County Councils have an obligation to supply mineral resources to satisfy the country’s needs, depending on the resources available in the area. They are also required to regulate the industry, taking account of a great number of potentially conflicting interests. Herefordshire and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust has been consulted on the revised policy for mineral extraction in Worcestershire: the Worcestershire Minerals Local Plan, to ensure that the interests of geo-conservation are properly recognized and supported.
Worcestershire County Council has taken on board all of our comments in its revised Minerals Local Plan, which has been formally accepted as compliant with National Policy and was adopted by Worcestershire County Council on 14thJuly 2022.
The Plan will now be used by Worcestershire County Council’s planning officers and Planning and Regulatory Committee to make decisions about planning applications for mineral extraction, processing and restoration.
The full text of the plan can be found at www.worcestershire.gov.uk/minerals. Policy for geodiversity is stated in section 6. A brief description of Worcestershire’s rich and varied geology is included in Section 2: “Portrait of Worcestershire”, where locations of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Local Geological Sites (LGS) are also indicated.
How has Policy changed?
Policy now recognises that whenever rock is extracted a piece of our geological record is permanently destroyed, hence there is an obligation to alleviate or compensate for the damage in proportion to the degree of destruction. It also recognises that all mineral sites offer opportunities to enhance scientific and cultural understanding of geodiversity by revealing, recording or retaining features of geological conservation interest.
“Planning permission will be granted where it is demonstrated that the proposed mineral development will conserve and enhance geodiversity.”
Permission for mineral extraction will be conditional on binding geo-conservation measures decided during the planning process. Geologists will have similar rights to those already available to archaeologists. They can make the case for a site to remain undisturbed or partially preserved or they can monitor and record rocks and rock features at a site as they become exposed and before they are destroyed. All information and specimens obtained from the site will be in the public domain and where appropriate, exposures and information panels will be made accessible on site as part of the restoration process.
Designated geological sites
Provisions for protection of designated geological sites (SSSIs and LGSs) remain in place as for the previous version of the Plan, with a greater level of protection for SSSIs than for LGSs.
The role of H&WEHT
H&WEHT is mentioned explicitly in the new Plan in our role of designating regionally important geological sites as Local Geological Sites and providing information about them to developers:
“Local Geological Sites are locally designated sites that have been identified by local geo-conservation groups as being of local importance and then notified to local authority planning departments as sites in need of protection from future development. They can be viewed as ‘point data’ on the interactive minerals mapping tool available at www.worcestershire.gov.uk/minerals. Developers will need to liaise with the Herefordshire & Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust to access more detailed data, and there may be a charge for this data (www.earthheritagetrust.org).”
H&WEHT will have a role in helping planning authorities to decide what geo-conservation measures are appropriate for each site. Active involvement for each site will be needed to ensure appropriate measures are mandated.
“Recording geodiversity features prior to loss
“Where the technical assessment shows that there will be unavoidable loss or deterioration of features of geological conservation interest, the scientific or educational value, historic significance and/or aesthetic qualities of the features should be recorded. This is likely to require periodic access to enable extraction faces to be logged and recorded by an appropriate and competent expert. The technical assessment will be expected to set out how the assets or features will be recorded, and how the evidence and any archive generated will be made publicly accessible.
“Proposals for how and when recording and dissemination will take place should be agreed in consultation with the Herefordshire and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust’s Geological Records Centre, or other appropriate body. On-site education and interpretation as part of wider public access and green infrastructure enhancement should be considered.”
It has been ten years in the making, but the Plan is finally approved. The next challenge will be to ensure the intended provision for Earth Heritage is borne out in practice. This will require active participation in the planning process to ensure planned measures are appropriate and adequate, and vigilance on the part of local geologists to ensure that the promised measures are enacted.