This page provides an overview of the general environmental requirements for land-based aggregates extraction; more detailed information on environmental issues and their management can be found on the pages dedicated to operational considerations, marine, and recycled and by-products.
Aggregates operations can have adverse impacts on the environment and on communities. Some of these could be long term. Impacts can often be reduced or mitigated by careful location and design of sites, good operational management and high quality restoration of worked land. Prospective operators are required to consider possible environmental impacts of proposed operations and to present evidence in support of applications for planning permission and environmental permits. The relevant Regulators are the Mineral Planning Authority and Environment Agency. The Local Authority Environmental Health Department has a role in preventing statutory nuisance when a site is in operation.
Environmental assessment in developing minerals planning policies
European Directive 2001/42/EC L0257 introduced a requirement for Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) L0388 of plans and programmes prepared by public authorities including planning documents that set out policies for mineral working (see Planning). The purpose is to identify, describe and evaluate the likely significant effects on the environment of implementing a plan or programme, and of reasonable alternatives to it, taking account of the objectives and geographical scope of the plan or programme. The process consists of:
- "Screening" to establish whether a plan or programme falls under the Directive,
- "Scoping" to define the limits of investigation, assessment and assumptions required,
- Documenting the state of the environment
- Determining the likely actual or relative environmental impacts
- Informing and consulting the public
- Influencing decisions based on the assessment
- Monitoring of effects of plans and programmes after their implementation.
The scope extends to material assets and archaeological sites.
In England the SEA process is subsumed with a wider process called Sustainability Appraisal which is an appraisal of the economic, environmental and social effects of a plan from the outset of the preparation process to allow decisions to be made that accord with sustainable development. Information on sustainability appraisal can be found at the Planning Advisory Service website.
Environmental assessment in minerals planning applications
The European Environmental Impact Directive 85/337/EEC (amended by 97/11/EC and 2001/42/EC) has been transposed into national legislation through a number of regulations L0194 (and see Planning) including The Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (England and Wales) Regulations (1999) L0243, and a 2010 Draft revision. These require Environmental Impact Assessment of proposals that are considered by the Mineral Planning Authority as possibly having significant adverse environmental effects, especially in or near European sites of nature conservation, and for all mineral working proposals with and area of 25 hectares or more. Schedule 4 of the 2010 draft regulations outlines the information required in an Environmental Statement:
- Description of the project, including in particular -
- a description of the physical characteristics of the whole development and the land-use requirements during the construction and operational phases;
- a description of the main characteristics of the production processes, for instance nature and quantity of the materials used;
- an estimate, by type and quantity, of expected residues and emissions (water, air and soil pollution, noise, vibration, light, heat, radiation, etc) resulting from the operation of the proposed development.
- An outline of the main alternatives studied by the applicant and an indication of the main reasons for his choice, taking into account the environmental effects.
- A description of the aspects of the environment likely to be significantly affected by the development including, in particular, population, fauna, flora, soil, water, air, climatic factors, material assets, including the architectural and archaeological heritage, landscape and the interrelationship between the above factors.
- A description of the likely significant effects of the proposed project on the environment, which should cover the direct effects and any indirect, secondary, cumulative, short, medium and long-term, permanent and temporary, positive and negative effects of the project, resulting from:
- the existence of the development;
- the use of natural resources;
- the emission of pollutants, the creation of nuisances and the elimination of waste, and the description by the applicant or appellant of the forecasting methods used to assess the effects on the environment.
- A description of the measures envisaged to prevent, reduce and where possible offset any significant adverse effects on the environment.
- A non-technical summary of the information provided under paragraphs 1 to 5 of this Part.
- An indication of any difficulties (technical deficiencies or lack of know-how) encountered by the applicant in compiling the required information.
This information provides a foundation for integrating environmental factors into project planning and decision making in a way that is consistent with sustainable development. Environmental issues that need to be taken into account, therefore, are:
- Noise L0180 and Vibration (including blasting)
- Air Quality (including dust) L0173, L0297, L0402
- Landscape/Visual impacts
- Waste/Sediment Management
- Surface and Groundwater impacts
- Soil Conservation
- Cultural Heritage
Impacts on other users of land and socio-economic issues are also taken into account.
EIA involves the assembly and interpretation of existing and new data on the site and its surroundings as a basis for location, design and management proposals for the proposed development in such a way as to avoid or adequately mitigate adverse environmental effects L0241. Baseline survey data are collected over a minimum period (usually 1 year) to take account of seasonal variations. The findings, including proposed measures to be taken to avoid or mitigate adverse impacts are presented in an Environmental Statement that accompanies the planning application. These are made available for public comment. Comments are taken into account when the planning application is determined and the statement and proposals to address relevant comments form a basis for proposed planning conditions to control the development and, often to require appropriate environmental monitoring during operations. If a proposal is permitted and implemented the planning authority monitors compliance with planning conditions and can take enforcement action if these are breached.
Particular consideration must be given to areas that may be subject to significant adverse effects if development takes place such as European sites of conservation under the Habitats 1992 L0264 and Birds L0265 Directives (Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protections Areas and Ramsar sites), and associated regulations L0403, and in Environmental Impact Assessments and permitting processes. Increasing emphasis is being placed on and ecosystems approach to dealing with the environment L0151. Planning for the supply of aggregates also has regard to National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Beauty where applications for new extraction are exceptional and to heritage sites such as Ancient Monuments, Listed Buildings and Battlefield sites C.
Key provisions intended to protect the environment concern:
- Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) through EC Directive(96/61/EEC) L0397 aims to minimise pollution from various industrial activities – operators are required to obtain permits providing for operational measures to control emissions to the environment;
- Protection of surface and underground water through the EC Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) L0402, and implementing Regulations L0286, and Groundwater Directive (2006/118/EC) L0400 – the Framework Directive provides for River Basin Management of surface and underground water in terms of quality and quantity and the Groundwater Directive set up water quality standards for groundwater and measures to prevent or minimise inputs of pollutants – and other relevant measures such as the Water Resources Act 1991 L0172;
- Protection of air quality through the EC Directive on ambient air quality (2008/50/EC) L0398 which consolidated previous Directives with the aim of protecting and improving ambient air quality and introduced limit values and exposure reduction targets for certain fine particles; and
- Securing the safety of mining waste facilities through the EC Mining Waste Directive (2006/21/EC) L0399 which sets out requirements for management of wastes during operations and of facilities receiving wastes during and after operations in order to prevent major accidents or pollution incidents. Inert wastes and unpolluted soils fall outside the terms of the Directive so the main thrust of this legislation will fall on mineral workings other than those undertaken for aggregates extraction.
The Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010 L0296, administered by the Environment Agency, combined earlier pollution prevention and control and waste management licensing regulations and have since been extended to water discharges and amended to make provision for permitting of mining waste facilities.
Environmental management systems
Mineral Policy Statement 2 advises that it is good practice for operators to use an Environmental Management System (EMS), as established by ISO 14001 (1996) L0082. An EMS seeks to integrate environmental responsibility into day to day management practices through changes to organisational structure, responsibilities, procedures, processes and resources, thereby continuously improving the level of environmental performance. It can be designed to ensure that an operation is meeting legislative and policy requirements as well as being a tool to achieve voluntary improvements. Guidance on Environmental Management Systems can be found on the British Standards Institution Project Acorn website.
Properly designed and managed mineral workings provide good opportunities for securing environmental benefits through high quality imaginative restoration of sites following extraction and making proper provision for long term beneficial after-use of the land. Restoration is intended to preserve the long term potential of the land to support the widest range of after-uses by achieving high standards of restoration. Mineral workings often provide the opportunity to create new wildlife habitats, landforms and sites of geological interest making significant contributions to the UK Biodiversity Action Plan L0093, L0094, L0096, L0174, L0177 and local Geodiversity Action Plans L0099, L0102, L0270, L0282 and see also Circular 06/05 L0281.In addition, they can contribute in certain locations to initiatives such as the creation of the National Forest (see website) or Community Forests (see website). Well restored mineral sites also do not harm or injure the visual amenities of Green Belt land. In some cases, mineral workings may be undertaken on, and improve, previously damaged land.L0276, L0277
Responsibility for the restoration and aftercare of mineral sites lies with the operator and, in the case of default, with the landowner L0160. Applicants are required to demonstrate the likely financial and material budgets for the restoration, aftercare and after-use, and how they propose to make provision for such work during the operational life of the site with their applications. The Mineral Planning Authority may deem it necessary to establish a bond or guarantee to pay for restoration before planning permission is granted. Alternatively companies can become a member of an industry Restoration Guarantee Fund (see Mineral Products Association and British Aggregates Association) to demonstrate secure funding for restoration.