To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he is in a position to announce his decisions on the recommendations contained in the report of the informal working group on coal and the environment published last year.
The informal working group was comprised of officials from the Departments of the Environment and of Energy and British Coal. It was set up to review progress on improving the environmental context of coal extraction, to identify where further improvements might be made and to recommend action. The group's report identified a number of options for change and was issued for public consultation in June 1991. In the light of the responses to that consultation, we propose to bring forward amendments to the General Development Order 1988 and to the Town and Country Planning (National Coal Board) Regulations 1974. The effect of these amendments would be:
To provide for British Coal's permitted development rights for underground working to continue within a sensible planning unit based on the existing infrastructure of, and capital already invested in, the particular colliery. They will not be able to work outside that unit without obtaining specific planning permission in the normal way.
To incorporate British Coal's special permitted development rights for opencast coal exploration within the general permitted development rights for minerals exploration. Those rights will be amended to provide for a six monthly indefinitely renewable permission subject to giving periodic notice to the mineral planning authority.
I believe this will provide a clear and fair planning framework for the coal industry now and in the future.That British Coal's specialised entitlements to compensation following adverse planning decisions will be fully aligned with the general planning compensation regime applying to all mineral operators.