The Aggregates & Recycling Information Network

MPA concerned over inertia in the planning system

  • 18 October 2012 - 16:19

    New Annual Mineral Planning Survey (AMPS) sends worrying signals about future aggregate supplies

    THE Mineral Products Association (MPA) is calling on government to overcome inertia in the planning system in order to ensure a steady and adequate supply of aggregates, which is essential to the construction industry and the economy.

    The MPA’s new Annual Mineral Planning Survey (AMPS) for 2010 highlights that the plan-led system is failing to free-up sufficient land for extraction, meaning that adequate reserves of materials might not be available when needed to fuel economic recovery.  

    Key facts from the AMPS include:

    • Average replenishment rates of aggregate reserves are continuing to decline. Less than 50% of sand and gravel reserves have been replenished in the last 10 years to 2010 and only around 67% of hard rock reserves
    • There has been a 40% drop in the total tonnage of landbanks in England and Wales since 1997
    • 25% of sand and gravel landbanks in England are below the minimum of seven years and 50% are below 10 years
    • The 15-year average approval rate for hard rock applications is 91% and for sand and gravel applications is 83%
    • The success rate of sand and gravel appeals is 80% over a 15-year period
    • There has been no appreciable improvement in the time it takes to obtain planning permission since 1996
    • Sand and gravel approvals took an average of 28 months in 2010 and hard rock approvals 36 months
    • The statistics indicate that pre-application discussions do nothing to shorten this process. The majority of applications still take in excess of 12 months
    • In 2010, only nine planning applications for new extraction were submitted by members, compared with 40 in 1996
    • At the end of August 2012, only 44 out of 95 mineral planning authorities in England had an adopted Core Strategy, when the original target for completion of these documents was the end of 2007. In Wales, only five out of 25 authorities had an adopted local development plan.  

    According to MPA, the Annual Mineral Planning Survey bears out its concerns that it is getting more and more difficult for mineral operators to work with the regulatory system to obtain their ‘licence to operate’. 

    Nigel Jackson, chief executive of the Association, explained: ‘It’s not surprising that the planning applications aren’t coming forward. While the overall approval rate of applications is adequate, they take too long, they cost too much – between £100,000 and £800,000 – and lengthy pre-application discussions don’t help.

    ‘Eighty percent of sand and gravel appeals are successful, which means that too many bad decisions are being made on sand and gravel applications. The costs of planning appeals are high and that’s just money wasted for both quarry companies and planning authorities,’ he said.

    Mr Jackson continued: ‘Most mineral plans are out of date. At the end of August 2012, less than 50% mineral planning authorities in England had an adopted Core Strategy (the most important local planning policy document) and only about 20% of authorities in England and Wales have a Local Development Plan in place. 

    ‘Where there are no up-to-date plans, we know that the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) will kick in next year, but the jury is still out on whether this will deliver greater certainty and more timely permissions. 

    ‘The performance of the plan-led system has been extremely disappointing in spite of recent changes,’ said Mr Jackson. ‘Costs are rising as charges are levied for services that were previously considered part of statutory duties and the costs of new and often pointless additional regulation are being heaped on top of that. There is a continual drift towards increased planning fees and charges for discussions with no commensurate improvement in planning performance. 

    ‘Operators feel that the system is now about finding reasons to refuse. The NPPF is supposed to change all that, but the early signs are not encouraging. Quick bad decisions may make planning authority performance look good, but do nothing for the economy.

    ‘With too few plans, low landbanks, diminishing replenishment rates, increasing costs, and planning inertia fuelling uncertainty, we are storing up supply problems for the recovery, and lack of demand is masking underlying supply problems for the future,’ said Mr Jackson.

    ‘Government needs to get a grip on the realities rather than assuming things will improve. The Department for Communities and Local Government and the Planning Inspectorate need to step up their monitoring and put pressure on local authorities to ensure that the plan-making system is more streamlined and responsive.’ 

    The MPA says it hopes that reporting AMPS information more openly in the future will prompt constructive debate on the realities of aggregates supply which is essential to the construction industry and the economy.