Loose Anti Opencast Network (LAON) press release, 2 April 2013
Since this Government was elected, its attitude to opencast mine applications in England has, from the point of view of objectors, gone from bad to worse. Firstly we had the imposition of the new National Planning Policy Framework, which puts the ‘need for coal’ argument above other amenity and landscape considerations, if the decision to approve the Halton Lea Gate Application, made last year after a Public Inquiry, is taken as a precedent.
Furthermore, since then the Growth and Infrastructure Bill has nearly completed its passage through Parliament. Clause 24, which started out as clause 21, remains intact. If passed in its present form it will mean that if the prospective site for a new opencast mine is more than 100 hectares or 247 acres, the developer can choose to take the decision for such a mine to the Infrastructure Planning Commission to see if the application can be labelled a ‘major infrastructure project’. At present 4 of the 13 surface mine proposals that LAON knows about which are in the public domain are over 100 hectares. The details are contained in LAON’s recently published March Review of English Opencast site developments which can be read here:
If the Application is so labelled, the decision will be taken out of the hands of the local mineral (elected) planning authority and decided by a single Planning Inspector appointed by the (unelected) Commission. The Inspector’s decision will be made after a Public Inquiry has been held. The cost involved of objectors gaining effective representation at such an Inquiry may well deter objectors from representing their interests.
On more than one occasion (on both third readings in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords) time to properly debate this clause of the Bill and move any amendments was curtailed, so on each occasion , the final vote in both Houses was taken without any amendments being put.
So on the one hand we will have a system whereby the developer can  offer ‘community benefits’ to offset the loss of amenity local residents will suffer whilst on the other hand at the same time local residents may well find themselves priced out of being able to say precisely what amenity loss they will suffer!
The Loose Anti Opencast Network’s attempts to lobby Parliament on more than one occasion to point out the flaws in what the Government are proposing have so far failed. Localism it seems stops as soon as Minerals such as coal are mentioned.
However, two, more local developments, may have wider, significant outcomes. Firstly the Stop Opencast in Sharlston group in Wakefield, have, through lobbying their local community forum it seems, the Normanton Area Forum, persuaded Wakefield Council to undertake a Health Impact Assessment  (HIA) on UK Coal’s plans to excavate over 1m tonnes of coal from the Deanfield  site near Sharlston, This, the first such Assessment to be undertaken in England for four years and only the second ever in England, gives hope to the local residents and to groups opposing opencast plans elsewhere ,that a proper assessment of all the health concerns people raise will be properly addressed.
In explaining the purpose of the Deanfield HIA, John Wilcox, who will conduct the HIA and who is an officer of Wakefield Council, states:
“A Health Impact Assessment, sometimes called an HIA for short, is a means of judging all the ways a proposal might affect the health and wellbeing of various different groups of people. This can include looking at both negative impacts, that make people’s health worse and positive impacts, that act to improve people’s health. Health Impact Assessments also look at what actions can be taken to increase the positive effects and reduce the negative effects of a proposal. Health Impact Assessments try to involve every group who may be affected by a proposal including those making the proposal, groups against the proposal and local residents.”
A local steering group has been set up, which includes George Balaam, Chairperson of the Stop Opencast at Sharlston Group and UK Coal Surface Mining, to conduct the assessment.
The other good bit of news is that the latest stage in mounting a Judicial Review of the Halton Lea Gate decision which gave approval for this 140,000 tonne site after a Public Inquiry last August, has been passed. Hartleyburn Parish Council was afraid that they could be landed with a large legal bill if they lost the Judicial Review which they are mounting. They recently learned that their contribution would be capped at £10,000 and so plans are afoot to raise the addition sum of money needed to fight the appeal.
Mounting this Appeal is of national significance for the reasons stated earlier. If you want to support the funding of this appeal, you can send money to: North Pennine Protection Group,  Account no:01014587, Sort code: 40-23-06 and send to: 5 High Midgeholme, Brampton, Cumbria CA8 7LT.
Steve Leary, for the Loose Anti Opencast Protest Group, said:
“The news that Wakefield are to conduct the first Health Impact Assessment since one was conducted for the Huntington Lane Application in Staffordshire by Telford and Wrekin Council in 2009 and that the Halton Lea Gate appeal is back on track serves as a little tonic for all those groups opposing opencast mine applications at present. It goes to show some little reward for the efforts people make to protect their quality of life from obtrusive and inappropriate developments on their doorstep.
“But the outlook is still gloomy. Despite claims being made by the Government about it promoting a low carbon generating sector and reducing reliance on coal, we have the prospect of seeing passed into law legislation that makes it easier, in our view, for  permission to be given for new, large, surface mines. If a new surface mine proposal gains the definition of being a ‘major infrastructure project’ it must be because it is thought to be a national necessity and this need will again override any local considerations about the impact and the loss of amenity.  We can only hope that when the Government publishes the results of the consultation exercise it conducted on Clause 24 that the Surface Mine provisions in Growth and Infrastructure Bill as it stands at present, will be dropped.”
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 and works with groups where local people feel that such a development is inappropriate.
Steve Leary, LAON’S  Co-ordinator, at infoatlaon@yahoo.com
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