On Friday 21 June 2013 the UK Government announced that new opencast coal sites would normally not fall under the provisions of the Growth and Infrastructure Act. As a consequence, Loose Anti Opencast Network (LAON) issued the following Press Release:
Members the Loose Anti Opencast Network are celebrating a victory over a proposed change in planning policy today. They have been waiting since January to see if applications for new opencast sites in England of over 100 hectares would be included in provisions laid out in the new Growth and Infrastructure Act. This would have allowed such sites to become major infrastructure projects and subject to a different planning regime.  If that had happened, local people would have had to face the prospect of having to fund their case for objecting to an application before a public inquiry and the decision would have been taken by a Planning Inspector and not by their Local Authority.
In November, the Government had issued a consultation document on this proposal along with other proposals associated with this part of the Act. Today they have published their response. (1)
In paragraph 16 of the response to the consultation document the Government summarises the concerns over this proposal:
“A small number of respondents were concerned about the inclusion of some forms of minerals and, in particular, to the inclusion of coal and shale gas. The Loose Anti Opencast Network argued that coal should be treated differently from other minerals, for reasons including planning blight and the proposed phase out of coal for power generation purposes. The Town and Country Planning Association were concerned that including coal, oil and gas within the business and commercial category raised questions about the Government’s commitment to addressing climate change.”
In the Response section, which states the formal position of the Government on whether there should be a change in planning policy the following statement is made:
“After considering the concerns expressed about the inclusion of proposed coal schemes, the Government has decided that planning applications fornew coal schemes should normally remain with the local minerals planning authority. The Government therefore does not intend to include such projects in the prescribed categories of business and commercial projects.”
Steve Leary for the Loose Anti Opencast Network said:
“This has to be thought of as a victory for the ‘small man’. The Loose Anti Opencast Network was fearful that, given the current crisis affecting the UK Coal industry, with actual and prospective companies going into voluntary liquidation and  halving the amount of coal the UK currently produces, that the opportunity would have been taken to relax planning rules further to allow more coal to be extracted. This has not been the case. Our small organisation, staffed by one volunteer in the main, has effectively blocked a proposal which could have affected the lives of thousands of people across the Midlands and the North of England if it had been approved by the Government. Over this issue the Government has seen sense.
“However, it does leave a little bit of wriggle room with the use of the word ‘normally’ in the statement and we will be seeking clarification on the definition of what constitutes an ‘abnormal’ application.
“We now have to go on to persuade the Government that further changes to the English Planning System are required, such as the introduction of a 500m buffer zone between where people live and any new opencast site, and that the newly adopted guidance on how land-based wind farm applications should be assessed,  which stress the importance to the local community of loss of amenity and impact on the landscape,  should also equally apply to the current 15 proposals for new English opencast mines.”
1)    “ Consultation outcome: Nationally significant infrastructure planning: extending the regime to business and commercial projects” DCLG, 21/6/13 @