Planning Strategy for Rural Northern Ireland
Minerals can only be extracted from where they are found, though with common minerals, there may be a choice of site. Whilst they are essential, their working can have a significant effect on the landscape and on people's living conditions. Because of their nature, scale, location and duration of operation, mineral developments often impact more severely on the environment than other forms of development so they must be subject to rigorous control standards.
While there will be a general presumption in favour of development, in considering a particular application account will be taken of the value of the mineral to the economy, the environmental implications of the proposal and the degree to which adverse effects can be mitigated in relation to the character of the local area.
Where proposals for mineral development are likely to have significant effects on the environment, applications will be subject to environmental assessment. Whether a particular mineral development proposal will warrant formal assessment will depend upon such factors as the sensitivity of location, size, working methods, proposals for disposing of waste, the nature and extent of processing and ancillary operations, the arrangements for transporting products away from the site, and proposals for restoration. The duration of the proposed workings is also taken into account.
The cost of meeting acceptable environmental standards falls on industry in line with the "polluter pays" principle. In practice certain of these standards are set when planning permission is considered, taking into account the benefits that can be achieved, and the costs they impose on the industry. Where permission is granted, conditions will be attached to ensure that the development takes place in an orderly manner and that the amenity of the area is safeguarded.
The principle of "sustainable development" is that we have a moral duty to look after our environment and to hand it on in good order to future generations. In the context of minerals this principle poses particular difficulties. Mineral working can never be entirely reversed. However, to accord with the principles of sustainable development, the rate of consumption of finite minerals should be reduced by encouraging the use of renewable and recycled alternatives whenever this is practical and economically viable. In Northern Ireland, compared with Great Britain, the range of secondary materials available as alternatives to primary aggregates is extremely limited and the price of primary aggregates is low. This being the case, the impact of recycling on the overall situation will be minimal. The designers of schemes, contractors and the minerals industry should nevertheless aim for the best use of the total aggregates resources by minimising wastage and avoiding the use of higher quality materials where lower grade materials would suffice.