The joint Minerals Products Association (MPA) and RTPI Mineral Planning Conference is a regular fixture in the mineral planning calendar. It provides a rare opportunity for operators, government organisations, local authority planners and private sector minerals planners to get together and share best practice and identify some of the key challenges the sector is facing and explore how these can be met.
This year’s event was held last week in Manchester, and given its location there was a focus on the Northern Powerhouse and some of the bigger minerals projects in the wider region. This included the Sirius Woodsmith Polyhalite Mine in North Yorkshire and the West Cumbria metallurgic coal mine at Woodhouse Colliery.
The wider growth objectives of the UK were covered throughout the day and the increasing demand these requirements will place upon the mineral planning system alongside ensuring the industry continues to improve its environmental and social effects.
It’s a small group and it was good to see a lot of familiar faces, but it’s a small group with a significant responsibility.
In total, 16% of the UK’s total economy is attributable to minerals, either through extraction or via the production of a wide range of mineral based products which include the more obvious bricks, cement, asphalt and concrete all the way to the less obvious uses in pharmaceutical and glass manufacturing.
With an annual turnover of £15 billion, the industry employs 34,000 people directly through extraction and supports a further 4.3 million jobs nationwide through the downstream supply chain.
The importance of the industry is only set to increase, with a conservative estimate of the national demand for minerals exceeding five billion tonnes over the next 25 years. This growth is being driven by many sectors including housing, industry and infrastructure.
So, what did we learn – here are the main points raised throughout the day:
- The average UK house requires over 200 tonnes of mineral to build, and with a target of 300,000 homes per annum this equates to a need for the homes construction alone (excluding supporting roads and other infrastructure) as being 60 million tonnes per year
- Major new infrastructure projects such as the the Sizewell C plant in Suffolk alone will require over 10,000,00 tonnes of mineral during construction, which equates to an estimated 1,500 lorry movements per day
- The minerals industry is the leading sector in terms of the use of recycled material with approximately 30% of all material used arising from demolition waste
- By 2025, the majority of the UK’s major Strategic Road Network will be over 50-years-old, which Highways England confirmed will initiate a major programme of maintenance and improvement. This will place a significant demand upon the minerals industry to supply the required materials
- Housing and economic growth in the south east of the country is mainly supported through the minerals extracted in well beyond the region coming predominantly from the areas of Mendips, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. Getting the materials from these areas will increasingly rely upon rail freight in order to do so given its significantly lower (76%) equivalent carbon emissions compared to road haulage over the same distance.
One of the common themes of the event was meeting this need alongside reducing the carbon footprint of the industry. Several speakers referred to ensuring that where possible, the minerals needed in the UK were extracted here to avoid the additional carbon emission associated with import of the required minerals.
In order to arrive at this position there was consensus in the room that national need statement for minerals need to be formulated to allow the minerals sector to meet the long-term demands.
This is a lot for a relatively small and unfortunately shrinking pool of qualified minerals planning professionals to deal with, and the strain placed upon minerals planning resources was highlighted nationwide and arose in most presentations. On the positive side 90% of all mineral planning applications do end up being approved, however on average it takes a 30-month determination period to reach that point.
For the minerals industry to ultimately meet the demands of the wider UK economy, the planning system needs the resources in both the public and private sectors to ensure that the planning applications and environmental statements are prepared and determined in expedient and a technically robust way. In order to do this, both Planning authorities and applicants need to work collaboratively to raise the profile and interest in the sector. Sharing best practice, understanding how sites operate and importantly demonstrating the need for a particular mineral will all help.
If all else fails I have found that a trip to a working site to see a digger, bulldozer and dumptruck or two can’t fail to generate an interest in what is a little known and often overlooked key industry.
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Minerals Products Association, RTPI Mineral Planning Conference