What does Javid’s refusal of planning permission for a coal mine at Highthorn mean for climate change and the fossil fuel industry?
On Friday, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid refused planning permission for the proposed development of a surface mine (to include augur mining) for the extraction of coal, sandstone and fireclay with restoration to agricultural and ecological uses. Javids decision was contrary to the Planning Inspectorate’s recommendation for approval, and the previous grant of planning permission by Northumberland Council as the minerals planning authority (15/03410/CCMEIA).
Whilst some report that Javid has refused the application on climate change grounds, this conclusion is not wholly accurate. Javid actually states that the proposal “would not be inconsistent with policies for meeting the challenge of climate change” as set out in Chapter 10 of the NPPF. His overall conclusion is that the proposal is not compliant with policies in the NPPF (at paragraph 109) on conserving and enhancing the natural environment, given that the site is an area of high landscape value, and at paragraph 149 whereby planning permission for coal extraction should be granted where the proposal is environmentally acceptable or the national, local and community benefits clearly outweigh the likely impacts.
Whilst Javid concludes that the benefits of coal extraction and employment should be afforded great weight under the NPPF, he weighs this against the considerable adverse impact to the landscape character of the area under paragraph 109, and the very considerable negative impact caused by the adverse effect of Green House Gas emissions and on climate change. Javid concludes that the national, local and community benefits of the proposal would not clearly outweigh the likely adverse impacts such as to justify the grant of planning under paragraph 149 of the NPPF. Javid finds that overall the proposal would not be compliant with the NPPF when taken as a whole and would not represent sustainable development.
Javids decision does take account of green house gas emissions and climate change but it is the overall planning balance which indicates that the proposed benefits do not outweigh the harmful effects which has informed his refusal of planning permission. Whilst I am sure we would all like to see the cessation of fossil fuel consumption tomorrow, the process of decarbonising our energy supply is a long one as the Government know. This decision does not signal the end of fossil fuel applications but signals to operators that the Government are looking for significant benefits that outweigh the impacts and provide a positive planning balance.
Article by Jenny Massingham, Technical Director – Planning