Tuesday, 19 March 2013

AI's trade body complains again

There's really no pleasing some people. Whilst the NPPF has moved the odds firmly in favour of development, that's still not enough for the Mineral Products Association. The trade body that represents companies controlling 90% of UK aggregate production and "helps secure greater weight for minerals in planning" - as if Holcim et al. can't stand up for themselves - now complains that the NPPF is not delivering for them, and says the situation is becoming "critical". Specifically, with local authorities failing to produce up-to-date plans, "great uncertainty has been created for mineral developers, which is undermining investment for the medium and long term". Apparently "MPA members are saying that the last thing that they want to do at the moment is engage with the planning system and submit applications" - "too expensive and too risky".

Which sounds tragic, but in the real world, Aggregate Industries hasn't been put off its stride in carrying out preliminary work towards an application to quarry Straitgate Farm.

The MPA calls to "re-establish the primacy of the planning system over the environmental permitting system which should enable and support democratically determined land use decisions", predictably confirming that, to the MPA and its members, the environment - where people, amongst others, inconveniently live - is of secondary concern.

It grumbles that LAAs are "inconsistent" and "the thrust is erring towards provision of less sites for future mineral extraction", which does show that some authorities are seeing sense and recognising the long-term decline of primary aggregate consumption.

The MPA bemoans that "replenishment rates for aggregates [are] continuing to languish at around 60%" of production, but BDS who monitor these things estimates that nationally 70% of sand and gravel was replaced - continuing a "trend which has occurred over many years". And has there been any shortage of gravel? Any resultant increases in prices? No - replenishment rates are low because demand has been falling for years, and operators haven't needed any more reserves.

And the MPA does admit that current reserves are adequate, but, not surprisingly, talks up the future supply its members will need for "the planned upturn in demand in 2014 and beyond". Of course, when the MPA says "planned" it really means "forecast", or "hoped for", or "failing that year, the year after". Because, in truth, no-one knows. Some construction forecasters are showing a decline for 2014, some say that construction has "10 more years of pain".

Trade associations say what suit them. The British Aggregates Association, "the recognised voice of independent quarry operators", in its recent plea to George Osborne to scrap the Aggregates Levy, lamented that the sector "has operated at 40% below the pre-recession output levels for over 5 years with little or no indication of any improvement in the foreseeable future" - in direct contrast with the MPA's "planned upturn".

Plainly the MPA's duty is to its members who fund its overheads - no-one else, and what it says should be interpreted with this in mind. As Norman Baker MP said last week, "It's no great surprise that the asphalt industry thinks we need to spend more money on asphalt".