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NPPF - changes to national planning policy on minerals

On 24 July, the government released the long-anticipated revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Setting the emphasis on building new homes, Secretary of State for Communities, the Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP said: “Fundamental to building the homes our country needs is ensuring that our planning system is fit for the future." So where do minerals fit into the revised NPPF?

'Great weight' for new mineral applications

A typical home is built with 12 tonnes of mortar and 200 tonnes of aggregate (source the Minerals Product Association). Some of this will be recycled or secondary material, but the majority will have been freshly extracted or mined. Government has historically understood that the production of aggregates and cement (as well as a myriad of other industrial minerals) is therefore essential to the economy.

The planning system is the key regulatory control of quarries and mines. It was therefore a significant concern to the industry in March this year to see that the wording in the consultation draft of the NPPF downplayed the importance of minerals. There was much relief to see that this was corrected in the final draft.

The NPPF recognises that it is essential that there is a sufficient supply of minerals to provide the infrastructure, buildings, energy and goods that the country needs (paragraph 203).

The NPPF requires that decision-makers determining applications for new quarries give 'great weight' to the benefits of mineral extraction. Instructions to apply 'great weight' are not readily given, which means new mineral applications are in the same company as applications for schools and the protection of National Parks, AONBs, and heritage assets.

The agent of change principle

Mineral reserves and the infrastructure necessary to deliver minerals to market will continue to be safeguarded. Existing quarries and mineral processing facilities now also benefit from the 'agent of change' protection.

This means that new development will be integrated effectively with existing minerals operations, meaning that  existing businesses are not to be unreasonably restricted by development permitted after they were established. Any amenity impact arising from an existing business should be mitigated by the new development. This is not a licence to cause noise or dust pollution for mineral operators, rather a re-setting of the 'I was here first' principle.

Landbanks

In the 2012 NPPG mineral planning authorities set out to 'make provision' for the maintenance of landbanks of at least 7 years for sand and gravel and 10 years for crushed rock. The new NPPF is more explicit, requiring that mineral planning authorities maintain those landbanks. This is a subtle but important change, placing an ongoing requirement to ensure sufficient mineral landbanks on the planning authorities.

Securing the supply

But not all the changes to policy on the supply of minerals are positive. Mineral planning authorities are not now required to take into account the need to secure the supply of a range of types of aggregates, or supplies from various locations relative to markets, or individual permitted sites' production capacity.  This will be missed by those mineral operators who were relying on this provision to support their currently undetermined planning applications.

Protecting woodland

The NPPF also introduced enhanced provisions to protect ancient woodland and veteran trees. Where these are present, development should be refused unless there are 'wholly exceptional reasons' and suitable compensation is offered.

Despite the initial fears generated by the consultation, the revisions to the NPPF will be generally welcomed by the mineral sector.

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at August 2018. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.

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