LAON PR2012 -10         18/10/12
Yesterday, the Communities and Local Government Select Committee published the written evidence put to it by various organisations in preparation for the oral evidence session held on Monday 15th October, including evidence from the Loose Anti Opencast Network (LAON)  as item PHM 40. (1)
In its submission, LAON said:
“Without strengthening rather than weakening safeguards against new opencast coal applications, this issue of planning applications for future opencast mines will continue to be the itch in the English planning system that will not go away. LAON maintain that there is already a fundamental incompatibility between protecting the level of amenity citizens should enjoy and the existing level of intrusion into that enjoyment already allowed, without sanctioning even greater levels of intrusion and loss of amenity”.
The Committee had asked for comments on the effect of implementing further changes to planning policy outlined by Eric Pickles in a written statement on September 6th. In making its response, LAON highlighted the following inequalities already experienced by English people who had legitimate grounds for opposing new opencast applications
· In Scotland and Wales no site should normally be within 500m of where people live. In England, no similar protection exists, so now people can live as close to 17m of a working site.
· The recent ‘Localism Act’ excluded mineral planning from its remit – the Act which was meant to bring power over land use decisions closer to the people affected by changes in land use.
· That the recent revision of planning policy resulting in the National Planning Policy Framework has shown evidence of a further erosion of safeguards meant to protect communities from unwarranted levels of intrusion as indicated in the recent Halton Lea Gate Opencast decision.
In addition, LAON has responded to four of the questions posed by the Select Committee. In answer to suggestions that the planning process be speeded up LOAN says that delays are sometimes caused by the applicant.
“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.”
The group is not at all in favour of the successful applicant being able to revise the community benefits attached to the gaining of planning permission.
Nor is LAON in favour of the suggestion that the power to take mineral planning decisions, including those for new opencast mines, away from Local Authorities and be give them either to the Planning Inspectorate to decide or treated treat them as Infrastructure Projects.
Rather it argues that such decisions should, in the first instance, be left to Local Authorities. In addition LAON make the following point.
“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.”
LAON is also concerned that these proposed changes to centralise decision making will result in such large complex applications not being given the scrutiny they deserve by local people who know the area. Because of the cost implications, it may well deter local people and local authorities from rigorously vetting such proposals and lodging legitimate objections. In the long run this may, LAON believe, result in poorer quality applications both being submitted and accepted which then risk greater environmental damage.
As a consequence LAON concludes that:
“For these reasons LAON has reached the conclusion that if the proposals announced on the 6th September were approved for determining mineral planning applications that they would have a very severe and detrimental impact on people. They may also contribute to lower quality mineral applications being approved that would have a detrimental environmental impact.”
Steve Leary, LAON’s Co-ordinator and the author of the submission said:
“Excuse the pun, but this is a burning issue for communities up and down the shallow coalfields of England. We link up groups in Northumberland, Co Durham, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Walsall. They are all witness to the issue of opencast mining being an actual or real threat on their doorstep. The injustice they experience by being denied the same degree of protection which is enjoyed by their fellow compatriots in Scotland and Wales makes them feel like second class citizens in their own country.
“Yet increasingly, they know that if the industry is not stopped by a revision of the English planning system, then as long as coal is deemed to be a mineral of national importance for power generation purposes, new applications are going to get ever closer to where people live. This is the conclusion to be drawn from the evidence in our submission, in which we state how much of that surface mineable coal , up to 97%, is to be found within 500m of where people live.  That is 500m tonnes of coal.
“However there have been recent announcements about power stations, such as Didcot closing and others such as Drax and Tilbury being all or partly converted to burn biomass instead of coal. In addition Ironbridge and Lynmouth power stations are being considered for conversion as well. We believe that this decline in coal burning capacity in the power stations must lead to a decline in the demand for coal and lesson our need for coal in the future. This raises questions about the status of coal in the planning system and whether it should still be considered a mineral for which there is a national need. We need that view revised, as well as the gaining the greater degree of protection afforded by the implementation of the 500m Buffer Zone policy.”
Steve Leary will be speaking further on this issue to the Hilltop Action Group at their Public Meeting on the proposed Hilltop Opencast Mine development at the Clay Cross Social Club tomorrow at 7.30pm in Clay Cross.
1) Communities and Local Government Committee,  Planning Housing and Growth Inquiry, Written Evidence as at 15/10/12: PMH 40 The Loose Anti Opencast Network @
About LAON
The Loose Anti-Opencast Network (LAON) has been in existence since 2009. It functions as a medium through which to oppose open cast mine applications. At present LAON links individuals and groups in N Ireland (Just Say No to Lignite), Scotland (Coal Action Scotland), Wales (Green Valleys Alliance, The Merthyr Tydfil Anti Opencast Campaign), England, (Coal Action Network), Northumberland, (Whittonstall Action Group, Halton Lea Gate Residents)) Co Durham (Pont Valley Network), Leeds, Sheffield (Cowley Residents Action Group), Kirklees, (Skelmansthorpe Action Group)  Nottinghamshire (Shortwood Farm Opencast Opposition), Derbyshire (West Hallum Environment Group, Smalley Action Group and Hilltop Action Group) , Leicestershire (Minorca Opencast Protest Group) and Walsall (Alumwell Action Group).
Contacting LAON
Steve Leary Co-ordinator, LAON  05601 767981 or
You can now follow LAON on Twitter @