Introduction

7.4.1Minerals are important natural resources which are principally needed for the construction, manufacturing and energy industries. An adequate and available supply of minerals is therefore needed to support sustainable economic growth of the Northern Ireland economy and within local council areas. The minerals industry is recognised in the Executive’s draft Industrial Strategy as a key economic sector of the Northern Ireland economy, accounting for an estimated 10% of GVA and employing some 84,000 people in total, of which some 40% are in direct employment.

7.4.2The minerals sector is also important for the local economy of Mid and East Antrim. The salt mine at Kilroot near Carrickfergus (refer to District Proposals Map 3) is the only salt mine in Ireland and valued at £6 million in 201729. There are nine active quarries in Mid and East Antrim. In 2017 the output from the minerals sector in Mid and East Antrim was valued at approximately £15.1m.

7.4.3Accordingly, the sustainable exploitation of mineral resources in Mid and East Antrim is vital to maintaining a diverse range of jobs, a supply of construction materials for building projects in the Borough and beyond, and meeting the local and regional need for salt which is primarily used for spreading on roads in winter. Through facilitating the ongoing exploitation of these mineral resources in a sustainable manner, the LDP aims to support the delivery of the economic aspects of our Community Plan.

7.4.4Minerals are natural resources that can only be exploited where they occur. This can present a number of challenges, for example, where the resources are located in areas valued for their landscape and /or environmental significance. The operational activities associated with extraction, the transportation of materials and the legacy of abandoned workings can all have detrimental impacts on local communities. The SPPS states that the planning system has a key role to play in facilitating a sustainable approach to minerals development and sets out three regional strategic objectives (paragraph 6.152) intended to secure such an approach. The SPPS then goes on to set out three guidelines for policy development though the LDP system (paragraph 6.155), which are intended to secure the regional strategic objectives.

Policy Aims

7.4.5The LDP strategic approach to minerals development is set out in our policy aims below. These policy aims fully embrace the above- mentioned regional strategic objectives and guidelines for LDPs set out in the SPPS. They also build on the key considerations informing the two preferred options set out in our POP in relation to minerals development (Key Issues 12 and 13 refer).

  • To secure a balanced and sustainable approach to minerals development that takes account of the need for minerals to support development and provide employment, and the need to protect landscape quality and other environmental assets;
  • To minimise the impacts of minerals development on landscape quality and the natural environment, water environment and historic environment – particularly in areas designated for their importance in regard to one or more of these qualities;
  • To minimise the impacts of minerals development on local communities;
  • To prevent development that could prejudice the exploitation of important mineral reserves, particularly those which are scarce or of particular value to the Northern Ireland economy; and
  • To secure appropriate restoration, re-use and management of redundant minerals sites.

Implementation

7.4.6The policy aims will be delivered primarily through the strategic policies set out in the remainder of this section. Section 76 Planning agreements may be needed to ensure that redundant sites are restored in accordance with measures agreed between the developer and Council.

7.4.7Ultimately, and in line with the POP, the LDP will seek to adopt a more comprehensive plan led approach that will aim to balance the need for minerals against the need to protect and conserve the environment. It is envisaged that this will eventually result in the designation of Mineral Reserve Areas (MRAs) in order to safeguard all important resources from development likely to prejudice their exploitation. At present, the LDP only proposes to define such an area around the regionally important salt mine at Kilroot. On the other hand, it is envisaged that there may be a need to consider the designation of additional Areas of Constraint on Mineral Development (ACMD) in order to prioritise the protection of those areas identified as being of particular landscape and/or environmental importance. At present, there are only three such areas, all falling within the Antrim Coast and Glens Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (the AONB), and designated through the Larne area Plan 2010.

7.4.8However, this approach needs to be informed by a robust evidence base which is currently lacking. The Department for the Economy (DfE) has indicated that there needs to be a clearer understanding of both the supply and demand for mineral products across Northern Ireland and beyond to properly inform the designation of both MRAs and ACMD. To this end, a regional Minerals Forum has recently been established, involving representatives from local councils, DfE, DfI, and the minerals industry. This group has been tasked to gather the necessary evidence base to assess supply and demand and to inform LDPs. Pending the outcome of this work, Council regards it as premature to proceed with the designation of MRAs or ACMD, much beyond that currently defined in existing Area Plans.

7.4.9Accordingly, the draft Plan Strategy seeks to ensure that a fit for purpose planning policy framework is in place for the assessment of proposals on a case by case basis. This is helped to some degree by our understanding from the sector that there is no immediate demand for new quarries in the Council area and that there are unlikely to be demands for the exploitation of valuable minerals over the Plan period. The potential for introducing MRAs and the designation of additional ACMD will be reassessed at Plan Review stage, when it is anticipated that a sufficient evidence base to inform this will be in place.

Policy MIN1 Mineral Development – Extraction & Processing of Hard Rock and Aggregates

Outside of Special Countryside Areas and Areas of Constraint on Mineral Development, planning permission can be granted for the extraction and/or processing of hard rock and aggregates, when Council is satisfied that the proposal will not have an unacceptable adverse impact upon any of the following interests:

  1. The natural environment, including the conservation of flora and fauna, natural habitats, biodiversity and earth science features.
  2. The water environment, including water quality and natural flow regimes.
  3. Landscape quality and visual amenity.
  4. The historic environment.
  5. Traffic movement and road safety.
  6. The safety, amenity and wellbeing of people living in proximity to operational sites.

There will be a presumption against this form of minerals development in Special Countryside Areas and Areas of Constraint on Mineral Development, unless the proposal constitutes an ‘exception’ as specified in the policy for the particular designation.

All proposals must include details relating to the restoration and management of the quarry site in accordance with Policy MIN8.

All proposals must meet the General Policy and accord with other provisions of the LDP.

Justification and Amplification

7.4.10The four main stages in quarrying are preparation by removal of overburden, extraction, processing and finally restoration or reuse. The methods and equipment used depend primarily on the type of deposit and the source rock being worked. The key factor is whether the material requires crushing before further processing or just washing and separation. Following removal of overburden by dragline or hydraulic excavator, the extraction of hard rock aggregates often requires careful blasting to break the rock into smaller fragments. Processing includes the conveyance of the extracted material to crushing machinery, followed by the washing and sorting of the materials.

7.4.11Given the importance of hard rock and aggregate extraction and processing to the local economy and in providing materials for construction regionally, Council will support those proposals that comply with all aspects of the policy. The onus will rest with the developer in demonstrating that the proposal will not have unacceptable adverse impact on the interests listed in the policy.

7.4.12The integrity and conservation features of a site of International, national or local nature conservation importance, including SACs, SPAs, Ramsar sites, ASSIs and national nature reserves, or other natural heritage assets must not be degraded through mineral development. This also includes loss to protected species or harm to biodiversity or the natural processes underpinning ecosystem services. It is acknowledged that in the longer term, sensitively restored quarry sites can enhance nature conservation and biodiversity, hence the requirement in the policy for such measures.

7.4.13The water environment is made up of the sea, lakes, rivers, ground water, surface water and watercourses. The quality of the water environment is important for human health and wellbeing. It also is an integral part of natural ecosystems and its capacity to support wildlife and biodiversity depends much on safeguarding water quality. It is therefore important that minerals development avoids sensitive water environments wherever possible, as mineral residues, chemicals and waste deposits can lead to water pollution and silting up of watercourses. Where necessary, conditions will be attached to planning permission to ensure adequate mitigation measures, but this will only apply where the fundamental policy test has been met.

7.4.14Any minerals development that could impact hydrologically on a European Designated Site requires an assessment under the requirements of Regulation 43 (1) of the Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995 (as amended), commonly referred to as HRA. Further, mineral developments that may be within or impact hydrologically on National Designated Sites such as ASSI’s will require consultation with NIEA, Natural Environment Division. This may require the applicant to also apply directly to NIEA for consent under the Environment Order 2002.

7.4.15Whilst potentially difficult to reconcile with this form of development, the protection of landscape quality and visual amenity will be afforded due weight in decision making. Particular regard will be paid to the preservation of skylines and to the proposed location of plant, stockpiles and overburden/waste within a development. Landform and natural landscape features should be utilised, wherever possible, to aid integration. The Council will use the Landscape Character Assessment (within Technical Supplement 10 Countryside Assessment) to assess the impact of a proposal on local landscape character.

7.4.16Whilst there is not a general presumption against mineral development in areas designated for their landscape quality, notably the AONB, Council will exercise a cautious approach within this area. All proposals will therefore be carefully examined and the LDP Landscape Character Assessment will be used to inform decisions. The historic landscape and associated features will also be given due consideration in assessing proposals.

7.4.17The policy seeks to ensure that there are no unacceptable adverse impacts on the safety, wellbeing and amenity of local communities. The main potential impacts are related to actual operations and to the transportation of materials on the local road network. In either case this may be manifested by excessive levels of noise, dust or vibration. Road safety may also be an issue where the local road network is insufficient to deal with the volume of heavy traffic that may be generated. Where such impacts are considered unacceptable, planning permission will be refused, unless the developer can demonstrate adequate means of mitigation.

Policy MIN2 Valuable Minerals

There will not be a presumption against the exploitation of valuable minerals, including metalliferous minerals in any area, apart from within designated Special Countryside Areas.

For all other areas, but particularly within areas designated for their landscape quality or their importance for nature conservation or the historic environment, Council will apply a cautious approach in assessing applications for the exploitation of valuable minerals. This will require all such proposals to comply with Policy MIN1.

All proposals must meet the General Policy and accord with other provisions of the LDP.

Justification and Amplification

7.4.18There are extensive tracts of land currently in licence in the Borough for precious metal and base metal exploration). Where such high value metalliferous materials or hydrocarbons are found and considered economically viable to extract, there will not be presumption against their exploitation in any area of the Borough, except for Special Countryside Areas.

7.4.19Special Countryside Areas in Mid and East Antrim, both existing and proposed, are relatively limited in extent, and in line with the SPPS, are designated in recognition that they are the most exceptional areas in the Borough, wherein the quality of the landscape and unique amenity value is such, that development should only be permitted in exceptional circumstances. Accordingly, any form of minerals development will inevitably have a significant impact and should only be allowed in circumstances where it is of such national or regional importance as to outweigh any potential adverse impact on the Special Countryside Area.

7.4.20In other designated areas such as the AONB or areas designated for their nature conservation, scientific or historic significance; Council will give due weight to the impact of the proposal on the integrity of the designation. The rationale for the designation must not be undermined by the minerals development proposal.

7.4.21Exploration for such high value metalliferous minerals can normally be carried out under permitted development legislation. However where planning permission is required, full consideration will be given to the potential environmental, amenity and health and safety impacts and risks.

7.4.22This policy does not negate the directions restricting permitted development under Class A.1 (B) of Part 16 (Minerals Exploration) of the Planning (General Permitted Development) Order (Northern Ireland) 2015 which does not permit any operation within an Area of Special Scientific Interest or site of archaeological interest.

Policy MIN3 Hydrocarbons

Proposals for exploitation of hydrocarbons through conventional methods of extraction must comply with Policy MIN2.

Council will apply a presumption against unconventional extraction of hydrocarbons and gases by methods such as hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’), until there is sufficient and robust evidence on all environmental impacts.

All proposals must meet the General Policy and accord with other provisions of the LDP.

Justification and Amplification

7.4.23As with valuable minerals, exploitation of hydrocarbons is undertaken under licence from the Department for Economy. There are no such licences operational on the ground in Mid and East Antrim at present although desktop research and analysis continues to be undertaken. As a result of the recent DfI consultation on permitted development, it is possible that different legislative arrangements may emerge in the future in regard to exploration drilling for valuable minerals and hydrocarbons.

7.4.24In line with the SPPS, council will apply a presumption against unconventional hydrocarbon extraction, also known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, in the absence of sufficient and robust evidence on all environmental impacts. Such evidence must relate to the principle of hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ as a legitimate method of extraction backed by a determination by government in Northern Ireland on this issue.

Policy MIN4 Areas of Constraint on Mineral Development

Areas of Constraint on Mineral Development are identified on the District Proposals Maps.

In Areas of Constraint on Mineral Development there will be a general presumption against the extraction and processing of minerals, other than those considered to be ‘valuable’.

Subject to meeting Policy MIN1, a proposal for mineral development within a designated Area of Constraint on Mineral Development may be granted planning permission when one or more of the following exceptional circumstances apply:

  1. for minor expansion of an existing mineral working.
  2. where the environmental/amenity impacts are not significant.
  3. where the mineral is of limited occurrence in Northern Ireland and there is no reasonable alternative source outside the Area of Constraint on Mineral Development.

In all such cases on-site processing of excavated material is unlikely to be permitted.

Justification and Amplification

7.4.25Areas of Constraint on Mineral Development (ACMD) have been defined in line with the SPPS to protect areas of intrinsic landscape, amenity, scientific or heritage value.

7.4.26In line with the policy approach set out in the Introduction, the draft Plan Strategy has carried forward , with relatively minor modifications, the three existing ACMD designated through the Larne Area Plan 2010. All of these areas fall within the AONB. Aside from their exceptional landscape quality, they are all designated for their nature conservation importance, particularly for birds such as hen harrier and merlin. The largest ACMD also includes the Borough’s only Area of Significant Archaeological Interest at Knockdhu. It should be noted that there are also other LDP policies to protect these areas from development in general (refer to Natural Environment, Historic Environment and AONB Landscape policies).

7.4.27The limestone quarry at Munie Road, Glenarm is the only working quarry within this area of constraint. The original ACMD boundary is amended here so as to allow for the extension of the working that currently benefits from planning permission.

7.4.28In line with Policies MIN2 and MIN3, there will not be a presumption against the exploitation of valuable minerals within ACMD. However, Council will apply a cautious approach in assessing such proposals and permission, where it is necessary, will be dependent upon full compliance with Policy MIN1. Where a potential site for valuable mineral or hydrocarbon exploitation falls within a Special Countryside Area and an ACMD, the Special Countryside Area Policy takes precedence.

Policy MIN5 Area of Salt Reserve, Carrickfergus

An Area of Salt Reserve is designated east of Carrickfergus and to the north of Kilroot as identified on the District Proposals Map 3.

Within this designated area, planning permission will not be granted for surface development that would prejudice the exploitation of the proven Salt Reserves with the exception of:

  • structures related to and necessary for established businesses including agricultural buildings where these require planning permission; or
  • the improvement, extension or replacement of dwellings which comply with Policy HOU9 Replacement Dwelling and Policy HOU3 Residential Extensions and Alterations.

Justification and Amplification

7.4.29The salt reserves at Carrickfergus are considered as a valuable mineral resource of regional importance and also rare in that this is the only active salt mine in Ireland. This policy will ensure that surface development does not prejudice the exploitation of the proven salt reserves.

7.4.30Where planning permission is granted for surface development in this area, and where Council perceives a risk of subsidence from either old shafts or new mining, an informative will be attached to the consent indicating the potential risk of subsidence. This will inform the applicant that the responsibility and subsequent liability for safe development and secure occupancy of the site lies with the developer and/or landowner. Geological Survey Northern Ireland (GSNI) will be consulted for any proposed development on land above the Area of Salt Reserve.

Policy MIN6 Development at Risk of Subsidence due to past or present underground mineral extraction

Areas of Potential Subsidence associated with salt mining to the east and northwest of Carrickfergus are designated as identified on Map 7.1.

Planning permission will not be granted for any new built development within Areas of Potential Subsidence associated with the Carrickfergus disused salt mines in the interests of public safety.

Other known abandoned mines, shafts and adits are identified on the GSNI GeoIndex map viewer, currently accessible at: http://mapapps2.bgs.ac.uk/GSNI Geoindex/home.html

Planning permission will only be granted for new built development in proximity to other known abandoned mines, shafts and adits, where a Mine Risk Assessment is submitted with the application which confirms to the satisfaction of the council the suitability of the site for the development and addresses any health and safety issues.

Justification and Amplification

7.4.31Areas of potential subsidence associated with disused salt mines in the Carrickfergus Area are carried forward from draft BMAP. These areas should not be developed for buildings intended for human habitation in the interests of public safety.

7.4.32Elsewhere this policy will be applied where there are abandoned or disused mines, shafts and adits. These areas are largely related to historical iron ore and bauxite exploitation, particularly in the Cargan area, in the north of the Borough. Land instability, mine gas migration and water emissions can all present risks in these areas. Accordingly, in the interests of public health and safety it is necessary that applicants can demonstrate there is no risk to the proposed development. A Mine Risk Assessment must be submitted with the planning application to ascertain and mitigate, if possible, any risk to the public, the structure(s) and during development. GSNI will be consulted for any proposed development that entails major ground works within 100 metres of an abandoned mine working or area of undermining. GSNI would welcome pre-application discussions on any proposed development in such areas.

Map 7.1 Areas of potential subsidence - Carrickfergus

Policy MIN7 Peat Extraction

There will be a presumption against commercial peat extraction. Exceptions may be allowed where the peatland is already degraded and not reasonably capable of restoration or where it can be demonstrated that peat extraction is linked to a management and restoration plan which will deliver improved peatlands over the longer term.

Where the proposal meets the above exceptions it must also meet the General Policy and accord with other provisions of the LDP.

Justification and Amplification

7.4.33Peat deposits are formed from decaying organic matter which accumulates in water saturated environments such as a bog land. Peatland is important in terms of the stability and general wellbeing of the environment. It provides distinctive upland and lowland landscapes, adds to biodiversity and manages river catchment hydrology in a way which reduces flood risk thus performing a valuable ecosystem service. Globally, peat acts as a carbon store therefore helping to mitigate against the adverse impacts of ‘greenhouse’ gas emissions.

7.4.34There are extensive areas of active peatland within Mid and East Antrim Borough. Garron Plateau is the most extensive area of intact upland blanket bog in Northern Ireland and is recognised as being of international importance. Part of the Maine Valley Bogs also fall within the borough. They are one of the most important concentrations of lowland raised bog in Northern Ireland. The main areas of commercial peat extraction in the Borough are located to the north-west and south-west of Ballymena. They comprise three peat bogs on sites at Craig’s Road, Loughbeg and Ballyscullion.

7.4.35Whilst this policy does not seek to curtail the long established rights of turbary, there is a need to carefully manage commercial peat extraction because of the public value and benefits referred to above. Commercial peat extraction methods remove peat at a rate that substantially exceeds the original rate of deposition and accumulation and therefore diminishes the resource or leads to its total loss. They can also cause significant damage to the peatland and invariably offer less potential for restoration than traditional hand cutting methods.

7.4.36Accordingly, this policy seeks to limit commercial extraction to sites where the peatland is already degraded and not reasonably capable of restoration and where there is little conservation value. In making this assessment, the Council will consult with NIEA. It is noted that the Interpretation Manual of European Habitats defines degraded raised bogs as those which are “capable of natural regeneration” i.e. “where the hydrology can be repaired and where, with appropriate rehabilitation management, there is a reasonable expectation of re-establishing vegetation with peat forming capability within 30 years”. Peatland damaged by fire would not be considered as a permanent obstacle to regeneration and therefore would not be treated as an exception to the policy.

7.4.37Commercial peat extraction may also be permitted by way of exception, where it is part of a management plan for the conservation or restoration of peatlands over a longer term. In such cases the developer will be required to demonstrate the longer term benefits and that the proposed management structures and finance are in place. In such circumstances, council will normally require the developer to enter into a planning agreement.

7.4.38Council will consult with NIEA on the status of individual bogs when making a determination on a planning application for commercial peat extraction.

Policy MIN8 Restoration and Management of Mineral Sites

Subject to meeting Policy MIN1, all applications for mineral development must be accompanied by restoration proposals and a management plan to ensure the appropriate and sustainable ongoing use of the site subsequent to the cessation of minerals extractions and/or processing operations.

Restoration proposals must take account of the specific characteristics of the site and its local context and restore or, where possible, enhance the landscape character of the area.

In addition, restoration proposals should secure one or more of the following benefits:

  • Enhanced biodiversity.
  • Provision for community open space or outdoor recreation.
  • A tourism asset linked to the locality or the former mining activity.

This Management Plan must include and adequately address the following elements:

  1. a programme of works linked to a timescale for completion of restoration (or setting out a phased approach for progressive restoration for larger schemes);
  2. site management arrangements during the process of restoration; and
  3. aftercare management arrangements once the restoration is complete.

The restoration process shall be implemented in accordance with the approved plans and agreed timescales. Restoration proposals shall utilise materials from within the site and avoid the importation of materials, wherever practicable. Where restoration proposals involve development they must meet the General Policy and accord with other provisions of the LDP.

The restoration proposals and management plan must be agreed with Council prior to the granting of planning permission and will be secured through conditions or if necessary, a Section 76 Planning Agreement. Council may require a financial guarantee in the form of a bond where there are legitimate concerns over an operator’s financial security, or where the progressive restoration of the site is not being implemented in line with previous planning conditions and/or a planning agreement.

Justification and Amplification

7.4.39Mineral development can have a detrimental visual impact on the landscape. For this reason the restoration of mineral extraction sites to an appropriate state is a vital part of the mineral development process. Restoration of minerals development sites presents the opportunity to improve the landscape, enhance biodiversity and provide recreational and tourist opportunities. Therefore planning applications must include high quality and, if appropriate, innovative restoration proposals and management plans.

7.4.40The preferred types of reclamation and aftercare use depend on a number of factors, including, the characteristics of the deposits, nature of the excavation, availability of fill materials, the surrounding landscape, the needs of the local community and the suitability of the site for nature conservation purposes.

7.4.41Council will normally secure restoration proposals through the requirement for a management plan, underpinned by conditions and/or a Section 76 Planning Agreement. A financial guarantee may also be sought in the circumstances set out in the policy.

  • 29 - Annual mineral statement 2017 published by the Department for the Economy

Clár ábhair

Baile