Quarries threaten English landscape

Environmentalists warn that some of England’s “finest landscapes” are threatened by operators with the legal right to quarry enough aggregates to build more than 112 million houses, or 85,000 miles of motorway.

The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) revealed on 31 January that the power of county councils and national park planners to protect land is seriously compromised by the quarry operators right to dig 6.2 billion tonnes of aggregates – sand, gravel and crushed rock. This amount, it says in new research, far exceeds building demand, with South West England and the East Midlands the areas most at risk. Both regions have more than six times the amount of mineral industry ‘landbanks’ required for building purposes.

CPRE, an NGO with a branch in every county, said its research shows that whilst mineral companies held 6.2 billion tonnes of permitted reserves of aggregates in 1997, approximately 55 tonnes of aggregate are used in the construction of an average house and 45,000 tonnes are used in a typical 1 km stretch of motorway. This means that, whilst government policy requires seven years of supply of land with permission for quarrying, the South West and the East Midlands both have over 50 years’ worth of such land, and all other regions had an over-supply.

“The Government needs to take urgent action to reduce the vast landbanks held by the minerals industry,” said Henry Oliver, CPRE’s quarrying campaigner. “Because these sites can be opened for quarrying at any time, they are a time bomb ticking at the heart of some of our finest landscapes. This excess of supply in the pipeline makes a nonsense of Government efforts to encourage recycling and efficient use of aggregates, and protect communities and the countryside from unnecessary quarrying. Mineral planning authorities are currently powerless to alter the rate of quarrying at active sites without paying substantial compensation to quarry operators.”

CPRE has put forward several proposals, which it says show how the Government, which is currently consulting on the future of minerals planning, could enable councils to get a grip on quarrying while not penalising the industry. The proposals include:

  • an immediate review by minerals planning authorities of all planning permissions for quarrying aggregates;
  • setting clear targets at national, regional and county level for reducing levels of quarrying for aggregates;
  • the phased release of sites with planning permission but which are not currently operational; and
  • new or revised conditions on the amount of aggregate that can be taken out of quarries, to control production in line with demand reduction targets.

“The Government has shown a welcome determination to make progress towards greener minerals planning,” Oliver added. “But the current oversupply will seriously undermine reform. We need to see a real attempt by Government to tackle the spectre of quarrying that hangs over the countryside in its forthcoming draft planning guidance.”

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