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Opencast Mining

Volume 461: debated on Thursday 17 February 1949

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1.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power the acreage in Derbyshire now being worked and scheduled to be worked for coal getting by opencast method; whether it is his intention to continue this costly process; and whether he is contemplating taking any steps to mitigate the large number of complaints and protests arising out of the noise, dust and loss of amenities suffered by the local inhabitants.

At 31st December, 1948, 2,574 acres were being used for opencast coal production in Derbyshire, and another 1,900 acres, or thereabouts, will be needed during 1949. Opencast coal production must be continued at the highest possible level so long as our requirements at home and for export cannot be met from deep-mined production alone. The operations cannot be carried on without a certain amount of noise, dust and loss of amenities, but every effort is made to reduce these to a minimum. All complaints are carefully investigated, and, wherever possible, steps taken to overcome the difficulty.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the people who live near these sites are really angry about the noise and the dust, and cannot steps be taken to see that the hours of working are regulated so that the people who must sleep can get sleep by reason of these opencast sites being silenced during the night? With regard to the first part of the answer, if good agricultural land must be taken for this purpose, could not proper notice be given to farmers before the land is put down to wheat in order to make certain that the work involved is not wasted?

My hon. Friend and other hon. Members, of course, leave me in no doubt about the attitude to these operations sometimes adopted by the local inhabitants. I should be quite prepared to consider whether any modification of the arrangements could be made in order to ease the position for these inhabitants. I can assure my hon. Friend that, as regards giving notice to farmers, this is certainly done in time, and we should not start operations until the harvest had been collected.

Am I to understand from the Minister's reply that opencast working will have to continue until we can meet our requirements from deep mining, and will he say when he anticipates that will be?

5.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will consider the advisability of setting up a departmental committee of his Department and that of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to give consideration to the complete and satisfactory restoration of the land, after the operations of the Opencast Mining Branch of his Department, with the objective in view of bringing a degree of contentment to those whose land has been requisitioned for opencast mining.

Restoration of agricultural land is carried out under the supervision of the county agricultural executive committees, and sites are not released from requisition until the committees are satisfied that the restoration has been properly carried out. In the circumstances, there appears to be no reason to set up another committee.

Is the Minister aware that independent inspections have been made of the land which has been restored—so-called—to its previous condition, and that in 95 per cent. of the cases it has been recorded that there has not been that supervision which, is desirable to make this land something like it was before the coal was extracted?

I could not agree with that. I should have thought the county agricultural executive committees were the best people to advise us in this matter. If the Minister of Agriculture were to tell me that there was some other more suitable body, I would, of course, consult it.

Is the Minister aware that the county agricultural executive committees have never been near the land which has been restored?

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply and the apparent complacency on opencast mining, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment at the first opportunity.

9.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether, in view of the widespread anxiety caused by the destruction of agricultural land by opencast mining, he will establish a board or commission with power to delay the initiation or extension of such operations until any protests made by those affected and/or by organisations of repute have been considered, such protests to include objections relating to land in the vicinity of ancient and historic buildings or monuments or land of outstanding beauty; and until the National Coal Board has been advised.

There is no need to establish such a board. Before work on any site is begun, the National Coal Board are consulted by my Department, and the Ministry of Works consult on our behalf the local authority; the regional controller, Ministry of Town and Country Planning; the Land Commissioner, Ministry of Agriculture; the divisional road engineer of the Ministry of Transport; the area telephone manager, Post Office: the senior regional officer of the Ministry of Health; and the chief inspector of ancient monuments, Ministry of Works.

In addition, discussions may be held with national organisations such as the Council for the Preservation of Rural England or the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, and with local societies, if they show interest in a proposed working. In most regions a lively interest is taken by the local Press, and there is no evidence that projects do not come to the notice of possible objectors. Finally, the National Trust has already been told that none of their properties is ever likely to be affected by opencast coal workings.

Does not the Minister agree that his reply reveals the need for much simplified machinery?

It certainly does not reveal the need for the hon. Member's suggestion.

In view of the absence of the water interests from that very long list, will my right hon. Friend take care to see that those vital interests are also consulted, seeing that they were overlooked in at least one instance?

They are no doubt covered by the phrase "local societies, if they show interest in a proposed working."