Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th March 2010.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. -(Mr. Blizzard.)

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Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw 12:15 am, 30th March 2010

It gives me great pleasure to introduce this Adjournment debate on the aggregates levy and the use of that levy in local communities affected by aggregates. The levy was initially the idea of the Prime Minister, the then Chancellor, and was first mooted in the July 1997 Budget. It was confirmed in the 2000 Budget and published in the 2001 Budget, to be introduced in April 2002. At the time, it was a levy on aggregates of £1.60 a tonne.

The aim of the levy was to encourage a move away from aggregates, to maximise the use of alternatives such as recycled construction and demolition waste and china clay waste, and to encourage the more efficient use of aggregates, greater resource efficiency in the construction industry and the development of a range of other alternatives, including the use of waste glass and tyres in aggregate mixes. The levy has raised £334 million in the past financial year and in the Government's view has been a significant factor in reducing sales of virgin aggregates in England by about 18 million tonnes between 2001 and 2005.

The issue that I wish to concentrate on in this debate is the approximately 10 per cent. of the levy that goes to the aggregates levy sustainability fund. The fund was established through negotiation with the industry at the onset of the scheme and its current budget of £35 million is due to be renewed in 2011-I understand that those discussions are under way. The money available under the ALSF is to be used for four objectives. The first is to minimise the demand for primary aggregates extraction. The second is to promote more environmentally friendly aggregates extraction and transport. The third is to address the environmental impacts of past aggregates extraction. The fourth, which is crucial, is to compensate local communities for the impacts of aggregates extraction. I wish to draw that fourth objective to the attention of the House.

This money is distributed in a range of ways, one of which is through local authorities. They allocated £3 million of the total for this final fourth objective. In the county of Nottinghamshire £107,000 is allocated, of which £106,735 was spent last year. However, the issue is how the money is spent. Local authorities, including those in Nottinghamshire, will say that the money is being used to leverage in other money. Indeed, in a written answer that I received the relevant Minister said:

"It is for local authorities to decide how to spend money provided via ALSF as a non ring fenced area based grant. These monies are spent according to local priorities."-[ Hansard, 11 March 2010; Vol. 507, c. 412W.]

However, the industry, through the Mineral Products Association, argues, among other things, that

"the creeping migration and diversion of funds away from the original and core purposes of the fund" should

"be arrested and reversed."

It also says that "significantly more funding" should be directed to "benefit local communities" in Nottinghamshire and elsewhere in the country. I back that concept. It seems to me that the fund from the aggregates levy should be aimed specifically and explicitly at benefiting local communities that are directly and immediately impacted by the quarrying of aggregates. The money should be spent with those communities and not diverted to other worthy projects in areas that have a negligible amount of quarrying-or, indeed, none.

I have looked into how the money has been spent in Nottinghamshire over the years, including last year. It has been spent on some very worthy projects, including projects that I have personally assisted in raising money for, but those projects should not be getting the aggregates levy money when communities that are directly affected by quarrying get none of it. I shall cite a few examples. My constituency has the largest amount of quarrying in Nottinghamshire and one of the largest amounts of quarrying for aggregates anywhere in the country. Villages such as Scrooby and Sturton le Steeple are getting nothing, or next to nothing, from the fund.

Sturton le Steeple has a power station-indeed, two power stations, in essence-at West Burton, as well as a huge quarry, and there are vast amounts of lorry movements from both of those enterprises, not least from quarrying. The village recognises that there is and will always be a need for aggregates, and it welcomes the fact that good quarrying companies will do the job well, particularly if they are prepared to negotiate and abide by agreements regarding traffic and the movement of material by barge, rail or road. Of course, villagers want there to be maximum use of barge and rail in moving extractions of that nature. They will live with the quarry, but it is fair to expect for them more than the measly amounts that have been given to Sturton le Steeple and the nothing that has been given to Scrooby.

However, there is a worse example, which for the nation exemplifies the problem of such moneys being diverted by county councils to worthy causes for good reason, but not a good enough reason. Misson is the place in Nottinghamshire for quarrying. Everyone in Nottinghamshire who looks into this issue knows that has been the case for previous and current quarrying, and it will doubtless be the case for future quarrying. The Minister knows the village, because he has kindly provided assistance to villagers in dealing with the separate issue of the mushroom composting factory that has been blighting their lives for many years. The village would like to thank the Minister for instigating the current health review on that matter.

The village of Misson has received nothing from the fund, despite having many community projects for which it would like funding. Many villagers would like children's playground facilities to be enhanced and to have new footpaths where footpaths do not exist. Other worthy projects will come forward, but it should be for the local community to decide on priorities. Those people are being denied access to the fund. My plea to the Minister, and through him to his Department and the Government, is to heed the requests of the industry, which are echoed by my communities that are directly affected and are also echoed by me.

Our request is that the original purpose be explicitly implemented when the fund is renewed-that is, that the money should go to those villages and communities that are directly impacted. It should no longer be possible for county councils or others to divert money, for whatever worthy reason, to other projects rather than to communities that have quarrying.

It seems to me that the deal that applies to the industry and the Government should also apply to those communities. I request that, in the negotiations, the Minister change the terms and conditions behind the fund to ensure that those affected by quarrying get the benefits from the levy in the way that the Prime Minister originally intended.

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Photo of Dan Norris Dan Norris Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 12:25 am, 30th March 2010

I congratulate my hon. Friend John Mann on securing this debate on an area of my Department's work that is not widely known but in which I genuinely think we might take some pride.

I had the great pleasure only a couple of weeks ago to open a conference adjacent to the Olympic site in Stratford to showcase the work of the aggregates levy sustainability fund. I do not think that anyone who was present on the day could fail to be impressed by the sheer diversity of the projects that have been funded. However, it cannot fund everything, and sometimes there are tough choices to be made by our delivery partners about how to use the funds allocated to them to pursue the broad themes that we have agreed for the fund.

When the ALSF was introduced in April 2002, its overarching purpose was to complement the objectives of the levy that applies to the extraction of aggregates in this country, and to deliver environmental and social benefits to areas subject to the environmental costs of aggregates extraction. Since its introduction, the fund has been administered by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and delivered through a total of 28 delivery partners. Over the eight years since its inception, the fund has helped around 3,000 projects which have shared more than £169 million.

A full public consultation was undertaken on how best to target funding for the current 2008 to 2011 spending review period. Based on those responses, we decided that the most effective way to achieve the fund's aim

"to reduce the environmental footprint of aggregates production and deliver benefits in areas of extraction" was to organise work around five themes, and I should like to say something about them now.

The first theme is the quarries theme. This includes Carbon Trust work with quarrying companies to reduce carbon emissions; Natural England work to enhance landscape and biodiversity around quarries; and English Heritage work to manage archaeology and other historic assets around quarries. It also involves working with the Mineral Industry Research Organisation to improve capacity for managing the environment in the longer term.

The second theme is the marine theme. This involves increasing capacity for managing marine dredging and has included mapping most of the major extraction areas so that we have a better understanding of the environmental assets that need protecting. The third theme is resource use. This is work that the Waste and Resources Action Programme-often referred to as WRAP-and the Environment Agency do to ensure increased recycling of construction and demolition waste, and the sustainable use of materials to reduce the need for extraction in the first place.

The fourth theme is transport. This comprises work that the Department for Transport does to train lorry drivers to drive in a more safe and fuel-efficient way, and to increase capacity to transport aggregates by rail and water rather than road. Another element is the work that British Waterways has done to enable transport of aggregates by the waterways around east London.

Finally, there is the communities theme. This is work done by Action for Communities in Rural England and local authorities to fund projects in communities affected by extraction. Work ranges from improvements to community buildings to access to local services, and from the provision of play facilities to landscape improvements. To give an example from Nottinghamshire, a listed windmill at North Leverton that has been in operation for 200 years was in disrepair and under threat. An ALSF grant provided £16,000 towards work costing £32,000 that was needed to enable the repair and refurbishment of the windmill. The work allowed the mill to keep grinding, and to remain open to the public and for school visits. The fund's delivery partners develop the detailed criteria to determine, in a transparent way, how they select specific projects. In the case of local authorities, a share of the fund is distributed in the form of what is called an area based grant, through the local area agreement, to be spent according to locally set priorities.

My hon. Friend is supporting a request from Misson parish council for some 2 km of new roadside footpath to be provided between the villages of Misson and Newington. However, through correspondence with Misson, Nottinghamshire county council has explained that the proposal does not fit with the criteria that it applies-criteria agreed with DEFRA-in using the funds that it disburses. The proposal would take a disproportionate amount of the funding available to the council and create a longer-term maintenance bill that has no obvious funder.

Many key stakeholders have an interest in the ALSF. They range from the aggregates industry itself-which is understandably interested in getting some credit, given the contribution it makes to general taxation via the levy-to the waste management and processing sector, which is involved under the resource use theme by helping to reduce the need for virgin aggregates, and a vast range of non-governmental organisations, including national and local nature conservation bodies, and local archaeological and geological bodies.

The Campaign for National Parks, Friends of the Peak District, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Wildlife Trusts have all benefited-significantly in the case of the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts-from ALSF project funding, and were therefore active contributors to the fund's outputs.

The dedication and engagement of all those bodies, and indeed many others, in working with us on those issues is clearly apparent, and I applaud the work that they have done. The fund contributes in a small but very effective and important way to the objectives of a number of Departments and their agencies.

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Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

Is that not exactly the problem? The issue is not about Government priorities or local government priorities. Was the levy, or was it not, set up in its community aspect to benefit those communities impacted upon by extraction? The Minister has given examples. North Leverton is a wonderful project. Is there a quarry near North Leverton? Misson was refused. Is there a quarry near Misson?

Photo of Dan Norris Dan Norris Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. DEFRA is acutely aware that some stakeholders and communities are concerned about how money from the fund is allocated. That is certainly true, but it did not emerge as a major concern in the 2008 consultation, when we consulted widely on the future design of the scheme.

Most responses gave strong support for the way the fund currently operates, although I accept that things may have changed and that that may not be correct now. Budgets for the coming financial year have already been committed to local authorities and to ACRE. Future spending plans beyond that are uncertain, but I can say to my hon. Friend that, should the Department be in a position to continue the fund beyond 2010-11, I have asked my officials to consider the option of targeting the communities element so that moneys for local communities reach those most affected by aggregates extraction. I hope he finds some comfort in those words.

Once again, I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and on his usual hard work on behalf of his constituents. I hope that I have clarified the Government's position for him.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.