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Regulators still not embracing sustainable development

MPA conference

MPA conference hears how sustainable development should be the key imperative in planning

THE 7th Annual MPA Members Environment & Mineral Planning Conference was held at the end of March at the University of Warwick where the overriding message, from a good member turn-out of more than 75 planning and permitting experts, was that regulators are still too preoccupied with old-style environmental imperatives to have properly embraced the concept of sustainable development.

Ken Hobden, the Mineral Products Association’s director of mineral planning, said: ‘Two years on from the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework, which announced the presumption in favour of sustainable development as a ‘golden thread’ running through plan-making and decision-taking, there is little evidence that regulators have grasped that thread.’


The conference highlighted that continuing over-emphasis on often competing environmental interests is making sustainable minerals more difficult to deliver, with the balance most definitely swinging away from the planning permission as the primary component of the licence to operate.

Concluding her presentation, Lucy Binnie of Land and Mineral Management Ltd said: ‘It is increasingly difficult to see how progressing planning and environmental permitting in parallel is the best option for most proposals. The environmental permit is seen by many as the most risky and arduous to obtain and therefore should be undertaken first. Intuitively, this seems totally out of sync with the balance of interests approach necessary to deliver sustainable development.’

Another major concern is the widely held view that the decisions of the Planning Inspectorate can no longer be relied upon to pull mineral planning authority decisions back in line with government objectives, when local political imperatives increasingly allow little weight to be attached to sustainability.

In addition, the issue of inert infill for quarry restoration and the insistence of the Environment Agency (EA) that this should be classed as a disposal operation, continues to impact negatively on the minerals industry.

Hugh Lucas, chairman of the MPA’s Environment & Mineral Planning Committee, commented: ‘The Environment Agency’s position on inert fill for quarry restoration is getting in the way of maximizing the sustainability benefits of mineral working. There is a perception that the attitude of the EA is more focused on process than outcomes. It would be good for industry and the EA to be able to work together to help secure the implementation of planning permissions for sustainable development.’


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