Aggregates extraction operations can have negative impacts on, and benefits for, the neighbouring community particularly at the local level. Impacts can be social, economic and/or environmental. Environmental impacts are often intensified in a rural setting while social impacts are stronger closer to settlements. The issues and priorities vary depending on the setting but may include land acquisition, housing, employment, business development, traffic, physical disturbance (noise, air quality, visual), loss of amenity and safety. Quarrying may require limitations on access to land and re-routing of footpaths which is controlled under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 L0165, L0170 and associated Circular L0176. Many impacts can be reduced or avoided through good site design and management L0076, L0078 but every community is different and mitigation measures should be customised for each site.
It is therefore essential that the community is involved in the decision-making process for each stage from pre-operation to aftercare, especially given the new emphasis on "localism" in the Protection of Local Services (Planning) Bill L0380. Good community participation is important in the process of designing, operating and the restoration of a project that is not only financially successful, but environmentally and socially responsible as well. Public participation enables the Regulators and the company to identify the concerns of the community and to take these into account in the planning and development of a project. It establishes a relationship between the company and its neighbours, which should increase understanding and trust and avoid unpleasant surprises. It is a necessary part of any environmental management system because the community is part of the environment and can provide information on the local environment and sensitivities that can be invaluable in achieving good, considerate, management and the maximum and lasting economic, social and environmental benefits for the community.
Since the introduction of the Town and Country Planning Acts in the 1940's the public has been consulted on proposed planning policies, planning applications and planning appeals. Over the past decade or so this has been regarded as insufficient and more extensive consultation and dialogue have become usual. The opportunities for contributing are:
- during the development of planning policies and accompanying sustainability appraisal by the Mineral Planning Authority
- pre-application consultations undertaken voluntarily by prospective operators or in connection with and environmental impact assessment, which provides an excellent opportunity for negotiating community benefits
- making representations on the planning application and on any planning appeal that may be lodged
- during operation of the site through any community liaison group set up by, or directly to, the minerals operator to try to resolve any problems that may have arisen
- to the local authority planning or environmental health department, or the Environment Agency, as appropriate if significant problems are not addressed by the operator so that these regulators can discuss, if necessary, the resolution of issues with the operator and to take formal enforcement action if infringements of conditions or public nuisances are not dealt with properly and within a reasonable period.
Planning authorities are required to provide a statement of community engagement when preparing their development plan documents. In general, it is better to develop a good relationship between the community and the operator so that problems and opportunities are dealt with constructively rather than getting bogged down in formal and legal procedures.
The legal framework consists of provisions at both the European and National levels. The Aarhus Convention: Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (1998) establishes a number of rights for the public and provides for action in three areas:
- ensuring public access to environmental information held by the public authorities;
- fostering public participation in decision-making which affects the environment;
- extending the conditions of access to justice in environmental matters.
In general, it is better to develop a good relationship between the community and the operator so that problems and opportunities are dealt with constructively rather than getting bogged down in formal and legal procedures.
The European Union has undertaken to take the necessary measures to ensure the effective application of the Convention through three directives that reflect the three areas. These are the Public Access to Environmental Information Directive 2003/04/EC; the Public Participation in Environmental Procedures Directive 2003/35/EC; and the Access to Justice in Environmental Matters Directive 2003/624/EC and the associated Environmental Information Regulations 2004 L0392.
Under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act (2004) L0215, Mineral Planning Authorities are required to prepare a Statement of Community Involvement, which sets out their policy on involving their community in preparing Local Development Documents and consulting them on planning applications. According to Policy Planning Statement 1 (2005) L0253, community involvement is an essential element in delivering sustainable development and creating sustainable and safe communities L0257. The planning system operates in the public interest to ensure the development and use of land results in better places for people to live, the delivery of development where communities need it, as well as the protection and enhancement of the natural and historic environment and the countryside. The emphasis is on the Mineral Planning Authority to encourage a good working relationship between operators and the community. A new Planning Bill will lead to some changes in existing provisions but public consultation is likely to remain an important feature of the system to comply with European Law, and national law and regulations derived from it, and because of the Government's strong interest in "localism".
The European Environmental Impact Directive 85/337/EEC (amended by 97/11/EC and 2001/42/EC), has been transposed into UK legislation through a number of regulations (see Policy and Planning). The provisions require consultation on the environmental statement resulting from environmental impact assessment L0241.
Informed public participation is a more intensive and active process than consultation that involves in-depth exchange of views and information, leading to joint analysis and decision-making. The process should involve the whole community, not just the vocal minority.
Some overall principles of public participation are:
- Inclusiveness: encourage participation of all including the 'silent majority'.
- Transparency, Openness and Clarity: provide information in a form that can be understood and identify uncertainties and omissions.
- Independence: use neutral and independent facilitators especially in highly charged situations.
- Commitment: show respect to the stakeholders by giving the process the priority and resources it deserves.
- Accessibility: provide different ways for people to be involved taking into consideration the variability of the community.
- Accountability: providing feedback to participants as to how their contribution affected the decision.
- Productivity: improving the outcome for all concerned.
Any public participation process has to be unique and should involve all interested parties from the government, voluntary organisations, the community and the company. Initiation of the process is as much the responsibility of the relevant planning authority as the project proponent though it is often left to the company to take the lead. This can create its own pitfalls but is preferable to inaction.
For effective dialogue, communities need to be aware of what mineral working involves, how impacts can be reduced and what community benefits can be secured. A number of ALSF projects have addressed this issue L0013, L0076, L078, L0129, L0132, L0136 as well a providing advice to teenagers on hazards in quarries and the need for safety L0131.
The process of Environmental Impact Assessment of applications for mineral working also requires pubic consultation L0260.
Liaison during mineral extraction can help to allay concerns and to amicably resolve concerns without the direct involvement of the regulatory authorities. Many minerals operators therefore participate in community liaison activities (see, for instance, www.aggregate.com/sustainability/people/community-engagement/community-liason-groups/)
With positive engagement and discussion mineral extraction can provide significant and varied community benefits including
- Providing restored habitats and increased biodiversity as well as geodiversity sites L0276, L0277, L0105, L0290 and improved heritage sites for public enjoyment and education L0112.
- Providing alternative rights of way when footpaths have to be removed and securing new paths and access to restored sites L0170, L0176 including improved access for use by disable people L0120.
- Restoration of sites to incorporate arts facilities L0117, L0130, L0134, L0135.
- Restoration of land to other uses including mixed and built development L0011, L0127 and