Quarry appeal – Balancing the benefits


PDP Director Richard Pigott recently appeared in a 6-day public inquiry relating to the refusal of planning permission for the re-opening of a former quarry to extract 520,000 tonnes of building stone over a 20-year period in the Bradford district. Here he gives his account of the process, the decision and lessons learnt.

Benefits of building stone quarry not enough to outweigh harm to ‘valued landscape’

Somewhat unusually for me, in this appeal I was working on the side of the council to help it defend its refusal of the planning application. I was appointed as the council’s Planning expert witness when the planning officer (who had recommended refusal of the application) was no longer able to give evidence for personal reasons. Having read the relevant documents, I decided that I was able to support the council’s case. As well as the officer’s opposition, there were a large number of objections to the application and a local civic society opposing the proposal was granted Rule 6(6) status, meaning they were able to formally participate in the Inquiry proceedings.

I have appeared in numerous public inquiries before but this was my first major minerals case and it was my job to take an overarching view of all of the various factors (or ‘material considerations’) for and against the development and weigh them all up in what’s called the ‘planning balance’.

A number of key issues were debated in the inquiry, including:

  • Impact on the landscape – the site was located in a relatively exposed location in an area where quarrying is no longer identified as a common feature of the landscape
  • Impact on biodiversity – the development would have an adverse effect on ecology in the short to medium term and the site formed part of a biodiversity network
  • Impact on protected species – the site was home to a number of badger setts, a protected species
  • Impact on groundwater and private water supply – there is a spring within the vicinity of the appeal site which provides a private water supply to a number of dwellings

For anyone that doesn’t know (and why should you?!) there is a strong presumption in favour of minerals development within the National Planning Policy Framework, where it states “When determining planning applications, great weight should be given to the benefits of mineral extraction, including to the economy”. This, one might think, tilts the ‘balance’ heavily in favour of granting planning permission for most quarrying and mining developments.

Accordingly, the Inspector attached significant weight to the supply of building stone from the proposal within the balance. However, the Inspector was not convinced that there was cogent evidence of a specific need for the type of building stone which would come out of the quarry over and above the general need for the supply of stone, or that it was a particularly scarce stone required for the repair of historic buildings locally.

On the flip side, the Inspector concluded that the proposal would have significant landscape and visual impacts, including the loss of a visually prominent ‘whaleback’ feature and an established mosaic of vegetation on the site which provides a visual contrast to the nearby green pasture. These would amount to permanent changes to a ‘valued landscape’ and weighed heavily against the proposal. The impacts on public footpaths crossing and adjacent to the site were also deemed to be significant.

In summing up, the Inspector stated that “it is my overall conclusion that the aspects that weigh in favour of the proposal, specifically need, would not be sufficient to overcome the harm that I have identified and therefore the conflict with the development plan. In this case, despite the obvious benefits of the proposal, the adverse landscape impacts were found to be so significant that the appeal was dismissed.

This case serves as a reminder that the weight to be afforded to various matters is always a matter of planning judgement for the decision maker. Provided regard is had to all material considerations, it is for the decision maker to decide (subject to the test of reasonableness) what weight is to be given to the material considerations in each case.

Here at PDP, we are highly experienced in weighing up complex planning proposals and assessing which way the ‘planning balance’ is likely to tilt, and what matters can affect it. If you have a complex case you would like us to consider, please do get in touch on 01332347371 or email enquiries@planningdesign.co.uk.

Richard Pigott, Director – Chartered Town Planner, Planning & Design Practice Ltd

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