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Surface Mining

Volume 458: debated on Thursday 22 March 2007

My noble Friend the Minister for Energy met Gerry Spindler, the chief executive of UK Coal, on 22 February and the future of surface mining in the UK was among the topics discussed. The issue has also been discussed in the Coal Forum, of which they are both members.

Where does the Minister think surface coal mining fits within the so-called renewable energy policy of the Government? Given that research and development into clean-coal technology is at a very early stage, does he share my concern about UK Coal’s plans to extract 900,000 tonnes of coal from an area of outstanding natural beauty in Huntington and New Works in my constituency? Would he like to elaborate on his conversation with the chief executive, specifically on that point?

The hon. Gentleman will know that, quite properly, I cannot comment on a particular project that is going through the planning process. That would not be the right thing to do. All these matters are, of course, considered very carefully on environmental grounds. We hope that UK coal production has a significant future in Britain—an issue discussed in the Coal Forum. UK production amounted to some 9.4 million tonnes of deep-mined coal and 8.6 million tonnes of surface-mined coal. The hon. Gentleman will understand that that makes a not insignificant contribution to energy supplies. Given the difficulties in world markets, we need to produce more of own energy in Great Britain. We need a balanced and rational approach to the issue, but none of my comments relates to the particular project in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.

After last week’s appalling decision to allow UK Coal to ruin the beautiful countryside at the Lodge House site in my constituency and a recent similar decision at Longmoor in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), will the Minister urgently discuss with his colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government how to stop planning inspectors totally misinterpreting the original intention of the revised MPG3—mineral planning guidance—guidelines and how to reassert the presumption against open-casting? As stated in those guidelines, local authorities know best about the balance of local factors and it is not environmentally acceptable to state that immediate appalling damage can conceivably be put right by dubious assertions about the long-term restoration of a site. Will the Minister also have urgent discussions with—

I do understand the question. Although I gave the figures for across our countries, in fact less than 1 million tonnes was produced through surface mining in England. There are tight planning controls—

We have talked about skills, and I am happy to educate the shadow Secretary of State on this matter. There is a presumption against development if the proposal is not environmentally acceptable or cannot be made so by conditions or obligations attached to a consent, or does not offer local or community benefits to offset the adverse impact. I will not ask the hon. Gentleman to repeat that, but that is the situation. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) will forgive me, but it would be inappropriate for me to comment on a particular planning decision.