Tunstead Quarry, Derbyshire

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd January 1974.

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11.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr Spencer Le Marchant Mr Spencer Le Marchant , High Peak

Twenty-five years ago, short of a few days, a previous Member for the High Peak Division, a great conservationist then and a great conservationist today, the noble Lord, Lord Molson, initiated a similar debate. He was criticising, at the earlier hour of 7.18 p.m., the quarrying policy of the Government of the day.

I rise not to do that but to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Development to a situation that has developed over the years. It is as important in Derbyshire today as it was in 1949.

In no way am I asking that the matter should be removed from local hands. I suggest that the Government should consider it with the advantage of the enormously greater resources of expert advice available to them than was available to the Government 25 years ago, so that should the case come before them they will be more fully equipped to deal with it than was the then Minister for Town and Country Planning.

I am talking about the application by ICI for an extension of Tunstead Quarry, already the largest quarry in Britain, and the largest limestone quarry in Europe. The Company is applying to develop a continuation of Old Moor, which is very close to it, and partly outside, but mainly inside, the national park.

I am happy that the company has behaved with the responsibility that one would expect of it. In all ways, going right back to 1950, it has made its intentions abundantly clear. It has consulted local authorities and reported to the planning authorities in March 1970. In April 1971 it approached the Northwest Derby and Peak Park Planning Board, and it went before the Rural Planning Authority in October 1971.

It has also drawn up an impressive plan devised for it by an eminent landscape artist. It plans to spend about £70,000 on trees if its application is granted, and proposes to do all this 12 or 13 years before it would even start using the quarry, so that the trees will have grown up and will not be the sort of eyesore to which we have, sadly, become so accustomed in the High Peak over many years.

A responsible employer, it employs in its quarries about 800 people, but that is no measure of the number of people in my constituency who are dependent on the company. Including the wives, children, pensioners and ancillary people, the number runs into thousands. It is, as it has always been, a vastly important industry for the High Peak.

One must also consider the views of the local residents. As I find from my correspondence, they are unanimous in their strong disapproval of this plan, which will bring the quarry to within 1,000 yards of an old Norman village, Wormhill. The residents there are already very used, as are the people of that part of the High Peak, to the suffering caused by blasting and, during the dry summer, by large quantities of dust all over the trees, which look green no more towards the end of the season. The lorries on the narrow lanes are also a great problem. These people do not want this extension and their views have to be considered very carefully.

All of us who live in our part of Derbyshire suffer from the activities of quarry owners of years gone by. No one realises this more and has more responsibility than not only this company but the other companies quarrying in the area today. They realise that the appalling sights one sees around Buxton and Dove Holes are a dreadful inheritance for all who live there. It is not unfair for these local people to be suspicious of a vast new plan like this, which they feel will further harm their countryside. We are not dealing with something that can be termed just "local".

Because we are in the national park, I feel that this matter will come to the Minister at some stage. Not the park planning board nor the county council nor the new High Peak authority will be able to deal with it. Extraction of minerals in a national park has been recognised as a national problem for well over the 25 years.

The Minister who spoke in the debate in 1949, said, The most fundamental difference from our proposeed national parks is that it is essential, and I think very desirable too, that in our national parks the ordinary rural life, such as farming, rural industry and afforestation, should continue to function…Those areas must be used to maintain the economic life of the community. It may be inevitable that different uses of land should exist cheek by jowl. He said later, It may be necessary to utilise the mineral wealth which lies in those areas for the purpose of ensuring the economic life of our people. What is most important is that he added, The first condition is that it must be demonstrated quite clearly that the exploitation of those minerals is absolutely necessary in the public interest."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st March 1949; Vol. 463, c. 1465, 1466, 1484.] In winding up that debate, Lord Molson mentioned the importance of lime in the High Peak and the 300 industries which depended on lime. He said that the 50 per cent of the people living within 60 miles of Buxton who depended on lime in their day-to-day lives could not at weekends expect to see no signs of where it had come from.

The next important debate on the subject was in 1952, on a Supply Day, when Mr. Harold Macmillan said, While the county councils have a general duty to do what they can to keep a general balance between industrial needs and the development of material resources, on the one hand, and amenity interests, on the other, in those areas which are designated as National Parks, amenity and access are to be given an overriding position. That is really the difference. It is just that which distinguishes the National Parks from the general functions of the county councils over the rest of the country. Mr. Macmillan also said in the same debate, It is, of course, sometimes necessary, even in National Parks, to make some concession. Reservoirs, hydro-electric schemes, the quarrying of minerals—are we to shut out the whole of Derbyshire, for instance?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July 1952 ; Vol. 503, c. 1931–32.] I suggest that he was clearly pointing out and following un what the Minister said in 1949.

Limestone is enormously important. Its importance to many of our industries cannot be over-estimated. Almost all industries need it. There is a very small amount of limestone in this country and unfortunately it is spread geographically in places of great beauty. There is, first, a relatively large quantity in the Peak District, and there is limestone in the Yorkshire Dales and in Somerset. I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Boscawen) present tonight because he has as much a problem as we have.

My right hon. Friend now has available for him all the committees which have been set up, which were not thought of in 1949. There is the Committee on Mineral Controls, the Stevens Committee, and the Advisory Committee on Aggregates, the Verney Committee. The Royal School of Mines is working with the Institute of Geological Sciences. The Committee under the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has already reported and we await the printing of that report on mining in national parks. Dorby has reported in the first place. It is not for me to say which of these committees it is correct to use at present. I suggest that a sub-committee of Verney could report on the national interest regarding the extraction of lime, with particular bearing on Tunstead at present.

We are in a very difficult position. We are having to value something that has never been valued. We are having to value something of national beauty, our heritage, against what lies underground and how we extract it. As Councillor Allman, the leader of the High Peak authority, has said, it comes down to what we will pay for a sack of lime.

These are matters which only my right hon. Friend, with advice from the experts who have been appointed, can answer. It is vitally important that my right hon. Friend consults these people. When he has consulted them, I am confident that the assertion that was made by my predecessor will not be able to be made again.

11.47 p.m.

Photo of Hon. Robert Boscawen Hon. Robert Boscawen , Wells

My hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) has done a service beyond his constituency. He has done a service to those who have at heart the wellbeing of the environment in general by raising this important matter of the conflict of interest that exists in certain areas of outstanding beauty between the environment, the interests of the companies concerned and the national interest of winning minerals, road stone or building stone from those areas.

I want to raise two important points. First, I support my hon. Friend in his view that as this matter is of national rather than local importance my right hon. Friend the Minister should be made aware at the earliest possible stage of any application to develop a new quarry or to extend an existing quarry, so that he is able to give advice locally as to the national interests rather than only the interests of the local people.

Secondly, when the local authority receives a planning application to extend a quarry or to develop a new quarry in an area of outstanding beauty, often the national interest in the demand for stone or for the particular material that will be quarried over the next so many years is invoked by the applicant company. Along comes an amenity society which, equally, invokes the national interest. The local authority has to decide the issue although it is in the dark as to what is the national interest.

We in Somerset are fortunate in having a local authority that has gone to a lot of trouble and expense in providing the expertise to discover what are the needs for quarrying in the country as a whole for the next quarter of a century, but that is rare.

In coming to a decision on these planning matters local authorities should be able to call upon all the expertise of the Department of the Environment and the Department of Trade and Industry on the national requirements for stone and quarrying in the future, to help them to decide the conflict between the needs of the quarrying industry and the need to preserve the environment.

11.52 p.m.

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

My hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Boscawen) broadened the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant)—very rightly, because the specific case put by my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak raises a matter of considerable principle, that is to say, the national interest in quarrying in such places as a national park or an area of outstanding natural beauty.

The application by Imperial Chemical Industries, to which my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak referred, to extract limestone from land near its existing Tunstead Quarry reached the Peak Park Planning Board in November, and the board has it under consideration ICI has agreed to an extension until 15th March of the two-month period for giving a decision, and the planning committee is discussing the matter with the Derbyshire County Council next week, as part of the area in question lies just outside the Peak Park jurisdiction.

As the planning application is at that stage, that is all I can say about the merits of it. If I say more my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State may find himself in the position of being prejudiced by what I have said when he comes to make a final decision if the application comes to him either on appeal by the company should it receive an adverse decision from the board or in the event of my right hon. and learned Friend deciding to call in the application. He can call in the application if it is referred to him by the planning board as constituting a substantial departure from the development plan. I regret that I cannot say anything tonight on the merits of the case because I might prejudice the exercise of the impartial judgment which my right hon. and learned Friend has to apply should the case come before him. Without causing my right hon. and learned Friend any embarrassment, I think I can express the general concern we feel over applications for this type of development in a national park.

In this case the quarry is on the edge of the national park, but local authorities and Ministers alike are required, by Section 11 of the Countryside Act, to have regard to the desirability of preserving the natural beauty of the countryside. Indeed the House may be assured that whether the decision is taken by the planning authority, the local planning authority or the Secretary of State, all due weight will be given to amenity factors. If it falls to my right hon. and learned Friend to make the decision, a public inquiry will be held at which all apprehensions can be fully ventilated, but if the application is resolved locally, equally the objections and fears will be taken into account.

It is true that both local planning authorities and Ministers who have to deal with these matters—both the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Wales—during these applications must demonstrate that the working of these minerals is absolutely necessary within the park. Every other area should be considered and the applicants in this kind of development should be prepared to show that the application is absolutely necessary where they are asking for it to be within a national park area.

My hon. Friend asked whether we would refer the case to one of the committees that are now considering mineral workings and the problems of mineral workings in general. It would not be proper to refer a planning application to a specific committee of this sort or for the Secretary of State to take advice on a specific case without taking it in the course of a public inquiry. But it is necessary that any local planning authority dealing with an application should have as full information as is available on the production of minerals, the supply and demand position and any relevant national policies.

A number of lines of inquiry are afoot in respect of aggregate minerals. My hon. Friend mentioned the fact that certain major committees were considering the subject. There is the Advisory Committee on Aggregates, the Verney Committee, which was set up in 1972. That body was to advise on matters relating to the supply of aggregates for the construction industry and it has recently issued an interim report. It may well be that the contents of that report should be taken into account in considering the present application. Since the main purpose of Tunstead Quarry is the production of high-quality chemical stone, the work of the Verney Committee may not be particularly relevant to the type of development proposed, although a quantity of lower-grade limestone, which would otherwise be waste, is processed as aggregate or used in the manufacture of cement. But local planning authorities concerned with the production of limestone as aggregate will draw benefit in due course from the work of the Verney Committee.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the Institute of Geological Sciences which is carrying out in Derbyshire a feasibility study to establish procedures for an assessment of national resources of limestone. I hope that this necessarily longer-term project will lead to surveys which in due course will provide local authorities with better information than that presently available about the extent and nature of limestone resources. All these are building up information for both local authorities and my right hon. and learned Friend.

The Department has also instituted a three-year research project by the Royal School of Mines into the environmental implications of large-scale quarrying and open-cast working, and the initial stages of the work, on the results of which the content of further work will depend, is almost completed.

My hon. Friend referred to the committee under the chairmanship of my noble Friend Lord Sandford. Its report, just made and in course of being printed, will be of great help in these problems.

Finally there is the committee under the chairmanship of Sir Roger Stevens, which is expected to report later this year on the legal and procedural framework necessary for proper control rather than on issues of location and policy in the consideration of applications.

My hon. Friend asked whether this application could be called in by my right hon. and learned Friend. Certainly I shall invite my right hon. and learned Friend to look at what my hon. Friend said——

Photo of Mr Spencer Le Marchant Mr Spencer Le Marchant , High Peak

I did not say that I should like it to be called in. I was asking for my right hon. and learned Friend to acquaint himself with the whole of this very important subject. At the beginning of my speech I said that I believed that it should be considered locally but that it should be known to my right hon. and learned Friend at this stage because it was such a very important matter.

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

To the extent that the application has been made, it is known to my right hon. and learned Friend. But it has not been referred to him by the local authority as a departure from the development plan. If it is so reported, my right hon. and learned Friend will consider whether calling it in is the right procedure. But he could not undertake to investigate this outside the normal planning procedure by referring it to one or other of the committees that I have mentioned, or even by considering it himself before it came before him in a proper fashion in the normal planning procedures. If it comes in that form, almost undoubtedly my right hon. and learned Friend will appoint a public inquiry.

However, it is well within the power of the local planning authority itself to hold a public inquiry, and this might be the kind of case in which a planning inquiry held by the local planning authority before it reaches any decision on the planning application would be a very useful course. At any rate, one way or another this is almost bound to come before the public, and the case can be argued not only on amenity grounds but also on technical grounds, including the need for this kind of quarrying, and the need for limestone which must be set against the need to preserve amenities.

I stress again that it is a matter of grave concern to my right hon. and learned Friend and to the Secretary of State for Wales that we should not encroach into the national parks unless it is really necessary.

We come back to the point which was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Wells, namely, what is the national interest in a case of this kind? It is extremely difficult to lay down any rules in advance. One has to look at the merits of each case and to examine each case against the background of knowledge which we have from the various committees which have been set up to investigate this type of development. We shall try as far as we can to balance questions of national interest, and I hope that there will be a full investigation one way or another of this present proposal.

The applicants have gone out of their way to come to arrangements with the local planning authority to make public their intentions so that there is public knowledge of what they intend to do. In the circumstances, I hope that a satisfactory solution will be found.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at five minutes past Twelve o'clock.