LAON puts a question to CPRE about opencast and planning

The day after the election Shaun Spiers, the Chief Executive of CPRE wrote a blog about what the manifesto of the new Conservative government might mean for a range of countryside issues. LAON’s Steve Leary posted this response:

Hello Shaun,

Would CPRE consider taking any action on tacking the rather ambiguous position that is the position of coal in the planning system? Prior to the election, all the main party leaders pledged to remove unabated coal from being used in power stations by 2025. However nothing was said about changing the current planning system when it comes to considering granting planning approval for new opencast mines.

At present, applicants can claim that extracting indigenous coal lessens the carbon footprint because it will take fewer carbon emissions to transport this coal to power stations than it would importing it from Siberia!! This is treated as a material consideration when such applications are determined and totally disregards what the impact will be of burning the coal in UK Power stations would be if planning approval is granted.

In addition opencast mining causes environmental destruction – in Scotland and Wales currently on a large scale (see George Monbiot’s recent article: ‘Big Coal’s big scam: scar the land for profit, then let others pay to clean up’ The Guardian, 28/4/15

England is not immune from the risk of having un-restored sites since UK Coal went into administration, It seems not all of their English sites have since been properly restored, Stobswood and Steadsburn in Northumberland and Huntington Lane in Telford all it seems, need more work done on them to fully restore the sites.

And new applications are still current, Bradley in Co Durham is one and Banks Mining has indicated its intention to seek planning permission for the 5m tonne Highthorn site in Northumberland.

The Loose Anti Opencast Group (LAON) have been working with local groups who oppose opencast mine applications since 2009. Because of our experience, we seek to end this anomalous position with regard to coal, when energy policy plans to end its use for the foreseeable future whilst planning policy encourages its extraction and use. To this end LAON is proposing changes to the NPPF along the following lines:

LAON argues that there should be a closer correspondence between Climate Change policies aimed at reducing the risk of Climate Change and National Planning Policies. To this end, LAON seeks the following changes in National Planning Policies:

  • Firstly, applicants for new opencast mines should have to agree to provide a ‘Pre Payment Restoration Bond which would give effective control over the development of the site back to the planning authority. Under such a system, as proposed by Durham County council for the Bradley site. No new phase of the development could be started if the money to restore that phase of the development was not in the hands of the planning authority before that phase started.
  • Secondly, as part of national strategies to prevent climate change, the applicant would have to prove that the coal extracted would only be used by a facility / power station fitted with Carbon Capture and Storage Technology.
  • Thirdly, applicants would have to prove that the short term economic benefits of surface mining the coal fully outweigh the social costs of causing pollution, needing to fund climate mitigation measures caused by burning the coal and the costs falling on the NHS of air pollution which contributes to the cost of treating chronic illness conditions and up to 1600 annually estimated premature deaths in the UK from burning coal for power generation purposes.
  • Fourthly all UK citizens should benefit from the same level of protection from the risk of opencast mining by having implemented an effective 500 meter buffer zone surrounding all new opencast coal sites as suggest in Andrew Bridgen’s ‘500m Buffer Zone Bill’ .
  • Lastly the clauses in previous planning guidance on there being a ‘presumption against opencast mining’ should be reinserted into planning guidance.

We believe that proposals along these lines, if adopted by the Government would go a long way to protecting large areas of the counrtyside from the risk of opencast mining and the legacy of un-restored mine sites.

I would be interested in any comments you have to make on these ideas for change and whether CPRE would consider supporting these proposals to change the English Planning System?

Steve Leary for The Loose Anti Opencast Network.

Underneath that post Nick Clack, CPRE’s minerals campaigner, made a positive response. You can download CPRE’s 2008 position paper on opencast coal mining here.