Environment Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 9th October 2007.

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Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

(1) what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the process of applying for and being granted a licence to dredge off the coast of England; and if he will make a statement;

(2) how many licences were (a) granted and (b) refused for dredging off the coast of (i) England and (ii) the East Riding of Yorkshire in each of the last 10 years; and if he will make a statement;

(3) how much was received for dredging licences in respect of sites off the coast of (a) England and (b) the East Riding of Yorkshire in each of the last 10 years; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine, Landscape and Rural Affairs) and Minister for the South East), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Member's questions appear to concern the dredging of marine minerals (the extraction of sand and gravel from the seabed to be landed for use in construction or beach maintenance) rather than dredging more generally. I will therefore confine my answer to this area.

The Crown Estate, as landowner up to 12 miles offshore and the owner of the rights to non-energy minerals within the UK continental shelf and beyond, issues licences to dredge for marine minerals. Thirteen licences were issued in the last 10 years. The numbers issued in each year are set out in Table 1. No licences were issued for dredging off the coast of the East Riding of Yorkshire in this period and no marine minerals dredging is currently licensed there. The closest that any such dredging currently takes place to this coast is to the south of Spurn Head and some 10 kilometres off the coast of Lincolnshire which the Crown Estate refers to as the Humber region for administrative purposes. Two licences were issued in this area, in 2000.

No licences were refused during this period. Licence proposals that were likely to be refused were either abandoned by the prospective applicant before submission as applications, or withdrawn before any formal decision was made.

Table 1
Licences issued for English w aters
1997 0
1998 0
1999 1
2000 3
2001 2
2002 0
2003 1
2004 0
2005 2
2006 4
Total 13

The Crown Estate receives royalties from operators for every tonne of aggregate that is dredged from the seabed that it either owns or controls. Table 2 shows the royalties it has received from English dredging operations over the past 10 years. Net income received by the Crown Estate is paid into the consolidated fund. As there is no aggregate dredging there, no royalties have been received from dredging off the coast of the East Riding of Yorkshire.

Table 2
£ million
Year Crown Estate royalties for English waters
1997 9.13
1998 9.46
1999 11.87
2000 12.48
2001 11.38
2002 12.11
2003 12.15
2004 12.25
2005 12.60
2006 13.27
Total 116.70

The Crown Estate only issues a licence when it has received the consent of central Government to the proposal. In the period in question, Government consent was delivered through the Government View system.

Until 1 April this year, the Department for Communities and Local Government was responsible for keeping the effectiveness of the process for giving Government's consent under review. Since then DEFRA has been responsible.

As a result of ongoing assessment and regular dialogue with stakeholders, the Government concluded that the existing process needed updating to make the system more transparent and efficient, and to reflect relevant European legislation. A new system to do this was introduced by the Environmental Impact Assessment and Natural Habitats (Extraction of Minerals by Marine Dredging) (England and Northern Ireland) Regulations 2007 which came into force on 1 May this year.

The Government are committed to ensuring that decisions on applications are made on the basis of the best possible scientific evidence. In recent years much research has been carried out on understanding coastal processes and the potential impacts of aggregate dredging. DEFRA has recently published a report on this work, funded by the Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund (which was set up by DEFRA), entitled 'Marine Aggregate Dredging: Helping to Determine Good Practice', published 9 July 2007. This work supports the Government's increasingly sophisticated management of aggregate extraction integrated with the protection of resources of conservation and heritage significance. We are not aware of any scientific evidence to indicate that marine minerals dredging, as controlled by the Government since 1968, has had any effect on the coast or significantly affected the marine environment. The Government are satisfied that the regulation of marine minerals dredging is both effective and adequate.

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