Bill seeks to restrict quarry developments close to residential areas

A Labour MP has introduced a private member’s bill which aims to prevent local planning authorities from approving quarry developments which will be located near residential areas.

The bill, put forward by Matt Western, proposes to introduce a “presumption” in planning decision-making against approving such developments in an attempt to protect communities from potentially harmful emissions produced by mining activities. The bill will also require the risks of these sites to health and the environment to be assessed as part of the planning process and to make provision about the use of quarries for waste disposal and connected purposes.

Speaking at the first reading of the Bill in the House of Commons on 1st December, Mr Western indicated that he had been motivated to act on the issue and “push for a change in the law” due to a planning application in his constituency for a proposed sand and gravel quarrying site located near to the villages of Barford and Wasperton. Mr Western referred to studies carried out in America in relation to the impact of silica on air quality, which indicated that residents living within 1,500 meters of mineral sites emitting silica, may be adversely impacted by the dust particles. Under the bill, any new mineral mines or silica-emitting sites would not gain approval unless they are located at least a specified distance from homes and communities.

Mr Western stated that the ‘broader issue lies with existing legislation under the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning)(England) Regulations 2012 and the 2012 national planning policy framework, under which local authorities are legally bound to prepare minerals plans with 15-year horizons.’ This efficiency of this process, he suggested, is ‘dependent on realistic housing and planning projections.’ He further indicated that the current legal framework ‘fails to acknowledge the latest science on air quality and the threat to human health’, particularly in relation to the air quality standards for silica, which he deemed ‘inadequate’.

Mr Western stated that ‘communities up and down the country face the same challenges’ in relation to emissions from quarry sites and landfills, including Walley’s Quarry in Silverdale, a matter which has gained national attention. Mr Western clarified that he is not against quarries but is of the view that legislation is needed to ensure that ‘all quarries and landfill sites are located a safe distance from our communities, villages and towns throughout the country, not at locations that favour the businesses or authorities that approve them.’ The Bill, Mr Western stated:

"Has three objectives: to create a presumption against granting permission for quarry developments in close proximity to settlements; to impose a requirement to assess the risks of proposed quarrying sites to health and the environment, as part of the planning process; and to make provisions related to the use of waste disposal of quarries."

Crucially, the Bill makes a clear distinction between new sites and established quarries and waste sites which existed prior to residential developments being built in their vicinity. Mr Western confirmed that ‘existing businesses and facilities should not have unreasonable restrictions placed on them as a result of development permitted after they were established.’

Where such operations have the potential to have ‘a significant adverse effect on a new development (including changes of use)’ the applicant ‘should be required to secure suitable mitigation before the development has been completed.’ This requirement would act as a safeguard against new housing developments being given approval if they are located close to quarries and landfills without providing satisfaction that residents of those developments will not be adversely impacted by the operations of these sites.

Mr Western’s bill raises a number of pertinent issues and seeks to address the deficiencies in the current planning legislation. However, the question is whether the bill will actually become law. The bill was introduced by Mr Western under the 10 minute rule, a process described by Hansard as ‘an opportunity to voice an opinion on a subject or aspect of existing legislation, rather than a serious attempt to get a bill passed.’ Relatively few private member’s bills raised in this way go on to become law. Nevertheless, they are a useful way of raising the profile of an issue and generating debate. In the case of Mr Western’s bill, a second reading is scheduled for 28th January, suggesting that the issue is something which, at least, merits further discussion.