Speech to Hilltop Action Group Friday 19/10/12
PLANNING ISSUES, OPENCAST COAL APPLICATIONS AND DO WE NEED THE COAL
Can I thank you for this invitation to speak to you about opencast mining and planning decisions and the particular issue of the prospect of having your very own opencast mine on your doorstep.
I’ve been asked to talk to you about three things
How long you might have to wait until you get an application and what the action group can do about speeding it up?
The Importance of the Halton Lea Gate decision and the proposed further changes in Mineral Planning Policy announced by the Government in September and what to do about them.
Ideas to keep the campaign going.
But before I really begin, have any of you been to Cleethorpes?
One of the things that makes Cleethorpes an interesting place to visit is that you can sit and watch ships sail by as they enter or leave the Humber estuary. During this address, I want you to keep an eye on those ships that you can see, as we will come back to them in this speech.
We are interested in these ships and their cargoes because it is part of a very big picture that lies behind why Provectus has been able to consider asking permission to have its opencast mine here.
I’m hoping that we can build this picture up as if we were solving a jigsaw puzzle, then we can better understand why these ships off Cleethorpes are so important.
Planning applications for opencast mines go through various stages. This proposal is near the beginning, at what is called the Scoping Inquiry stage. Provectus has made a formal inquiry to the planning authority concerned, Derbyshire County Council, about what kind of information would have to be included in any actual planning application – that is, what the scope of the planning application should be. This is the time when the development first goes public. And there it is stuck.
So we can see our first bit of the jigsaw.
But why is it stuck – what does it tell us about the planning system and especially about the planning system for making decisions about opencast coal mining?
It takes time to realise how biased in favour of the applicant the planning system actually is. In this instance, there is no time limit set by DCC by which Provectus has to either indicate that it is withdrawing its application or it must submit its application.
In the meantime you are left in limbo.
Why is there no time limit? DCC has to operate a set of policies in the main laid down by the Government, who have just rewritten the guidance and published them in a document called The National Planning Policy Framework and, as will become clear, this document generally favours the applicant rather than you, the potential objector.
I can suggest a course of action here for your campaign to take. Invite the Planning Officers of DCC here, to a public meeting, where broad issues to do with mineral planning policy for Derbyshire can be discussed and questions asked such as
Does DCC have any discretion over the setting of a time limit from when a Scoping Inquiry is requested to when the information sought is no longer valid?
If it does, what would the Officers consider to be a reasonable time limit, bearing in mind that, since the Scoping Inquiry was made public, the area is suffering from Planning Blight?
If you are going to invite them, then here are a few more questions I would suggest you ask
Has DCC an up to date Minerals Planning Policy or a Minerals Core Strategy Document, or is it currently going through a consultation process?
If it is going through consultation process, what stage has it reached and how do we get involved?
What is the gist of current and any proposed policy recommendations on how to treat opencast planning applications?
We know that one of the reasons Provectus is looking to mine here is because in England, we do not benefit from a 500m separation zone or buffer zone between where people live and the site of an opencast mine. Because of devolution, the Scottish and Welsh Governments have wisely introduced such policies – but not in England. This Government and the previous Government refused to do so – but the National Planning Policy Framework does allow DCC to do so – so another question to possibly ask is
Does DCC have the discretion to implement a policy of separation or buffer zones around any proposed site, similar to the 500m zones contained in similar policies for opencast mines in Scotland and Wales?
Under what circumstances would DCC ask for a restoration bond from any prospective mine operator guarantee site restoration?
As long as no reference is made to Provectus’ proposed development then it should make for an interesting evenings exchange of views.
If those in charge of the campaign have to become familiar with Local and County planning policy they also have to become familiar with the National Planning Policy Framework. This new set of guidance became operational in March this year, and we have already seen what it means in practice. I’m referring to the Halton Lea Gate opencast decision, another bit of the jigsaw
I said earlier that decisions about planning applications go through various stages. After the Scoping Inquiry stage is the Planning Application. This stage can go through various cycles of consultation which may take a few years before DCC is ready to reach a decision, to determine the application. If the County finds in favour of the applicant, then your campaign’s only expensive course of action is to seek a Judicial Review because, in some way, the process by which the decision was reached was flawed. However, if the County do not grant planning permission, then the applicant can ask for a Public Inquiry on the refusal of planning permission. This is another bias in the planning system in favour of the applicant.
At Halton Lea Gate there had been two previous attempts to gain planning permission for an opencast mine before the latest attempt was made. On both occasions permission was refused. The latest attempt started in 2009 and again permission was refused. This time the applicant applied for a Public Inquiry. This was the first Public Inquiry for mineral extraction to be held under the new NPPF guidance. This guidance now states that
“When determining planning applications, local planning authorities should give great weight to the benefits of mineral extraction including the economy “ Para 144
At Halton Lea Gate, this, according to commentators, was why Northumberland County Council lost the appeal. Coal was to be treated as a mineral of national importance so that even a shortfall of just 140,000 tonnes could not be tolerated or else the lights would go out. This is a nonsense and the local people think so too – that is why they have started to raise money to fund their own Judicial Review and they have also started a petition to try to alter English planning policy to prevent similar applications elsewhere.
This decision is important to you here, as it sets a precedent for how DCC must consider this application. If the Judicial Review does not take place or is lost then the applicant can make exactly the same claim here about the national need for the coal on this site.
The fight to overturn the Halten Lea Gate decision then is your fight.
This claim, that coal is a mineral of national importance can be challenged, and LAON has begun the process of challenging it. We have been watching developments in the field of energy generation with interest for some time now. I’m now going to tell you some information that Provectus would rather you didn’t know. It’s another bit of the jigsaw.
Over the last five years our power stations have used on average 45.5m tonnes of coal to produce electricity. Somewhere between 17 and 20m tonnes of that coal has been produced in the UK, most of it from opencast mines. The rest is imported.
However, the use of coal for power generation purposes is set to decline sharply in the UK, as our older, less efficient, coal guzzling, polluting power stations go off line as they cannot meet modern pollution control standards.
A third of our coal generating capacity is in the process of closing or being converted to being fuelled by biomass.
In particular I’m talking about Tilbury, Didcot , Ferrybridge, Cockenzie, Kingsnorth and Ironbridge power stations Each of these stations could burn over 1m tonnes of coal a year, some 2 to 3m tonnes or more. Add together the coal burning capacity of these power stations and you are looking at a loss of about 10 – 12m tonnes of coal burning capacity.
They all have to close by the end of 2015, some before that.
Tilbury has already been converted to a biomass station.
But the rush out of coal does not end there. Drax Power owns the UK’s largest power station. It alone can burn, I estimate, up to 13m tonnes of coal a year.
For many years it has been using biomass as well. Now, because of changes in the subsidy system introduced by this Government to lessen Carbon Dioxide emissions, Drax Power announced, at the end of last month, that they planned to convert 3 of their 6 boilers to running on biomass only, starting next year and hoping to complete the conversion process by 2017.
That’s another reduction of about 6.5m tonnes.
Add it all together and our coal burning capacity could be down by about 18 – 20m m tonnes by 2017.
By 2017 then, our need to burn coal will fall from 45.5m tonnes to about 25.5m – 27.5m tonnes.
That is, a fall of between 40 and 44%
Then though, you have to add back the new power generation capacity created by burning biomass at Drax and Tilbury which has replaced the need to burn coal, reducing the demand for coal even further.
All of these changes in the power generation industry means that LAON is beginning to argue about whether there is a need for coal at local and national levels which over rides local opposition to new opencast mine proposals.
LAON are willing, when the time comes, to submit our objection to any submission that Provectus make for an opencast mine site here which claims that there is a national need for coal to be mined.
We have done it for the Shortwood application near Nottingham and a version of it is being submitted against the Hoodsclose application in Northumberland. We are already challenging this claim.
We in LAON are continuing to gather the evidence that challenges this need for coal argument so that we can convince others that the guidance needs to change.
We are also alerting MP’s to the issue. Our written evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Communities and Local Government on issues we have with the English Planning System and the way it deals with opencast coal applications, has just been accepted as evidence last Friday and I can make copies available to you.
This included how unfairly the English system treats those with a valid objection, provided evidence about how big a problem this is, with up to 97% of known surface mine reserves lying within 500m of where people live in England – 500m tonnes of coal. We also included information about the decline in the demand for coal. So changing national planning policy is part of the jigsaw as well.
Now, about those ships in the Humber, How do they fit into the jigsaw?
They are on their way to Immingham. More coal is imported through Immingham than any other UK port. It can take bulk carriers with loads of up to 140,000 tonnes of coal. So, two shipload of coal into the Humber equals more than the 200,000 tonnes of coal Provectus wants to mine here over a three year period.
In addition, once in port it is taken to where it is needed by rail.
Personally, I think this is better than you facing at least 3 years of messy, noisy disruption and all the loss of amenity that will entail, with all the coal being transported by road as well as the long wait afterwards whist the site recovers. Do you?
If so, we have to convince the powers that be that, given the reduced demand for coal in the future, it is far better to either deep mine the coal in the UK or import the coal, rather than tear up green field sites across England.
This is the Big Picture then. On the one hand, you have a predictable significant decline in the use of coal for power generation purposes. We also have a planning system which at the same time is making it easier for coal to be extracted closer and closer to where people live. In addition, we have ports with the capacity to take ships, which at one go can deliver a tonnage of coal equal to the total amount of coal Provectus wants to mine.
We have to change this picture. The two key bits to change are informing the powers that be that the use of coal is going to decline significantly in the next few years and therefore there can be changes in the planning system.
As a consequence we want two planning changes. Better protection from the prospect of having an opencast mine site near to where people live by introducing the 500m buffer zone policy into the English Planning system.
Secondly a review of importance attached to coal being a mineral which is classified as being a mineral of national importance.
If we do not, we know now we face the prospect in England of new opencast applications and mines getting ever closer to where people live as so many people live so close to surface minable coal.
If you are in agreement with this, then part of your own campaign here could be to alert the people at the top that you have a voice, that you have an argument and that you want change.
n the first instance I suggest that you start a letter writing campaign to both the Ministers concerned:
John Hayes, Minister of State for Energy, and
Nick Boles, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Planning.
In addition, do let your own MP, Natasha Engle know what you are doing as I know she is taking a keen interest in this issue.
Steve Leary, Co-ordinator, The Loose Anti Opencast Network
Contact via firstname.lastname@example.org