Press release from the LOOSE ANTI OPEN-CAST NETWORK, 16 December 2012
On Monday, The Growth and Infrastructure Bill returns to the floor of the House of Commons for a debate on the Report stage of the Bill. The Loose Anti Opencast Network’s (LAON) view is that this is an attack on local democratic accountability. We would far rather that such decision making powers remained in the hands of Local Government.
Supporters of LAON will be especially anxious about whether Clause 23 of the Bill, formally known as Clause 21, will be amended in such a way that all reference to the provisions of the Bill include the possibility of the surface mining of coal being designated a national infrastructure project are removed. If this amendment is not forthcoming, then they are asking MP’s to consider another amendment, to introduce a 500m separation zone between the boundary of a site and where people live, similar to provisions already in place in Scotland and Wales. An attempt to introduce such a policy through Andrew Bridgen’s Private Member’s Bill in 2011, was talked out during its second reading.
LAON has written to some MPs on these proposed amendments. The letter to them argues that planning permission for new opencast mines should not be treated in the same way as planning permission for other minerals. Coal, we argue is different for the following reasons:
Firstly there is a proximity issue. Reserves of surface mineable coal, unlike most other commercial minerals, lie very close to towns and villages across England. An estimate reported to the Communities and Local Government Committee in October was that 97%, or 500m tonnes of this coal, was within 500m of where people live.
Secondly there is a planning blight issue that just relates to coal. Current planning rules mean that if a Developer declares an interest in developing a site for a new surface coal mine, and this can be long before they submit an actual planning application, all house owners living within 800m of the proposed site boundary will find themselves suffering from planning blight. This is because if a prospective buyer asks for a search to be undertaken on any property that happens to lie within this 800m zone, it will indicate this risk. This will deter prospective buyers until either a decision is made or the developer withdraws from the planning process. At the present time, Local Authorities have some degree of control over this timetable. Under what is proposed, it is the Developer alone who decides when they think they have a strong enough case to go to the next stage of getting planning permission from the Planning Inspectorate under what is proposed, removing from local people any control on when the planning decision will eventually be made.
Thirdly there is the frequency issue We would argue that in the shallow coalfield areas of England the number of surface mine applications is an issue. Unlike most other forms of mineral extraction surface mines are operated for relatively short periods of time, 3 -7 years in England. However the down side of this is, that to maintain production levels, many more of them are needed than applies to other forms of mineral extraction, where the lifetime of a resource is far longer.
Lastly, coal is becoming obsolete as source of energy for electrical generation purposes. It is the intention of the recently introduced Energy Bill to squeeze out the use of coal from the UK’s energy mix to better enable the UK to meet its international low carbon commitments. However coal may be phased out from the UK energy mix earlier than expected. All European Energy Generating Companies will have to ensure that, by 2023, their generating plant complies with the Industrial Emissions Directive’s (IED) lower emission standards.
In an evidence session to a House of Lords Committee examining EU Energy: Decarbonisation and Economic Competitiveness on 5/12/12, Derek Brewer, from the UK Coal Producers Association said:
“The IED does not substantially change the requirements in terms of sulphur. It does change things dramatically in terms of NOx and only one plant in the UK has made the decision thus far to invest to meet the requirements of the IED. Carbon price support may well mean that no other plant will do so and we face the closure of the whole of the existing fleet, more or less. This is the fleet that, as of today, is generating over 40% of this country’s electricity.”  LAON therefore cannot understand why, in our view, these proposals will make it easier to get planning permission for new opencast sites.
LAON has an overarching fear that this new proposed method of gaining planning permission will mean that if a new surface mine proposal gains the label of being a major infrastructure project, it will demonstrate that there is a national need for the project to go ahead. This, in our view, will make this a ‘bulldozer’ clause that the developer will use to push aside all local claims about the loss of amenity that will be suffered and the proximity of the site to where people live, as the application then continues along the route proscribed for national infrastructure projects.
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), (Saline Parish Hub), 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 LAON’Ss Co-ordinator, at
Tel 05601 767981 or 077115 01215
You can now follow LAON on Twitter @