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Iron Ore Workings (Land Restoration)

Volume 477: debated on Tuesday 4 July 1950

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26.

asked the Minister of Town and Country Planning what new factors his inquiries into the effects of ironstone workings have disclosed to warrant the delay in issuing the White Paper left in draft by his predecessor.

28.

asked the Minister of Town and Country Planning if he will make a statement on the restoration of land affected by iron ore workings in the Midlands.

Soon after being appointed to my present office, I visited the East Midlands, and spent several days inspecting the workings and discussing the problem of restoration with producers, local authorities and others concerned with this problem. I was greatly shocked by much of what I saw. His Majesty's Government have now decided on the policy to be followed in future as regards restoration. Our aim is to ensure that, while full production of iron ore is maintained, the land worked is restored, as completely and as speedily as possible, to agriculture. I will, with permission, circulate a detailed statement in the Official Report.

Can the Minister assure the House that the detailed statement which he is to circulate will really get to the root of this problem, as we have already had the Reports of the Kennet and Scott Committees, the Waters Report and two standing committees, in addition to the draft White Paper left by his predecessor, but we have not yet had any concrete proposals?

Perhaps the hon. Member will read the statement that I am circulating, which I hope is both clear and definite. It is not the report of a committee; it is the decision of the Government.

Following is the statement:

Present and Future Workings.

There will be:

  • (i) complete restoration, with replacement of topsoil, in all cases except—
  • (a) where the length of face being worked is so great that the cost of replacement of topsoil would be very high;
  • (b) where the content of the overburden makes impracticable the restoration of the land to agricultural use;
  • (c) where, in the interests of agriculture, replanting or establishment of woodland is advisable, for example, to provide windbreaks and maintain supplies of estate timber.
  • (ii) where complete restoration, for the above reasons, is not practicable, levelling without replacement of top-soil, followed by careful cultivation and special use of fertilisers;
  • (iii) where restoration to agriculture is impracticable, afforestation, either on levelled land or on land left as "hill and dale."
  • There is nothing inherently difficult in this policy. Complete restoration, with replacement of topsoil, is already being carried out by most companies where conditions of overburden are easy, and by one company on a short face with deep overburden containing limestone. Effective levelling in difficult circumstances is being carried out by several companies.

    I shall shortly lay an Order requiring immediate compliance with certain minimum standards.

    The financial details of this policy are now being worked out, but, in general terms, the Government intend that, in the future, 75 per cent. of the cost of restoration should be borne by the producers and royalty owners, and 25 per cent. by the Exchequer. To achieve this division of cost after July, 1951, legislation will be needed.

    Past Workings

    There are about 3,400 acres of land worked out and not levelled. About 900 acres of this have been planted with trees. The appearance of the rest, about 2,500 acres, left as derelict "hill and dale," is very shocking; it is particularly bad in Northamptonshire. Over and above its terrible appearance and its depressing effect on the morale of the people, the present state of this land represents a permanent loss to agriculture. Most of it should, even now, be levelled and brought back to agriculture, though some of it can only be afforested.

    It is hoped to make voluntary arrangements with some of the owners to restore the land. In other cases, local authorities will be authorised to acquire the land and carry out the work of restoration with the aid of Exchequer grants.

    It will be some time before the arrears of past neglect can all be dealt with, as this work will make demands on plant and labour. But we shall make a start as soon as possible.