Towards a Minerals Local Plan for Derbyshire and Derby

Towards a Strategy for Coal

National Policy Considerations

2       National Policy Considerations

2.1    National Planning Policy Framework

National policy for the extraction of coal and the disposal of colliery waste is set out in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which replaced most previous policy guidance and statements, specifically that in Mineral Planning Guidance Note 3: Coal Mining and Colliery Spoil Disposal, 1999.

In general terms, the NPPF states that, 'Minerals are essential to support sustainable economic growth and our quality of life. It is important, therefore, that there is a sufficient supply of material to provide the infrastructure, buildings, energy and goods that the country needs. However, since minerals are a finite natural resource and can only be worked where they are found, it is important to make best use of them to secure their long-term conservation'.

The NPPF includes policy on the need to balance the need for minerals with appropriate environmental considerations and sets out the broad approach to mineral plan making and procedures. Specifically in regard to coal it states at paragraph 147 that minerals planning authorities should 'indicate any areas where coal extraction and the disposal of colliery spoil may be acceptable'. Further guidance is provided at paragraph 149 relating to the extraction of coal which states that, 'Permission should not be given for the extraction of coal unless the proposal is environmentally acceptable, or can be made so by planning conditions or obligations; or if not, it provides national, local or community benefits which clearly outweigh the likely impacts to justify the grant of planning permission'.

The main changes from MPG3 are the removal of the requirement to identify coal constraint areas, the omission of any specific mention of coal extraction in green belts and the addition of ‘national’ benefits to the consideration of coal extraction proposals. The NPPF does not contain any Government target for coal production, either from underground sources or by surface mining. It states that decisions on the supply of energy derived from different fuels are a matter for the markets, reinforced by long term policy measures.


2.2    National Planning Practice Guidance, 2014

The National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG) states that 'The environmental impacts of coal extraction should be considered in the same way as for other minerals. However, both coal operators and mineral planning authorities must have regard to the environmental duty placed on them under section 53 of the Coal Industry Act 1994 when preparing and determining planning applications.'

In addition it states that underground mining can raise additional issues to surface coal mining which mineral planning authorities may wish to take into consideration. These are identified as; the potential effects of subsidence, including potential hazards of old mine workings; the treatment and pumping of underground water; monitoring and preventative measures for potential gas emissions; and the method of disposal of colliery spoil.

2.3    National Energy Policy

The Government position on national energy policy is now changing and evolving quickly in comparison to the situation in the last century. With its abundant reserves, indigenous coal was previously regarded as a very important element of the energy infrastructure of the United Kingdom. Whilst coal is still an important element, it is now one of many options for energy production and of the coal that we do use, the proportion obtained from outside the UK has risen significantly in the years since the large-scale colliery closures of the 1980s. Issues about how we will produce energy in the future and how reliant on external sources of fuel we will be to produce that energy are matters of increasing importance. The Government has identified two long-term energy challenges which bring into question the role that coal will play in the medium term over the Plan period and thereafter:

  • Tackling climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions both within the UK and abroad as part of wider EU initiatives.
  • Ensuring secure, clean and affordable energy as we become increasingly dependent on imported fuels.

There have been several important stages in the evolution of current national energy policy. The Department of Trade and Industry paper, Meeting the Energy Challenge, 2007 states that England, Wales and Scotland’s substantial remaining coal reserves have the potential not only to help meet our national demand for coal and to reduce our dependence on imported primary fuels, but also to contribute to the economic vitality and skills base of the regions where they are found.  The draft National Policy Statement for Energy, published in 2009, builds on the 2007 Energy White Paper and, together, they set out to address the long-term energy challenges of security of supply, whilst acknowledging the implications of climate change. Whilst emphasis is on the development of renewable energy supplies the Government recognises the important and continuing role that coal will play in meeting national energy requirements. It is seen as a flexible source of energy generation, an alternative to an over dependence on gas and as a back-up to intermittent renewable energy supplies.

The Government envisages that future development of coal should be based on collaboration between stakeholders in the coal and power industries and the Government to secure the long-term future of coal fired power generation, to optimise the use of national coal reserves where recovery is economic. The Government has stated that it does not propose to set targets for the share of energy or electricity supply to be met by different fuels but in this context, it is clear that the Government continues to consider there to be a need to maintain a supply of indigenous coal as a national resource.

2.4    Energy Act 2013

The Energy Act received final assent on 18 December 2013. The Act has several objectives and in relation to hydrocarbons (including coal) it seeks to make provision for the setting of a decarbonisation target range and duties in relation to it; or in connection with reforms to the electricity market for purposes of encouraging low carbon electricity generation, or ensuring security of supply. It is also about the designation of a strategy and policy statement concerning domestic supplies of gas and electricity. It does not actually prescribe a new strategy or policy at this stage but instead sets the procedural requirements for doing so. It is likely however that future policy and strategy will reflect the overall objective of the Act to reduce our carbon footprint and in turn this will affect the future demand for fossil fuels, including coal.