BRIEFING NOTE ON THE GROWTH AND INFRASTRUCTURE BILL: PROPOSED 100 HECTARE THRESHOLD
GIB 1 28TH NOVEMBER 2012
The Government is intending, by means of legislation which forms part of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill (Clause 21), to introduce a 100 hectare threshold on all future mining and quarrying planning applications in England. It has issued a consultation document ‘Nationally significant infrastructure planning: extending the regime to business and commercial projects: consultation’  to assess reaction to their proposals. This Briefing Note outlines the impact that this proposal would have on current English opencast mine proposals.
THE ENGLISH PLANNING PROCESS FOR OPENCAST MINE PROPOSALS
There are currently at least 11 potential or actual opencast mine applications in England at present. These fall into two groups in the planning process. There are those proposals that are at the Scoping stage, where a potential applicant has asked formally for an opinion on what should be included in a planning application. The second group is where a formal application has been made but no decision has yet been made. 
POTENTIAL APPLICATIONS AT THE SCOPING STAGE
There are three potential applications at this stage of the process, two of which call fall under the new regime if it is implemented, Deanfield and Marley Hill Colliery Reclamation.
DEANFIELD (West of New Sharleston, Wakefield) (Wakefield MDC) (Scoping Inquiry) (UK Coal) (1.180, 000 tonnes) (138 hectares)
HILLTOP PROJECT (nr. Clay Cross, Derbyshire) (Derbyshire County Council) (Scoping Inquiry) (Provectus Remediation) (130,000) (30 hectares)
MARLEY HILL COLLIERY RECLAMATION (Sunnyside, Gateshead (Co Durham also affected), (Scoping Enquiry) (UK Coal) (c1.0m) (118 hectares)
OPENCAST MINE APPLICATIONS
There are eight applications which are current at the time of writing (28/11/12). Two of them, Hoodsclose and Shortwood Farm are over 100 hectares and would be considered National Infrastructure Projects under these proposals.
BIRKLANDS LANE, (nr .Marley Hill, Gateshead MDC), (Gateshead: Reference No DC/11/00687/MIN) (Application) (Hall Construction Services) (275,000) (34.8 hectares)
BRADLEY (nr. Consett) (Co Durham) (Judicial Review) (UK Coal) (500,000) (68 hectares)
DEARNE LEA, WEST CLAYTON (S.E. of Huddersfield) (Kirklees Council: Reference No. 2012/62/9113/ED) (Application) (George Harrison Ltd) (190,000) (18.8 hectares)
FERNEYBEDS, WIDDRINGTON STATION (8 miles NW of Ashington) (Northumberland County Council) (Application) (Banks Group) (750,000) (95.6 hectares)
GEORGE FARM (nr. Smalley, Derbyshire) (Derbyshire County Council: Ref No. CM6/1110/112) (Application) (LEM Resources) (400,000) (35.2 hectares)
HALTON LEA GATE (c 5 miles SW of Haltwhistle) (Northumberland County Council) (Judicial Inquiry) (HM Developments) (140,000) (75 acres)
HOODSCLOSE Whittonstall (Northumberland County Council) (Application) (UK Coal) (2,200,000) (208 hectares)
SHORTWOOD FARM (Trowell, nr Nottingham, Nottinghamshire) (Application) (UK Coal) (1,275,000) (130 hectares)
This proposal to remove making decisions about larger opencast mine applications from local authority control is something which LAON opposes. From our point of view, the larger the site, the more sensitive is the issue of the impact that the site will have on the local communities and the more people it will affect. In our Memorandum to the Growth and Infrastructure Public Bill Committee LAON argued this about such a proposal:
“It would weakens the opportunity to object to a planning application,
It could affect thousands of people living on or close to England’s shallow coal fields,
There is little evidence to suggest that the present planning system used to determine opencast planning applications is delaying or preventing successful planning applications from being made.
Planning policy for coal should be aligned with Energy Policy. The expectation is that the use of coal for power generation purposes is going to decline significantly in the near future. There is no need therefore, to change the planning process for determining new opencast coal sites.” 
As for claims made that such a proposal would not affect the quality of planning decisions, our recent evidence to the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government stated the following:
“......... but as far as the complex process of dealing with mineral planning applications is concerned, objectors play a vital role in improving the quality of successful applications as well as defeating poor applications. The level of scrutiny given by opponents to sizeable 1,500 page long submissions, often points out legitimate causes for concern based on local knowledge, which if not addressed, would mean approving applications which would have a detrimental environmental impact. The issue here may be more to do with the poor quality of the initial submission rather than the ‘bureaucratic delays’ often cited as the cause. “ 
If the issue is about speeding up planning decisions LAON made this point in the same document
“Mineral planning applications suffer from two other sources of delay. Firstly the length of time it takes for statutory consultees to respond to consultation requests. Secondly the length of time it takes applicants to consider valid objections and resubmit revised applications. If the Government wants to speed up the planning decision making process for mineral planning applications, it should not give the applicant unlimited amounts of time to respond to valid objections. The onus should be on the applicant submitting an application of sufficient quality in the first instance and not using the system to allow valid objections to become means by which the quality of the application can be improved” 
Our concern, as pointed out in both of our previous submissions, is that too much surface minable coal, up to 97% of the known 516m tonnes of surface coal reserves, are within 500m of where people live..Decisions that could affect thousands of people in the future about proposals to mine this coal should be left as local decisions that are taken by local people who know the local area and who are accountable to local people. They should not be taken by a single, non accountable person.
© Steve Leary
1) ‘ Nationally significant infrastructure planning: extending the regime to business and commercial projects: consultation’ @
2) All the information about opencast sites has been extracted from the 7th Review of UK Opencast Sites (forthcoming). The 6th Review, which does not always contain information about the size of opencast sites can be accessed here:
3) Growth and Infrastructure Bill: Memorandum submitted by The Loose Anti Opencast Network GIB 32, Para 3, Parliament Publications, 22/11/12 @
4) Planning and Housing: A Memorandum from The Loose Anti Opencast Network on evidence to put before the new Ministers for Housing and Planning, Para 5.1, Parliament Publications, 17/10/12 @
5) Op cit Para 6.1
6) Planning and Housing: A Memorandum from The Loose Anti Opencast Network on evidence to put before the new Ministers for Housing and Planning, Para 4, Parliament Publications, 17/10/12 and
Growth and Infrastructure Bill: Memorandum submitted by The Loose Anti Opencast Network GIB 32, Para 3
For how to access these, see the above references.