PLANNING POLICY FOR MINERALS EXTRACTION
9. Development plans identify the demographic, economic, environmental and social needs of the area and set out a long-term strategy to address them. For minerals, the key strategic aim is to provide policies and land allocations that do not prevent mineral working yet accommodate community and environmental interests. Strategic Environmental Assessment ( SEA) of development plans will ensure that the environmental consequences of the development strategy are rigorously examined.
10. Under the present two-tier system, structure plans set out the requirement for minerals, consider the need for safeguarding, define areas where international and nationally important designations are unlikely to be reconciled with mineral working and set priorities for development management. Local plans define those matters more precisely. In future, local development plans will establish both the strategy and the detail, except in the four largest city regions, where strategic development plans will continue to consider strategic matters.
11. When developing minerals policy, planning authorities should have regard to resource availability, the quality of the deposits and their suitability for working. This should lead to the identification in development plans of areas of search, with a reasoned justification for the safeguarding of such areas or particular sites and the criteria to be satisfied by minerals proposals. Safeguarding also applies to land allocated for development in development plans which is underlain by minerals and where prior extraction of the mineral would be beneficial. In identifying search areas, planning authorities should liaise closely with operators, neighbouring planning authorities and use other verifiable sources of information such as geological mapping or the results of exploratory drilling to identify aggregates, non-aggregate construction and other minerals.
12. When preparing and reviewing plans, planning authorities, in consultation with stakeholders, should consider the operation and effectiveness of previously identified areas of search. Proposals for the review of plans every 5 years and the constraints of other spatial policies may obviate the need for search areas particularly if landbanks for construction aggregates are significantly in excess of 10 years. Where the review process indicates that there is no developer interest planning authorities should consider modifying or deleting the search area from the plan.
13. Where there is a concentration of minerals resources, a minerals subject local plan may be the appropriate means of setting out local authority policies, proposals and opportunities. Supplementary planning guidance ( SPG) that has been subject to public consultation may also have a role although SPG should not substitute for adequate development plan coverage of minerals planning issues.
14. Through SEA, development plan policies should aim to minimize any significant negative impacts from mineral extraction on the interests and amenity of local communities, the built and natural heritage or other economic sectors important to the local economy 3. Policies should require a high standard of restoration and aftercare and provide for beneficial after-uses when mineral working has ceased. They should also facilitate the recycling and re-use of material in waste tips and construction and demolition wastes at appropriate general industrial locations or minerals sites. Planning authorities should set out their policy on planning agreements in their development plans and provide a reasoned justification to provide clarity to communities and to the minerals industry.
Working with communities
15. Where mineral extraction takes place close to communities or they are affected by the transporting of minerals, extraction can be regarded as an unwelcome environmental intrusion and nuisance. Certain types of mineral working may be defined as "major developments" under Planning Bill proposals to promote efficiency and inclusion within the system. Access to relevant information is essential to ensure effective engagement with communities as stakeholders in development planning and in the process of determining applications. When preparing development plans, the Executive expects planning authorities to identify community sensitivity and look to overcome difficulties in principle by working closely with communities. Proposals in the Planning Bill include a requirement for pre-application consultation for certain categories of development. Pre-application consultation by operators is intended to provide community councils, other representative bodies or individuals with a worthwhile opportunity to comment on development proposals. The Planning Bill includes powers that would allow a planning authority to decline to register an application where a developer has not engaged adequately.
16. Community participation requires close public involvement at pre-application stage since affected communities will also have local knowledge of the issues to be addressed. This should also ensure a better public understanding of the likely environmental effects of proposals and how these will be mitigated. Operators should allow sufficient time for the preparation and submission of an application and any environmental statement, particularly if more complex or seasonal issues are likely to be raised.
17. Where, following pre-application consultations, planning permission has been granted, the operator's performance is important in securing the confidence of communities in the vicinity of minerals sites. Minerals operators' environmental audits, community liaison or advisory panels established to promote mutual understanding can ensure that concerns are addressed properly and quickly. Liaison committees or good neighbour agreements may have a role in offering communities greater involvement in the operation of developments which affect them.
18. Where mineral working is to take place close to communities, proposals must address fully the implications for such communities in order to minimise local difficulties. Planning authorities and operators, in consultation with local communities, should seek to agree a buffer distance that is reasonable, taking into account the specific circumstances of each individual proposal. This will include its size, duration, location, method of working, local topography and the characteristics of the various environmental effects likely to arise and the mitigation that can be achieved. PAN 50; Controlling the Environmental Effects of Surface Mineral Workings provides advice on a range of sensitivities to specific effects. Where provided for in planning permissions, buffer zones should be measured from the site boundary rather than the closest working face.
19. Planning authorities should ensure that proposals for new development will not lead to a disproportionate burden of negative environmental impacts on settlements. This will be particularly important if there are already two or more operational, or consented, sites that could raise similar impacts within 5 km of any nearby community. Such sites will include other minerals sites, opencast coal sites and landfill sites. The range of cumulative impacts is best addressed where EIA is required, or in information supporting planning applications. Cumulative impact is not only settlement-related but can affect landscape, natural heritage, the rural economy's diversification and regeneration, or occur as a result of successive operations over long periods of time. The issue of cumulative impact can also be addressed in development plans through SEA.
20. Planning authorities should seek an assessment from the applicant of the likely cumulative impacts of additional workings on all settlements within a radius of 5 km of the proposed site boundary. This should include site design, likely further increases in road traffic, period and intensity of disturbance to communities and the length of time and level of landscape impact. The developer should demonstrate what measures will be taken to mitigate likely cumulative impacts. If adverse cumulative impacts cannot be mitigated adequately, permission should be refused.