The UK's mineral resources are a significant, widely exploited asset, which feed the construction, infrastructure, energy and manufacturing industries. Such resources are finite, however, and they can only be extracted and worked on where they are found.
Recognising this, the government has long sought to safeguard the UK's indigenous mineral resources through the regional and district development planning process by avoiding unnecessary surface development over an underlying mineral resource, also referred to as sterilisation.
Buildings and roads can, for instance, prevent access to minerals below.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) supports such safeguarding in England. Paragraphs 204 and 206 in particular offer specific direction on the designation and management of defined mineral safeguarding areas, and require that policy-led provision in development plan documents shall 'not normally permit other development proposals in such areas if it might constrain potential future use for mineral working'.
Recognising such prescriptions in the NPPF and the implication for those pursuing potentially conflicting development proposals, the Mineral Products Association and Planning Officers Society published Minerals Safeguarding Practice Guidance in April 2019. The guidance promotes a consistent approach among mineral planning authorities and local planning authorities in directing and applying policy relating to mineral safeguarding areas.
The guidance is essential reading for everyone pursuing development proposals in locations identified for mineral safeguarding. It not only offers insight on the recommended safeguarding decision-making process, but perhaps most importantly it confirms that you should not immediately dismiss all potentially conflicting surface development.
The guidance recommends that such factors be dealt with in a substantiated and consolidated way by a suitably qualified and experienced minerals surveyor in a mineral resource assessment report. The developer would then submit this as part of the planning application to the determining authority for consideration.
Adding paperwork to an already weighty planning application might seem burdensome, but it is also recommended that the assessment include evidence on the economic value of an underlying mineral resource and the prospect of extracting this before development takes place. Undoubtedly such extraction may not always be desirable and, if deemed feasible, developers would need to consider whether it could be accommodated by project timelines. But, pursued correctly, it could add value, save money and improve sustainability, on the basis that the minerals might be recovered for sale or consumption in the supply chain for the project itself.
Recognising the Minerals Product Association's own forecast that some 5bn tonnes of indigenously sourced construction and industrial minerals are required to support the UK's targets for growth over the next 25 years, the NPPF's improved emphasis on the need to safeguard and manage limited resources sustainably is not surprising. The adoption of this guidance by those promoting and permitting development should protect strategic resources and maintain our ability to achieve targets and ambitions for future development sustainably.
Paul Clarke MRICS is partner minerals and waste at Carter Jonas email@example.com
Related competencies include: Minerals management