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Dean Quarry, St Keverne

Volume 619: debated on Tuesday 10 January 2017

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Christopher Pincher.)

Two years ago, in January 2015, I took an early morning walk in the village of Rosenithon to visit a dormant quarry and the surrounding area. The reason for this trek was that I had received a number of emails from local residents, including those with homes just a few hundred metres away from the disused quarry, who were concerned about news that the quarry was to become a super-quarry supplying rock armour up to 10 tonnes in weight for the proposed Swansea tidal lagoon and for other infrastructure projects. For two years now, this threat has hung over the local community, so I bring it to the House today in order to bring it to the attention of the Government and to find some means of securing closure for all those affected.

The quarry, known as Dean quarry, is in the parish of St Keverne and Meneage, which has 5,220 residents. It is situated close to the picturesque tourist destinations of St Keverne village and Coverack village on the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall. Why are local residents and environmental experts fighting so hard to stop the proposed quarry development? It is because, like me, they have genuine concerns about what the reopening and expanding of the quarry will do to the area. They are concerned about: the impact on the Manacles marine conservation zone; the impact on the environment, including air and noise pollution; the impact on local food production; the impact on local inshore fishing; the impact on tourism and future investment; and the impact on the local community.

Quarrying from Dean helped to support villages on the Lizard peninsula in south-west Cornwall for over 100 years. Shire Oak Quarries Ltd proposes to reopen the disused quarry at Dean. Its plan is to turn a small disused quarry into a sea-based super-quarry—similar to those found in Norway and at Glensanda in Scotland—seven times the size of the original operation. The intention is for it to work 5.5 days a week, with regular blasting. The loading of rock armour into barges would take place 24/7 to meet the demand. The plan is to extract up to 1.5 million tonnes a year and to use large barges to ship the rock armour from a new breakwater and jetties that are to be constructed as part of the development scheme. The reason this causes the local community and environmental experts so much concern is that the local economy has moved on; the vast development that is proposed presents a real risk to the area and is creating considerable unrest as the scheme drags on.

I should like to address these concerns one by one. First, I want to address the concerns about the impact of the proposed quarry on the Manacles marine conservation zone. This was one of the first areas to be designated an MCZ, in 2013. It is a rare and sensitive ecosystem and is considered by many marine ecologists to be the jewel in the crown of the whole MCZ system. The intention is to build a 300-metre breakwater to provide shelter for jetties where barges will dock to be loaded day and night. The legitimate concern relates to how the construction and subsequent existence of the breakwater will affect the marine conservation zone. Furthermore, consideration must be given to the potential damage caused by large barges as they manoeuvre in and around the breakwater and jetties as they collect their loads.

Secondly, there is the impact on the environment, including air and noise pollution. Nearly a third of Cornwall is designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty, granting it the same status and protection as a national park. The Lizard peninsula, particularly the area around St Keverne and Coverack, is unique. A combination of mild climate and complex geology has produced an area with a distinctive character and that includes some habitats and species that are unique to the Lizard and others that are extremely rare, hence the national nature reserve, special area of conservation and site of special scientific interest designations.

Environmental experts are concerned that reopening and expanding Dean quarry will result in the industrialisation of this area of outstanding natural beauty and site of special scientific interest. The concern is that the scale of the operation proposed at Dean quarry will threaten the bird breeding grounds and stop-off points for migratory birds, as well as threatening the harbour porpoises, bottlenose dolphins, grey seals, minke whales and basking sharks that are all regularly seen off the coast of Cornwall.

There will be an impact on local food production. Nearby farmers are concerned about dust settling across their fields, and they have worries about their cattle ingesting PM2.5 particulates. Although there have been no studies to show how such particulates might affect both the animals’ health and their milk, 4 million litres of milk per annum are produced within a mile of the quarry, much of it organic.

There will also be an impact on local inshore fishing. Alongside farming, risks arise for the fishing industry in the area. The Manacles have for centuries been used by local fishermen and are a flourishing sea bass breeding ground. It is suggested that proposed industrial activity relating to the loading of barges and the underwater noise generated will have a detrimental effect not only on the bass but on other fish, crab and lobster stocks, which still provide a sustainable living for local fishermen who, with the improved water quality, are now seeing stocks grow. Local fishermen have had to stop netting on the Manacles because of the marine conservation zone, so they are at a loss to understand why heavy industrialisation may be allowed to happen.

Tourism is a vital part of the rural economy, and this area of outstanding natural beauty is deeply valued by visitors and is recognised as a key economic resource. Tourism on the Lizard has largely substituted the area’s falling economic activity in farming, fishing and light industrial production. Tourism is now the significant employer in the area, and St Keverne and the Lizard has established itself as a significant destination for holidaymakers both from Britain and from further afield. A number of businesses have made a success of their operation on the Lizard, and two with which Members may be familiar are Roskilly’s ice cream and organic farm, which attracts up to 60,000 visitors each year, and Cornish Sea Salt, one of the great success stories in west Cornwall. Both businesses are located in close vicinity to Dean quarry. In fact, Roskilly’s organic farm surrounds the quarry, and the owners of the quarry own the mineral rights to the farmland.

The tourist season has extended, with many people preferring to holiday during the quieter months, which in turn enables many previously seasonal businesses to open all year round. The Lizard is unique, which is why visitors return year after year. At the moment, the Lizard is a desired destination for tourists, offering them peace, clean air, dark skies, beautiful landscapes, a stunning marine environment and the South West Coast Path national trail, which Lonely Planet now rates as one of the best walks in the world.

According to 2014 figures, local business turnover, supported by tourism, is worth more than £51 million a year to the Lizard peninsula, with more than 1,000 jobs directly generated by tourism. The estimated local gross wage income is more than £13 million. People involved in this important sector have raised a number of concerns with me. They are concerned about the impact on the local economy should Dean quarry reopen. It has been predicted that the reopening of Dean quarry is worth £190 million to Cornwall over 20 years. Within the same timeframe, tourism is worth more than £1 billion to the Lizard peninsula alone. It is more than likely that industrialising the peninsula’s east coast would decimate those figures and many associated jobs and businesses.

Even now, news of the proposed quarry expansion has had an impact on some tourism businesses, with a drop in interest from potential holidaymakers and some businesses having chosen not to expand or invest until the position is made clearer. This naturally has an impact on the local economy; fewer visitors equals less money in the local economy. In turn, that will have a negative impact on any associated trades, and the local jobs that go with them, such as those in property maintenance, restaurants, retail outlets, attractions, garden centres, website design, IT businesses, sporting facilities such as kayaking, and accountancy. We should not, in any circumstances, trade what has become a destination hotspot for holidaymakers around the year for noise, air pollution, a scarred landscape and loss of marine biodiversity.

The final concern relates to the impact on the local community. Summary findings from a noise impact survey were presented by Shire Oak Quarries Ltd at a public meeting on 30 January 2015. The assessment incorrectly stated that Dean quarry is

“in a remote section of the Lizard Peninsular”.

In fact, there are several hamlets within 500 metres, and St Keverne is less than 1 km away. The noise levels at times will be 3 dB above the limits deemed suitable in a rural environment, which will have a considerable impact on how far and how intensely the disturbance will be heard. Further noise pollution will be created by explosions at the quarry, and by the loading and unloading of rock on to barges and lorries. Residents who live in the area have worked hard to foster a close-knit, caring local community with good local schools and services. They have developed a community that lives in harmony with the local environment and now benefits from the natural surroundings. All aspects of the quarry proposal fly in the face of those achievements.

I am bringing this to the Minister’s attention because, yet again, residents and businesses on the Lizard have been forced to return to the High Court on Friday 20 January. Despite having won a judicial review in 2015, Cornwall Against Dean Superquarry has instructed its solicitors to issue a claim for a new review against Cornwall Council, pressurising it to uphold its decision, made a year before, to halt the redevelopment due to the lack of an environmental impact assessment. Dean quarry is currently surrounded by a fence, which the developer continued to erect after planning permission for the development was quashed in the High Court on 18 December 2015 because of the lack of an EIA. At the time, both Mr Justice Dove and the former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), agreed that the reopening of Dean quarry constituted major development, requiring, by definition, an EIA. To date, no retrospective planning application has been submitted by Shire Oak Quarries Ltd, nor has it submitted an EIA after it withdrew its application to reopen Dean quarry “with immediate effect”. Cornwall Council has failed to take enforcement action via a stop notice on the developer, Shire Oak Quarries. What can the Government do to ensure Cornwall Council takes seriously the concerns of the community, and gives adequate consideration to the environment, the local economy and local residents?

I have not seen evidence that the new jobs created at Dean quarry will adequately compensate for the negative impact on the local tourism industry and the many families who rely on tourism to earn an income. I am not satisfied that enough has been done to understand the extent of the air, noise and light pollution that is inevitable, and I am convinced that there is a more suitable, competitive source of rock available for lagoon and other infrastructure projects elsewhere. For years, as our core industries have declined, including farming and fishing, we have encouraged people to diversify and find new ways to make a living. The community of St Keverne parish has done that, and it would be more than a slap in the face to compromise that good work. Will the Minister please look closely at the situation surrounding the proposal to reopen Dean quarry and take whatever action he deems necessary to ensure local concerns are adequately considered?

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) on securing this debate on the reopening of Dean quarry in St Keverne in Cornwall. I know that the subject is of great importance not only to him but, more importantly, to many of his constituents, as he so eloquently set out. I should say at the start that I am in a difficult position because propriety considerations prevent my commenting on the detail of the specific planning issues relating to this case, both because of my role in the planning system and because, as he mentioned, those issues are currently subject to a judicial review. With my hon. Friend’s permission, I shall therefore focus my attention on how the mineral and marine planning systems operate, and how they contribute to our robust regulatory framework to plan for the sustainable extraction of minerals in this country.

The national planning policy framework, with which I have become intimately acquainted over the past five to six months, is clear that the purpose of planning, including planning for the steady and adequate supply of minerals, is to deliver sustainable development. I should put on record that that does not mean development at any cost or anywhere. National policy sets out that planning must take account of the roles and character of different areas. It must recognise the intrinsic character and beauty of coastal areas and the wider countryside, the natural and historic assets located in an area, and the possible impacts on them as a result of applications for development of any kind, including the extraction of minerals.

In respect of the natural historic environment, local planning authorities and the Marine Management Organisation should set out in their local plans and marine plans a positive strategy for the conservation of the natural and historic environment. In doing so, they should recognise that heritage assets are an irreplaceable resource and conserve them in a manner appropriate to their significance, whether they are located on land or in the sea. Similarly, when processing planning applications, the aim should be to minimise adverse effects on the natural and historic environment. Special protection areas are given specific protections in national policy for that purpose. As my hon. Friend suggested, that is relevant in this case because the quarry is located in the Lizard section of the Cornwall area of outstanding natural beauty, as well as being in the Coverack to Porthoustock site of special scientific interest. In addition, the Lizard special area of conservation borders the site to the south.

National policy makes it clear that the extraction of minerals is essential to support sustainable economic growth and quality of life. We rely on a steady and adequate supply of minerals to provide building materials for infrastructure, housing and other construction, fuel for heating our homes and transportation, and chemicals for industrial production, which in turn create employment and attract inward investment into our country.

As my hon. Friend alluded to in his speech, Cornwall is a mineral-rich area and has since antiquity hosted many forms of quarrying and mining for valuable minerals such as tin, lead, copper, china clay and hard rock. Quarrying and mining have historically made a large contribution to the prosperity of Cornwall’s local economy, alongside its traditional maritime industries, such as fishing and shipping, and newer industries such as renewable energy and tourism. It was good to hear my hon. Friend acknowledge that in his speech.

The planning system has to make sure that the environmental impact of mineral extraction is minimised. It also has to mitigate its potentially adverse effects on the environment, such as through the use of planning conditions attached to individual applications and the continuous monitoring of extraction sites by the local authority during the operation of those sites.

Planning applications to extract minerals that were granted decades ago are, as my hon. Friend said, relevant in this case because Dean quarry is currently dormant. Before such quarries can reopen, their existing conditions have to be reviewed to make sure they meet contemporary environmental standards. The conditions are reviewed under the “Environment Act 1995: review of mineral planning permissions” guidance, which is popularly known, I am told, as ROMPs. Members will be reassured to know that the extraction of minerals from dormant quarries cannot lawfully commence until the developer has submitted an application for revised mineral conditions that has been agreed by the local authority, and that an application for review of conditions may need to be accompanied by an environmental impact assessment, as my hon. Friend said.

It is important to remember that the extraction of minerals is a temporary activity, so local authorities, through the use of planning conditions, can put in place early and high-quality restoration plans, agreed with the developer, as a condition for receiving planning permission in the first place. That means that once extraction operations have stopped, former quarry sites can be quickly returned to a productive land use, with the landscape restored.

I have illustrated the role that the land-based planning system plays in providing a key component of the regulatory framework that ensures that the extraction of minerals is undertaken with the minimal impact—that is my responsibility. However, for geological and historical reasons, many quarries are located along our coastline. The Marine Management Organisation, which falls under the responsibility of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is the planning authority for English territorial waters. It plays a vital role in planning for mineral extraction where the land-based and marine planning systems overlap at the mean, high and low-tide waterline.

For sites such as Dean quarry that are situated on the coastline, the local authority—Cornwall Council in this case—and the Marine Management Organisation have to work collaboratively when considering planning applications that will have an impact on both the land and marine environments. Such an impact could be that from land-based operations that are in close proximity to marine conservation zones.

Despite the robust regulatory framework that the Government have put in place to plan for the steady and adequate supply of minerals, there are still many concerns about applications for mineral extraction and the possible negative environmental impacts, even if such applications constitute a temporary use of land and the land in question will be restored once that use is completed.

My hon. Friend eloquently set out his constituents’ concerns regarding this particular case. I am sure that the whole House understands those concerns, but it is the Government’s view that the local planning system is the best way to address them. Essentially, what we ask of the planning system in this country is that it balances the need for various kinds of development. We all recognise the need for more housing in this country and the need for mineral extraction, but those needs must be balanced against environmental concerns and the concerns of local residents, and the planning system is the way in which we do that.

What we need to decide in this House is the balance that we wish to strike between the Government’s role and that of local planning authorities and mineral planning authorities. It is our view that, in the main, the Government’s role should be constrained to setting national planning policy. Most decisions in relation to individual planning applications and the responsibility for enforcement activity rest with local planning authorities.

There are exceptions. From time to time, local councils, residents groups and Members of this House will lobby the Secretary of State to ask him to intervene in a particular application, to call in an application, or to recover an application that is with the Planning Inspectorate. It is the Secretary of State’s judgment—this is set out in policy through a written ministerial statement to this House—that those cases should be few and far between, and that they should have a wide national interest, rather than a particular local concern.

I will draw my remarks to a close by saying to my hon. Friend that he has powerfully set out the concerns of his constituents, and that he should express those concerns to the relevant planning authority that is responsible both for enforcement activity in relation to the particular issues that he mentioned and in determining any applications. If he believes that there are grounds for a particular application of any kind not to be decided by the local authority—if it raises issues beyond local importance, for example—he has the opportunity to make the case that the Secretary of State should call it in. I hope that I have at least set out for him the policies of this Government that try to strike the right balance between the needs to ensure a steady supply of minerals in this country, to protect our precious land and marine environments, and to ensure that the planning system addresses the concerns of his residents that he so eloquently set out this evening.

Question put and agreed to

House adjourned.