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The future of minerals planning: rocky or smooth?

Eddie Millar is the RTPI's Policy and Practice Advisor


The imminent General Election scheduled just two weeks later may have up-ended the schedule for the 2024 Minerals Planning Conference, but it only reiterated the importance of the day’s theme. Under the topic banner ‘Priorities for a New Government’, planners, consultants, and academics descended on southeast London on a sunny Wednesday last week. Hosted by the RTPI and the Minerals Products Association (MPA), this was my first conference as part of the RTPI, and it was a fascinating insight into a part of planning which I admit I know little about!

The pre-election period meant that previously booked speakers from Government had to drop out, but this did not hinder high quality discussion, nor the enjoyment of the day overall. Playing host to in-person delegates as well as online attendees, the Minerals Planning Conference managed to balance good-natured levity, delivered by hosts Mark Russell and Nick Horsley (both from the MPA), with in-depth discussions on pressing issues.

A welcome from RTPI Vice President Helen Fadipe began proceedings and set the tone for the event by acknowledging both the importance of minerals planning, as well as the resourcing issues that have hampered public sector capacity for over a decade. Helen’s opener was followed by a keynote address from the University of Plymouth’s Dr Ian Selby, who called for planners to consider the way in which they think about natural resources, arguing that minerals are nationally strategic assets and should be treated as such. His impassioned case for a culture of stewardship around our natural resources, in a time of concurrent crises, served as an important reminder for why planning matters.

Following the keynote was an in-depth look at Local Aggregate Assessments, delivered by Kevin Tipple (Northumberland County Council) and Kris Furness (Breedon Group). Returning to the big picture, Steve Fidgett (Union 4 Planning) made the case for greater steering of minerals policy at the national scale, enabling the UK to focus on their domestic supply amid geopolitical change.

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Mark Russell from the Minerals Products Association

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David Payne (MPA) and Lisa Kirby-Hawkes (Hampshire County Council)

A mid-morning coffee break provided an opportunity for networking, and afterwards the audience heard from Vicky Robinson, Chief Planning Inspector at Planning and Environment Decision Wales (PEDW). She provided updates on significant appeal decisions in relation to minerals and quarries. Richard Blackwell (Water Resources West) discussed the minerals sector’s role in planning for water, and Tom Clifford (GEARS Ltd) delivered a myth-busting primer on hard rock blasting.

After lunch, Richard Kimblin KC and Odette Chalaby of No5 Chambers provided recent updates on planning case law, before David Payne (MPA) and Lisa Kirby-Hawkes (Hampshire County Council) discussed how the new BNG legislation impacts minerals planning, and the potential of quarries for new habitat creation.

The last two talks of the day centred around structural stone. First, Michael Poultney (Albion Stone) made the case for greater use of domestic stone, citing its low embodied carbon and its historical use in buildings like St Pauls and Buckingham Palace. Delegates were taken on a visual journey of the mining process on the Isle of Portland, which served as a fascinating insight into a material with a significant role in London’s history.

 To round off the day, Christopher Lyes (University of Oxford) introduced the room to his doctoral research on the study of ancient quarries in present-day Rome and Greece. A departure from planning altogether, a journey into the past proved the ideal digestif for a busy schedule. Replete with maps, diagrams, photos, and videos, we were taken to Latomies di Salone (a popular 20th century filming location), the Rhineland, and the Greek island of Thasos. Linking minerals planning to ancient civilisations really drove home how central these natural resources are to our daily lives, our culture, and our cities.

The 2024 Minerals Planning Conference was a really enjoyable occasion, superbly organised by the RTPI’s Events team, who were on hand all day to support the speakers and delegates. On behalf of all the attendees, I give my thanks to them for an excellent event!

Throughout the day, the speakers explained why and how we must treat minerals planning with the attention and resources required to support our industry and our economy. Extraction needs to be planned with care and expertise, to minimise the impact on our environment and ensure that we can benefit from our natural resources for years to come. The ball is now firmly in the court of the incoming government to deliver the reform that minerals planning needs.

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