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Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, I apologise for my late arrival. Unfortunately, I missed the opening speech of this debate and will consequently speak extremely briefly. I hope that my few remarks will be construed as supporting entirely every word that has just been spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, including his comments on the asset base, a matter on which I disagreed with my noble friend Lord Desai in Committee.
I cannot support the amendment for the following reasons. Whereas planning authorities would be unable to withdraw planning permissions instantly, they could however apply new conditions without any hindrance with the sole protection of an appeal to the Secretary of State. That would be without compensation. I agree with British Aggregate Construction Materials Industries that that would be a complete negation of natural justice. It would put the Secretary of State in a position of being able to confiscate the rights of mineral operators in a wholly arbitrary way. I should add, however, that I do not expect the noble Viscount to act in such a way. There is no parallel for that approach in any other form of land use planning. There can be no justification for introducing a more severe restriction here than is normal in other aspects of land use planning.
Having said that, and having arrived late, I shall say no more except to repeat that I strongly support the words of the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur. I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn and, if it is not withdrawn. that it will be defeated.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I rise to support the sentiments that have been expressed by my noble friend Lord Addison in moving the amendment. We know that the wording is not likely to form part of the legislation and we eagerly await what my noble friend Lord Ullswater will say that the Government have in mind.
The essence of the discussion is that things have changed from the time when many of the permissions were granted. Higher standards are demanded now. I very much agree with what my noble friend Lord Renton said about the reinstatement of mineral workings being of great importance, but I do not think that that is everything. Perhaps I may give just two examples which
The first is an example relating to minerals, but from the United States. As your Lordships know, it was in 1848 that John Sutter discovered gold in Californiaa most exciting and romantic event. Subsequently, in the early days after the war, huge machines were introduced into northern California which used mega-sized jets of water to mine the gold. The result was huge pollution affecting the Sacramento River. Some 20 years ago the United States abandoned that process because it was no longer acceptable. Your Lordships can now spend a happy weekend with your frying pans, panning for gold. I am told that we are more likely to find a good nugget than to win the National Lottery, but the mega-sized jets of water can no longer be used. The United States believes very much in free and private enterprise, but that is an example of how things change and of the fact that what was originally regarded as acceptable is no longer so regarded.
Perhaps I may take another humble example. I refer to bridleways. They were made for the traffic of the day, and I suggest that it is not acceptable for four-wheel drive vehicles to career over the Ridgeway, for example. All that we are really saying is that in this important area of mineral workings, it is important to bring the law up to date with what is acceptable today.
Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, I am grateful for the way in which my noble friend Lord Addison moved his amendment and for the many contributions that have been made to the debate. My noble friend indicated some of the problems that need to be addressed. In supporting the amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, made it clear that a responsible attitude to the economics of local communities and to the industry should be adopted.
The industry is of considerable importance for the economy and our standard of living, and it is to be commended on the steps it has taken in recent years to improve environmental standards. My noble friend Lord Gisborough mentioned the BACMI environmental code. I agree with my noble friend Lord Glenarthur that that was a very responsible move. However, not all operators work to the same high standards, and it is in the long-term interests of the industry as a whole for the problems created by old permissions to be resolved at the earliest date.
The principle that mineral permissions should be updated and that the industry should bear some of the costs was recognised in the procedures introduced by the 1981 Town and Country Planning (Minerals) Act, but these have not worked well, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, indicated. We have consulted extensively on proposals to ensure the updating of old mineral permissions and the elements of a decision are now in place.
The Government therefore intend to bring forward amendments in another place to deal with those problems. We intend that the amendments will provide for the following. First, they will require the initial
To spread the workload, we intend that active sites should be reviewed in two consecutive phases, dealing with the oldest sites first. Phase I, to be completed within three years, would deal with sites where the predominant permission was granted before 1st April 1969. Phase II, to be completed in the following three years, would deal with sites where the predominant permission was granted after 31st March 1969 but before 22nd February 1982. To deal with the particular problem of sites wholly or partly within national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and sites of special scientific interest, I propose that all these should be reviewed in the first phase. I hope that that will reassure my noble friend Lord Addison.
Mineral planning authorities would be required to compile lists of sites, specifying in which phase active sites would be reviewed and the date by which the owner or operator must submit a scheme of updated planning conditions for the authority's approval. If no scheme was submitted the permission would fall. Dormant sites would not be allowed to recommence working until a new scheme of conditions had been approved.
This broadly follows the approach we adopted for interim development orders. This approach is working well and real improvements are being achieved. I therefore intend to follow the approach set out by Sir George Young, which is that there should be no compensation for any new environmental, amenity and restoration conditions imposed on sitesI hope that that will reassure my noble friends Lord Renton and Lord Marlesford and the noble Lord, Lord Moranwhether active or dormant, but there would be a right of appeal to the Secretary of State.
Guidance would make clear that for "active" sites a distinction should be drawn between conditions that deal with the environmental and amenity aspects of working the site, which would not affect the asset value, and conditions that would fundamentally affect the economic structure of the operation. Conditions that would significantly affect the asset value, or fundamentally affect the economic structure of the operation, should be imposed only by agreement with the operator or by the use of revocation, modification or discontinuance orders which would attract compensation. My noble friend Lord Glenarthur today, and the industry, have suggested to me that this approach should be enshrined in statute. I am giving careful consideration to that proposition.
I wish to encourage greater use of prohibition orders to remove the problem of long dormant sites where there is no real intention to work them. In considering whether or not to confirm such orders, the Secretary of State will wish to satisfy himself that the land or mineral owner can demonstrate a real and genuine intention to work the site and that the site is capable of being worked to full modern conditions. A vague indication that the site might be worked sometime in the future will be insufficient. I believe the proposals for full modern conditions and the policy I have set out for prohibition orders will go a long way to resolving the problem of dormant sites.
The amendments will also provide for periodic reviews of all mineral sites every 15 years. This is important to ensure that the conditions attached to permissions keep pace with the standards of the daya point made by my noble friend Lord Marlesfordand that we do not re-create the problem we now have. Mineral planning authorities would have to notify operators when a review was due and the date by which a scheme of conditions should be submitted for approval. If no scheme was submitted the permission would fall. There would be a right of appeal against the imposition of unreasonable conditions and a clear entitlement to compensation.
I turn now to the issue of the end date for permissions granted prior to 1982. I have given careful consideration to whether the date of 2042 should be brought forward. The primary task is to get the permissions updated to modern standards. The measures I have outlined will ensure that active permissions have to be reviewed within six years and that dormant sites cannot be reactivated until full modern conditions have been imposed. This, combined with increased use of prohibition orders to deal with sites that are unlikely to be worked in the future, will ensure that any problems caused by the current end date will be minimised. I therefore propose to leave the end date unchanged.
I return briefly to the subject of old ironstone consents. I indicated earlier that our proposals would do much to resolve the main issues posed by these permissions. Active ironstone sites must be reviewed and upgraded within the first phase. Dormant sites will not be able to reactivate until full modern conditions are approved, including provision for proper access and transport which are of particular importance for the sites. Taken as a whole, together with the increased use of prohibition orders, this approach will lead to substantial improvements on the ground without the need for revocation of consents.
I shall briefly mention the position on peat. As noble Lords may know, much peat extraction takes place from within old permissions which are now also SSSIs. I have had constructive discussions with the industry, which has agreed that all old peat permissions should be reviewed in the first phase of the initial reviews. The industry will also have regard to the safeguarding of adjacent areas which are of nature conservation value, the phasing of remaining extraction, and proposals for
The package we propose follows broadly the proposals we consulted on last year, refined in the light of consultees' comments. It will ensure that old permissions are brought up to acceptable standards; that dormant sites cannot be reactivated without warning or proper conditions; and that all mineral permissions will be regularly reviewed in future. I believe it represents a significant step forward while maintaining an equitable balance between the rights of those who hold longstanding, valid planning permissions and the proper protection of the environment and amenity.