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Mineral assessments: Key considerations for development

Many sites face development risks associated with minerals; whether the presence of safeguarded mineral infrastructure necessitates design changes, or prior mineral extraction is delaying works. Protected minerals are a material consideration under UK planning policy and the earlier they are addressed, the better.

We sat down with Dr Adrian Green, Principal Hydrogeologist, to discuss what you need to know about mineral assessments to avoid any complications to development.

28 February 2022 | 4 min read
Dr. Adrian Green
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Mineral resource extraction site with yellow digger working on site

Why should I conduct mineral assessments?

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) stipulates the need to maintain ‘a sufficient supply of minerals to provide the infrastructure, buildings, energy and goods that the country needs’. As minerals are a fixed and finite natural resource ‘best use needs to be made of them to secure their long-term conservation’. This is achieved through the mineral planning policies adopted by Local Planning Authorities and Mineral Planning Authorities, as presented in their Mineral and Waste Plans.

Mineral safeguarding is a key mechanism used by Local Planning Authorities and protects valuable resources from unnecessary sterilisation by non-mineral development through the designation of Mineral Safeguarding Areas. Typically, mineral safeguarding areas are based on Mineral Resource Maps produced by the British Geological Survey. The diverse geology of the UK results in a wide variety of protected mineral resources, ranging from hard rock formations (igneous and limestone), to unconsolidated granular aggregates and clay deposits.

large quarry site

What is a Mineral Infrastructure Assessment (MIA)?

If a proposed development is situated near safeguarded mineral infrastructure, typically within a Mineral Consultation Zone, the mineral planning authorities can request a Mineral Infrastructure Assessment (MIA) under the ‘Agent of Change’ principle (paragraph 187 of the NPPF).

An MIA is a multidisciplinary assessment that determines whether the proposed development is likely to have a significant adverse effect on the current and future operations authorised at the safeguarded infrastructure. Where safeguard mineral infrastructure has the potential to significantly impact the development, the development is considered incompatible and measures to mitigate those effects are required.

 

How are planning authorities approaching mineral assessments?

Recently, many mineral planning authorities seem to be considering the issue of resource sterilisation and incompatible development more robustly. This has demanded careful evaluation of the viability and practicability of prior mineral extraction in advance of development. Clearly, the need for prior extraction has a potentially serious implication for both the programme and cost of development. The issue of the impact of mineral extraction infrastructure is also more robustly considered during the promotion and consenting of development schemes, potentially influencing scheme design. 

 

How do you conduct Mineral Resource Assessments?

Many greenfield sites face development risks associated with minerals; whether the presence of safeguarded mineral infrastructure necessitates design changes, or prior mineral extraction causes delays to construction. Delivered by our team of mineral planners, geologists and hydrogeologists, Mineral Resource Assessments (MRA) help manage these risks while meeting relevant mineral planning policy requirements.

Following a review of mineral planning policy relevant to your site, our MRAs provide a resource assessment that determines the extent of workable resource (volume, area and distribution) and the viability or practicability of mineral extraction. We then screen the outcome of the assessment against planning policy. A wide variety of factors must be considered as part of the MRA, including:

  • Resource considerations and constraints to extraction:
    • Volume and extent of workable resource following the application of reasonable ‘buffer zones’ that can be expected to be applied for the protection of sensitive offsite receptors
    • Urban area designations and policies near the site
    • Land quality and ground conditions
    • Overburden thickness
    • Groundwater conditions
    • Below and above ground services and utilities across the site
    • Environmental sensitivity of the site setting, particularly dewatering and discharge arrangements if required
    • Access and transport issues relating to minerals excavation
  • Development considerations:
    • The importance and need for development in a planning context
    • The design of the development in terms of proposed land-use, ground levels, drainage and flood risk
    • Proposed phasing of the development
    • Potential for incidental mineral resource extraction
  • Economic considerations:
    • The local market and potential value of mineral resources present on the site
    • The cost of extraction and restoration of the site
Mineral Infrastructure Assessments approach graphic:
Identify technical areas that may represent a material risk using a high-level scoping assessment. These typically relate to air quality, noise, light and transport. 
Consider the potential significance of these effects. This is dependent on the proximity of the mineral infrastructure to the development and the sensitivity of the site to these issues.
Assess impacts that could significantly constrain the mineral operation. We carry out targeted site-specific assessments and identify mitigation measures.