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The Review of NPPG4: Land for Mineral Working




9.1. This section of the review focuses on the strengths and weaknesses of the guidance relating to:

  • marine dredged minerals;
  • coastal superquarries;
  • non-aggregate construction minerals;
  • deep mined coal;
  • oil and gas;
  • peat; and
  • metalliferrous and other specialised minerals.

9.2. Each of these issues is covered separately in relation to current guidance, emerging policy and key findings, as each raises different issues in relation to NPPG4.


9.3. Paragraph 54 of NPPG4 sets out guidance on marine dredged minerals. It notes that this process has not contributed to supply in Scotland, but that there is potential to do so. NPPG4 notes that the process is not subject to control by the Town and Country Planning System, but is managed through the 'government view' procedure. At the time when NPPG4 was produced, the operation of this procedure was under review. It has been suggested that in recent years there has been growing interest in the potential of marine dredging for aggregates, 13 particularly in the Firth of Forth, and Tay, Clyde and Moray Firth Areas. It is anticipated that the Environmental Impact Assessment (extraction of minerals by marine dredging) Regulations will make environmental impact assessment a statutory requirement for applications for marine dredging (the Regulations are programmed to come into force in 2002).

9.4. Only one authority commented on the planning provisions for marine dredging, suggesting that there should be a distinction between controls within and outwith Marine special Areas of Conservation (SACs).


9.5. Coastal superquarries have been the subject of ongoing debate in Scotland for some time now. The concept has been the source of significant concern on the part of organisations such as Scottish Natural Heritage and Friends of the Earth. Some industry representatives contend that there is scope to create 'sustainable' superquarries at key locations, and that such developments would have significant economic benefits for rural communities. This view has been supported in part by Highland Council, whose development plan policies aim to emphasise both the potential advantages and disadvantages of such developments.

9.6. NPPG4 in its current format provides a similarly balanced view on the subject. Paragraphs 55 to 70 define the concept of the superquarry and its emergence in Scottish minerals planning. The policy sets a limit of up to four coastal superquarries in Scotland by the year 2009, depending on their suitability at specific sites. It notes that relevant local authorities, including Highland Council, Shetland Island Council and Western Isles Council should consider identifying preferred sites for such developments. It also states that the policy will be reviewed in the light of any future developments.

9.7. One authority also suggested that there may be some inconsistency between locational advice in NPPG4 on coastal superquarries, and more recent policy set out in NPPG13 (1997) on the 'developed, undeveloped and isolated' coast, although this point was not expanded upon.

9.8. Consultation with industry representatives highlighted the following arguments associated with the ongoing debate on coastal superquarries:

  • whilst additional superquarries may not be a viable option at the moment, in the longer term they may be more economically effective;
  • the market has to take a long-term view, considering supply and investment on a 20-year scale and it is critical that we do not sterilise resources or go back on the NPPG4 commitment of up to four superquarries. The argument that such a supportive policy stance will lead to 20 or 30 such developments is not valid.

9.9. For different reasons, which related mainly to concerns about their environmental impacts, the NGO / statutory consultees also called for stronger policy guidance on coastal superquarries in Scotland.

9.10. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Highland Council provided an extensive response on the issue of coastal superquarries. It argued that large scale quarrying should be a central feature within an overall management strategy for a rural area, providing the catalyst for long-term activity across a wide range of economic, social and environmental fields. It noted that community support and involvement in this process is vital.

9.11. The Authority suggests that detailed policy/guidance should consider the cumulative impacts of coastal superquarries in the long term (including how 'geographically dispersed' these quarries need to be to avoid/minimise cumulative impacts). At the same time, it is argued that more positive aspects of the concept such as transportation by sea and positive use of by products should also be highlighted within the policy.

Example 9.1: Coastal superquarries, Highland Council

Highland Council argues that its proposed superquarries policy has been modified by Scottish Ministers, when in their view; the original draft policy provided a better basis for decision-making. NPPG4 para. 70 states that Highland Regional Council should, within the search areas identified, consider identifying opportunities for coastal superquarries, and that preferred locations should be included in Structure Plans and specific sites in Local Plans.

The Highland Structure Plan (adopted, 2001) explains that the 1990 position of identifying a number of potential sites has been reviewed and that the revised Plan continues to identify the gneiss/pegmatitie deposit west of Loch Eriboll and the limestone deposit south of Durness as 'more detailed investigatory sites within the provisions of the NPPG'. The draft Structure Plan contained the following policy:

Policy M5 Large Coastal Quarries

"Any proposal for a further large coastal quarry in Highland will be approved only if the following criteria are satisfactorily addressed, in addition to compliance with the General Strategic Policies:

  • the quality and extent of the rock resource is sufficient to sustain large scale quarrying output;
  • the market to accommodate an additional large exporting quarry can be assured;
  • there would be no net adverse impact on the present or anticipated future economic and social framework of the locality;
  • a ballast water management arrangement is agreed;
  • future beneficial restoration and after-use is demonstrated; and
  • arrangements for the economic and social base of the locality upon eventual cessation of workings are put in place."

However, the Scottish Executive stated that the detailed criteria were inappropriate given the uncertainty about the prospects for these areas and that 'NPPG4 Land for Mineral Working still applies'. The original version of the policy has been deleted and replaced by the following modification in the Approved Structure Plan:

Policy M5 Large Coastal Quarries

"The Council continues to identify investigatory sites on the north coast for a possible large coastal quarry. This does not constitute a presumption in favour of development. An environmental assessment will be required for any such proposal. The Council will keep this position under review in light of circumstances."

9.12 Some industry consultees are concerned that coastal superquarries have been 'demonised' in recent debates. Interestingly, one consultee questioned why they should be labelled as such and set aside from more general debates on quarrying when the issues are not significantly different (e.g. the appropriateness of extraction in environmentally protected areas).

9.13. Perhaps inevitably, the Scottish Executive's refusal of planning permission for the proposed 'superquarry' at Lingerbay, Isle of Harris, is seen by some as signalling a shift in government policy on superquarry development.


9.14. NPPG4 notes that Scotland also contains non-aggregate construction minerals (e.g. limestone for cement, brick clay, dimension stone and slate). Paragraphs 71-73 note that proposals for the extraction of these materials should be the subject of similar considerations as other minerals. It also notes that the sources of some of these materials are limited and should be safeguarded (e.g. limestone resource at Beith).

9.15. Brick-making clay was raised as a particular issue during the course of the research as the intermittent nature of extraction has implications for the control of environmental effects (and acceptability of the workings?). Historic Scotland also drew attention to their extensive research into the accessibility of specific materials for use in maintenance and reconstruction of historic buildings.


9.16. Paragraph 79 of NPPG4 focuses on the ongoing interest in exploitation for onshore oil and gas, and the potential contribution this could make to the country's balance of payments. As a result, it encourages local authorities to facilitate extraction where possible, whilst having due regard to environmental considerations.

9.17. During the course of the research, no issues were raised in relation to onshore oil and gas.


9.18. Paragraphs 80-83 of NPPG4 set out planning policy on peat extraction. This notes the difference in scale between traditional peat cutting and commercial extraction. The guidance states that workings exist in most areas of Scotland, with significant concentrations in West Central Scotland, Dumfries and Galloway and the Highlands. The policy aims to strike a balance between nature conservation issues, and peat extraction's role as an important source of rural jobs. As a result, NPPG4 recommends that local authorities should identify peat bogs with low conservation/ archaeological value that could accommodate future extraction. It also states that SNH should be consulted on all proposals for commercial peat extraction regardless of their existing designated status.

9.19 Peat extraction has been the subject of extensive lobbying by environmental groups. Environmental pressure groups, such as the RSPB have called for limits to be set, with a view to an eventual ban on commercial extraction by 2005 14. They note that many peat bogs are covered by environmental designations, providing important habitats. In Scotland, three such sites are of particular concern as a result of the tension between peat extraction and their SSSI status: Carnwath Moss in South Lanarkshire, Offerance Moss in Stirling and Whim Bog SSSI in Tweeddale.

9.20. At present, the Peat Producers Association accept the policy set out in NPPG4 on peat extraction. However, a number of NGOs and statutory consultees feel that more guidance should be provided. A number of local authorities also suggested that the guidance on peat set out in NPPG4 should be updated to coincide with more recent policy on natural heritage and biodiversity. Furthermore, some of the authorities reported that SNH tend to use the precautionary principle in relation to peat extraction, making the policy indirectly prohibitive. Partly as a result of this, several authorities questioned whether the Scottish Peatlands Inventory has been completed and the latest policy position of SNH. A number also suggested that the need to balance conflicting objectives should be made more explicit, and included in 'bold text'.

9.21. One authority argued that, whilst the policy on peat is acceptable, the MPG series takes the issue further and is therefore more helpful. Interestingly, Argyll and Bute Council also felt that the guidance in this respect was currently weak. This reflects the more active nature of the commercial peat extraction market in some parts of the area (i.e. Islay, where peat is cut for use by distilleries).


9.22. Paragraphs 74 to 78 of NPPG4 focus on coal production. As it currently stands, the policy includes references to opencast coal, which have since been superseded by NPPG16. Only passing reference is made to deep mined coal, and this primarily reflects its decline in Scotland and a continuing interest in open cast extraction.

9.23. Aside from opencast mining (see references to NPPG16) this topic has not emerged as a key issue in the research.


9.24. Paragraphs 84-87 of NPPG4 note that reserves of metalliferrous minerals are spread across more remote rural areas of Scotland. These minerals are often located in areas of high landscape value and nature conservation interest. The guidance notes that there is a need to pay particular attention to pollution control aspects of extraction in relation to metalliferrous minerals. Specialised minerals include talc, industrial sands, clays and shale and fireclays. The UK has tended to import these materials, despite there being significant reserves more locally. NPPG4 recommends that local authorities should safeguard such resources from sterilisation and make provision for their working.

Example 9.2: Barytes reserves, Perth and Kinross

Barytes is used in a finely ground form as a weighting agent and lubricant in the fluids circulated in the rotary drilling of oil and gas wells (including North Sea oil and gas exploration). The UK's only reserves of direct shipping grade Barytes are found within the boundaries of Perth and Kinross, and include the 'world class' Aberfeldy deposits.

Production at Foss Mine began in 1984 and annual production averages 50,000 tonnes per annum. In 1990, a locally based company began opencast extraction near the summit of Ben Eagach. Approximately 25,000 tonnes were mined from a series of small pits which have now closed and are in the process of being restored.

There are proposals to open a new mine to exploit the Duntanlich deposits (although a previous application was refused following an appeal). However, in addition to concerns regarding the need to provide access onto the trunk road system, the site is located within a National Scenic Area. Although the minehead and associated above ground works will be kept to a minimum, the application is likely to generate considerable concern amongst environmental and amenity organisations.

Subject to resolution of the access issue, it is anticipated that the decision will focus on the balance between national 'need' and the importance of national level designations. The local authority feels that NPPG4 and related planning guidance (including NPPG14: Natural Heritage) will provide adequate guidance for the purposes of determining the application. However, whilst para. 87 of NPPG4 states that "the Department of Trade and Industry will provide information on the national significance of such minerals", the Department has, in the past, appeared unwilling to provide such information, arguing that the determination of need for is market led rather than a matter of government policy.


9.25. During the course of the research, it was suggested that the need for specific guidance on borrow pits and 'amenity' minerals such as cobbles and some types of gravel from rivers and beaches, should be considered.

  • with the exception of coastal superquarries, there are fewer concerns about planning guidance on the extraction of 'other' minerals.
  • coastal superquarries continue to be the subject of extensive debate. Indeed, they appear to have resulted in an exacerbation of the polarisation of Industry and environmental groups in relation to minerals planning in general. Further guidance on national policy would be welcomed by all those involved in the minerals planning process.
  • peat extraction may also require further attention, particularly given more recent policy guidance relating to designated areas.
  • increasing attention may need to be paid to the planning guidance on metalliferrous and other specialised minerals in light of recent interest in Barytes reserves.
  • the winning of marine dredged minerals may require further attention in light of more recent policy on coastal planning, and evidence of growing Industry interest in its potential.