Monday, 8 April 2013

'Localism' without localism - the result of more lobbying

Within one document, the good Government giveth:
the Government considers that a steady and adequate supply of aggregate minerals should be delivered by decentralising more power to Mineral Planning Authorities to determine the appropriate level of aggregate extraction, in keeping with its principles for a more localist approach to planning more generally (5)
and then taketh away:
should Mineral Planning Authorities wish to use landbanks [as a development management tool], then each application for minerals extraction must be considered on its own merits, regardless of the length of the landbank... an adequate or excess landbank is not a reason for withholding planning permission... (25,26)
In other words - Councils can determine their appropriate level of aggregate extraction, as long as this level plays no part in any decision to permit aggregate extraction. Brilliant - 'localism' without localism. 

This new guidance on landbanks and the Managed Aggregate Supply System (MASS), October 2012, supplements the NPPF, and rewrites the approach used for over 35 years. It remains to be seen what Councils will make of this guidance, but previously it was clear (MPS1 4.1):
Mineral Planning Authorities should use the length of the landbank in its area as an indicator of when new permissions for aggregates extraction are likely to be needed.
And how did this volte-face come about? As recently as July 2012, the British Aggregates Association was still "concerned that the Localism Bill would effectively put an end to new quarry planning permissions". It needn't have worried - the Mineral Products Association had started lobbying the Government long before. After the election "working draft proposals were submitted to DCLG on a future structure for the [MASS]", and the Association continued to "refine" its position, "in consultation with members and DCLG officials", leading to its proposal that:
The guidance should make it clear that landbanks are an indicator of the adequacy of planning provision, are not to be considered a target or a ceiling and should not be used as an element of development management policy.
Why such a proposal? Localism worries the Mineral Products Association and its members. In March 2012 a policy briefing stated:
Allowing minerals planning authorities to make their own decisions about the level of provision of mineral extraction could seriously threaten the ability of the industry to maintain an adequate and steady supply of materials.
The upshot? Quarry companies can now in theory make multiple planning applications, and stockpile undeveloped sites. So, whatever a County's reserves, "unless there are other planning objections which are not outweighed by planning benefits", forget localism and bring in the earth-movers.