ironstone is no longer wanted. In that context, perhaps I may quote from a letter dated only five days ago which I received from the British Aggregate Construction Materials Industries. It states:

    "Mineral planning permissions by their very nature are temporary. Once the mineral is exhausted the site is restored to some other use".

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I was delighted to receive that letter. It is very reassuring when the permissions are to last for 40 years or more. However, ironstone extraction can be regarded as being over. It ceased to be needed 15 years ago. However, extraction of other minerals, not the subject of the permissions, continued. They were incidental to the operations for which permission was sought.

A year ago the Government issued a consultation paper. It proposed revocation of the ironstone permissions without compensation. Primary legislation would be necessary. That could be done in this Environment Bill. My amendment carries out the intention declared by the Government in their consultation paper a year ago.

My amendment also provides time for the operators to apply to extract other minerals at the sites if they so wish. Up-to-date conditions to protect the environment could then be attached to the new permissions. The amendment is not expertly drafted; nor does it cover every point to be considered. It is aimed at illustrating clearly the action that I believe is required. I hope that a government amendment at a later stage, using this Bill as primary legislation, will be moved.

In Committee my noble friend Lord Ullswater envisaged that he would make a statement at this stage—Report stage. I recognise that he may wish to make a general statement about minerals which would come after our next debate on Amendments Nos. 126 and 127. My amendment is a special case because it relates only to ironstone. That is why I move it separately. No doubt the Government will take into account the progress of the discussions which have been taking place involving the local authorities concerned, the industrial operators and landowners. I understand that the gap which existed in reaching agreement has been much narrowed during discussions.

I would prefer a solution agreed outside Parliament, if possible, among all those concerned. If that is not possible, legislation will be necessary, for the reasons I have given. I am sure that the Government would also prefer agreement outside Parliament, if possible. That is my reason for moving the amendment after speaking on the issue in Committee. I beg to move.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Boardman: My Lords, I am aware of the sites covered by my noble friend's amendment. I share with him the wish that they should be remedied as soon as possible. There is a very real need for that to be done for environmental reasons.

I must correct my noble friend on one small point. He referred to limestone having been extracted in order to get at the ironstone. Limestone and ironstone were an essential part of steelmaking. Presumably, limestone is now required for a whole range of purposes, including agriculture. That does not in any way weaken my wish to see the areas remedied and environmentally restored as closely as possible to a respectable state of affairs.

I have one worry about the amendment. It involves withdrawing existing permissions without any compensation being paid. I believe that that would create a very unfortunate precedent. I would hope—my

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noble friend said that it was his hope also—that agreement could be reached with the ironstone companies, the landowners and the county council to enable this matter to be resolved on terms acceptable to all. I hope that that may still be possible. Perhaps my noble friend will have some comments to make. Any withdrawal of permissions without compensation, which involved having to pay for additional planning permission for subsequent use of the site, would create a precedent I could not support.

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy for his eloquent presentation of the issue of old ironstone consents. The Government have considered that issue extremely carefully. We have had useful and detailed meetings with the ironstone operators, the landowners and Northamptonshire County Council, among others. I have been much encouraged by the very real efforts made by all sides to try to find a local, negotiated solution to the problem.

However, I have to say clearly that, notwithstanding the analysis of the problem by my noble friend, with which I very much agree, the Government have decided that it is wrong in principle to revoke the old consents without compensation. That was a point that troubled my noble friend Lord Boardman. Therefore, I do not intend to proceed with the consultation paper proposal. That does not mean that the existing position can be allowed to remain as it is.

I understand that at the great majority of ironstone sites the quality and quantity of limestone available is not commercially viable and therefore is unlikely to be worked. Where that is the case, the sensible way forward is for the planning authority to bring forward prohibition orders. My noble friend is right. I intend to announce proposals dealing with the issue of old mineral consents on the next group of amendments. Those proposals will do much to lead to a speedy resolution of the major problems posed by old ironstone permissions. In the light of those remarks, perhaps my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Boardman, who is an expert on this subject, for supporting the amendment and for pointing out that limestone was needed for the steel industry in earlier days. Of course, the permission sought was for extracting ironstone. Limestone is still very much needed but it should be the subject of a separate application. I hope that as a result of the discussions and the Government's further considerations ultimately that will happen.

I am also grateful to the Minister for what he has said. A year ago the Government proposed that the ironstone permissions should be revoked without any compensation at all. Naturally, my amendment followed that line. I appreciate that, as a result of the discussions that have taken place, even in the case of the ironstone sites compensation may be appropriate, and certainly ought to be considered. I understand that change in the Government's view. I will listen carefully to what the

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Minister says in his statement at the end of our next debate, which involves a number of other minerals, but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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