Planning Advice Note 50: controlling the environmental effects of surface mineral workings

Planning Advice Note (PAN) 50 provides advice on the more significant environmental effects arising from mineral working operations.

Planning Advice Note PAN 50


1. The policy context for mineral working is set out in NPPG 4 : Land for Mineral Working. Minerals are an important national resource. They make an essential contribution to the nation's prosperity by meeting industry's need for raw materials, creating employment opportunities and assisting the balance of payments through exports and import substitution. However the extraction process can often be disruptive and have significant environmental impact. Whilst acknowledging that minerals can only be worked where they are found, the Government recognises that the need to work mineral resources must be reconciled with care for the environment particularly in relation to the natural and built heritage, and communities.

2. "Sustainable Development : The UK Strategy (1994) indicated that part of the sustainable framework for mineral extraction was :

• To encourage sensitive working practices during minerals extraction and to preserve or enhance the overall quality of the environment once extraction has ceased.

NPPG 4 also indicated that further advice on controlling the environmental effects of surface mineral workings would be covered more fully in future Planning Advice Notes.


3. The aim of this Planning Advice Note is to provide advice on the more significant environmental effects arising from mineral working operations. This advice will be relevant :

a) in the framing of policies in development plans,
b) in considering planning applications,
c) in considering existing planning consents in the context of reviews under the provisions of the Environment Act 1995.

4. When considering planning applications, attention should be given to defining the scope of Environmental Assessments, and the acceptability and purpose of any conditions that may require to be attached to any consents. Thereafter, monitoring compliance with any imposed conditions should be a priority so as to determine whether enforcement action is necessary.

5. The advice in this PAN is based on the Government sponsored research report by Roy Waller Associates Ltd. "Environmental Effects of Surface Mineral Workings" and published in 1992 by HMSO. 16 (ISBN 0117526371)


6. This PAN deals generally with the environmental effects of surface mineral working and provides the framework for detailed advice in a series of annexes on particular aspects. The first of the planned series of annexes "The Control of Noise at Surface Mineral Workings" is published with this PAN as Annex A. Further Annexes will be published on "Dust", "Blasting", "Traffic" and "Ground & Surface Water", as the current research is completed and evaluated, ( see relevant references). The PAN and annexes indicate what should be considered 'good practice'. They do not however cover all environmental effects, where conflict may arise, for example, in relation to designations intended to protect the natural or built heritage. It is the responsibility of the planning authority, to consider in detail any proposal for mineral working in their area, in relation to the particular site and its environs. In so doing they should have regard to other published planning guidance and, where appropriate consult relevant bodies, such as Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Historic Scotland (HS) where proposals may effect designations intended to protect natural or built heritage. (see NPPGs 4 and 5, and PAN 42)

environmental issues

7. The Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Regulations 1988 require an environmental assessment to be undertaken for proposed mineral working which in the opinion of the planning authority is likely to have significant effects on the environment. Under proposals to amend the Directive, all mineral extraction proposals where the surface of the site exceeds 25 hectares, or peat extraction, where the surface of the site exceeds 150 hectares, may in future be subject to environmental assessment. The new arrangements are scheduled for introduction from December 1997.

8. The environmental assessment process enables greater understanding to be reached between the intended operator, their neighbours and the regulatory authorities. In the event of planning approval there is also the opportunity to use the results of assessments as a basis for determining conditions to be imposed, for monitoring the actual environmental effects and for evaluating the decisions. Some 67 Environmental Statements have been submitted in association with planning applications for mineral extraction in Scotland since 1985.

9. To be effective, environmental assessment requires to be focused (scoping) i.e. the early identification of the issues that are most likely to be significant and therefore have most relevance in determining whether or not the proposal can be allowed to proceed with appropriate mitigation measures. Care should be taken to ensure that steps to deal with one particular aspect of concern do not create others.

10. Generally speaking the main issues that give rise to concerns in connection with surface mineral working are, in broadly descending order of frequency :

  • the various effects of road traffic, particularly where this is the primary means of transport,
  • the effects of blasting, noise and dust : these issues will vary according to type of mineral and amount of overburden,
  • visual / landscape effects,
  • contamination of surface water discharges by solids may occur; contamination by oil and its derivatives is less frequent; dewatering also creates difficulties with reduction of flow of wells and streams, overdrainage and occasionally settlement.

11. This PAN gives advice on how to consider the main impacts that may arise from proposals for surface mineral extraction and ways in which these impacts can be controlled or minimised, in order to ensure that sites are designed and operated to environmentally acceptable standards. Each case must be considered on its merits, and planning authorities and the industry will therefore need to consider the applicability and practicability of the advice in the circumstances of particular proposals. Advice on Restoration, Aftercare and Afteruse will be covered by a separate PAN.

Proximity of mineral workings to communities

12. Residents living in close proximity to proposed workings may be exposed to some or all of the effects referred to above, to a greater or lesser extent. NPPG 4 fully acknowledges the sensitivities that can arise in such circumstances. Accordingly, it is for planning authorities to take particular care in respect of the conditions they attach to any consent they may be minded to give for working in close proximity to settlements. Where they judge that mitigation measures are not sufficient to safeguard the quality of the local environment, outright refusal or restriction of the proposal may be appropriate.

13. While in the past consents have been given for mineral extraction in close proximity to residential property, experience indicates that in some circumstances it may be difficult to provide adequate protection for nearby residents despite requirements for landscaping works such as bunds, screening and planting, especially where the workings will have an extended life. The negotiation of adequate separation distances should therefore be sought in respect of new proposals where appropriate. Current practice on appropriate distances appears to vary considerably.

14. The aim should be to agree a distance that is reasonable, taking into account the nature of the mineral extraction activity (including its duration), location and topography, the characteristics of the various environmental effects likely to arise and the various amelioration measures that can be achieved. Agreement on an acceptable separation distance at an early stage in the formulation of proposals may help allay many of the concerns of local residents. Working in close proximity to residential property should only be contemplated in exceptional circumstances e.g. where there are clear, specific and achievable objectives e.g. for the removal of instability and preparing land for subsequent development. But such working should be for a limited and specified period without scope for extension. However, the removal of the potential dangers associated with former shallow mining e.g. subsidence, old mine shafts etc., can in itself be an advantage to the local community especially where the restored site has recreational potential.

15. It will also be the case that in many larger sites, working in any one area will be of limited duration as the operation will be phased. Working nearest to occupied dwellings could either be at the beginning of the operation or at the end or at any point in between. This flexibility may be constrained by operational considerations but operators and planning authorities should consider and agree the pattern of extraction which takes account of local residents' views.

16. Some minerals are concentrated in specific areas. For example shallow coal deposits that may be worked by open cast extraction are found within the known coalfield areas mainly in the Central Belt and are generally well documented. Sand and gravel deposits are generally associated with glacial deposits that are widely distributed throughout Scotland but with commercial interest focused within relatively restricted local market areas associated with the main urban areas where most construction activity is concentrated. It is also relevant that the characteristics of the mineral, and hence the suitability for different end uses, will vary from place to place.

17. Situations will therefore arise where commercially attractive deposits will be concentrated in certain areas where the mineral rights may be held by a few or many interests. This can result in instances where there is the prospect of several simultaneous operations over a relatively short period of time or phased operations over a relatively longer period of time. The potential cumulative effects will be particularly relevant where proposed extraction would be carried out close to existing communities.

18. In these circumstances it will be for the planning authority to determine whether the working of the mineral can be reconciled with the need to protect communities from unacceptable environmental consequences. In coming to such decisions the primary consideration would be that the planning authority should act reasonably. Pointers on current best practice are set out below.

summary of good practice : the relationship of workings to local communities

Planning authorities should :

  • consider the possible cumulative effect of proposals,
  • avoid inappropriate development and encroachment in the area around the longerterm workings and significant reserves,
  • encourage a dialogue between operators and the community,
  • encourage elected members to visit sites before making judgements,
  • encourage liaison committees and officers and members to participate in them.
  • establish effective monitoring i.e. noise, dust and vibration and where necessary enforcement.

Operators should :

  • endeavour to be good neighbours, i.e. :
  • get to know the neighbours, be concerned about them and try to understand their problems, encouraging them to know site personnel, listen as well as talk,
  • set up regular liaison and provide information as freely as possible, hold open days,
  • create a good impression by running a tidy and efficient site,
  • ensure lines of communication, e.g. :
  • appoint a liaison officer; widely publicise name & telephone number,
  • support a liaison committee,
  • give advance notice and explanation of activities that might cause complaint,
  • keep systematic records of complaints and the remedial actions taken,
  • follow up complaints by personal visits and action,
  • ensure that staff are environmentally aware and are trained to cope with the issues,
  • do not rely on the letter of the law where there are obvious problems but culpability cannot easily be proved; be prepared to be flexible,
  • offer / provide compensatory measures where the impact is excessive or borderline,
  • try to cooperate and avoid being adversarial.
  • offer opportunities to see how effective operational (planning) conditions have been in practice elsewhere.

People living in proximity to surface mineral working sites should :

  • get to know the operator :
    • take advantage of any overtures,
    • try not to have preconceptions,
    • listen as well as talk,
    • encourage site personnel to visit you at home to discuss your queries/concerns,
  • try to understand the operator's activities and problems :
    • ask for a visit to the site or a similar one,
    • speak to people who have lived in the vicinity of similar workings,
    • take advantage of open days, liaison committees,
  • try to be specific when making complaints, e.g. date, time, clear description,
  • try to cooperate and avoid being adversarial.
  • seek opportunities to see how effective operational (planning) conditions have been in practice elsewhere.
planning conditions

19. The identification of environmental effects need not necessarily preclude development from proceeding. Planning conditions can enable development to proceed where it might otherwise be necessary to refuse planning permission. The sensitive use of appropriate planning conditions, which address known and anticipated problems and concerns, can provide important environmental safeguards. In turn, they can influence the action that operators might take as good neighbours.

20. To be effective, planning conditions must be enforceable. This means that they must be :

  • precise,
  • capable of being monitored, i.e. infringements must be detectable,
  • defined sufficiently for breaches to be provable.

In addition to being valid, they must be necessary, relevant to planning and to the development, and reasonable. (see SDD Circular 18/1986 'The Use of Conditions in Planning Permissions)

21. 'Conditions' can set requirements in a variety of ways. The principle ones are :

  • performance requirements,
  • the use of specific amelioration measures,
  • the use of "good" practice, e.g. as set out in a code of practice.

Performance Requirements

22. Effective planning requires judgements based upon local circumstances and local objectives. Where feasible, performance requirements are in many ways the ideal basis for planning conditions. They make clear to operators what is expected of them and leave them to decide the most costeffective way of meeting those criteria. To go beyond this may inadvertently and unnecessarily prejudice the flexibility of operators working methods and profitability. It should never prejudice other statutory controls for health and safety. Performance requirements will usually be designed to achieve a minimum environmental quality or to limit degradation of the environment. An example of such criteria is a maximum acceptable level of noise at sensitive properties and / or other appropriate points.

23. Setting performance requirements should not sanction adverse effects for which there are readily available solutions and which do not involve significant costs. In some cases the operator will be able to achieve worthwhile improvements on the performance requirements without incurring significant expense. Clearly it is desirable that this be done but it can be difficult to provide the appropriate incentives.

24. Monitoring is an essential feature of controls over the consequences of surface mineral extraction. In many cases periodic checks should be sufficient to identify undesirable trends and allow action to be taken to avoid breaching the requirements. In sensitive situations the provision by the operator of continuous monitoring systems can be a condition of the planning permission. Access to the monitoring positions will be essential and this will influence their choice. It may be desirable that monitoring be carried out at a sensitive property not owned by the operator; however, whilst criteria applicable to that property can be set in a planning condition, it cannot be a requirement that it be a monitoring position because the operator has no right of access.

Amelioration Measures

25. The difficulty or impossibility of defining a criterion which can be readily measured and enforced may lead to planning conditions which require the use of specific ameliorative measures e.g. :

  • In order to reduce visual intrusion ( see para 47 to 51) , the planting of trees may be required before mineral working begins or it may be specified that processing plant be moved into the quarry away from the entrance when there is room to do so.
  • It is a statutory offence for vehicles to deposit material on the roads. The objective is simple enough to understand but it is difficult to enforce. In such a case it may be much easier to require specific action, e.g. the cleaning and sheeting of all lorries prior to leaving a site.

Codes of Practice

26. Environmental management is an integral part of environmental codes being adopted by many sectors of industry in recognition of the public concern for better safeguards for the environment as a whole. Such codes within the aggregates industry are now well established for those operators who are members of the BACMI and SAGA trade associations. At the present time, in Scotland, there are early discussions between opencast coal operators (Confederation of United Kingdom Coal Producers COALPRO) and planning authorities on the development of a 'Coal Code of Practice'.


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