At this point it may be appropriate to explain some of the particular problems associated with UK Coal’s plc land bank because UK Coal plc is a mineral company. UK Coal’s property inheritance, now some 43,500 acres, is composed of an agricultural estate, sites under development and sites which have been developed and provide rental income. Currently the company has identified 3,500 acres of
‘principally brownfield development land’
for inclusion in Project Worth. 2 It is the contention of this paper that most of the agricultural estate owned by UK Coal plc is held because it overlies a shallow coal field. It is therefore being held, not because UK Coal plc likes the role of being a gentleman farmer, but because, at some time in the future, they can apply to get planning permission to mine the coal.
This presents UK Coal plc with its first problem with regard to its land bank. If its land does over-lie a shallow coalfield, it is not free to apply to develop the land. Planning policy for minerals, including coal, is different from other forms of land use planning. Planning for minerals is designed to prevent the ‘sterilisation’ of future supplies of minerals, including coal, since Mineral Planning Authorities operate development control policies
“which should include the safeguarding both of sensitive environmental features and of mineral resources with potential for future extraction”3
Only when the coal reserve has been exploited can UK Coal plc then proceed to the second stage of proposing developing the land.
However this presents UK Coal plc with its second set of problems, which fall in two parts. The first is that applying for a new deep mine or an opencast mine is a long drawn out complex and expensive process. If we take the example of Minorca near Measham in Leicestershire, the company has recently applied for a second time after planning permission was refused in 1995. This application has, according to UK Coal’s own Annual Reports, been under considered since 2005, a formal planning application process started in 2008 with no date still in sight for a decision in March 2010.
Even when it gets planning permission, the second part of the problem facing the company emerges. To reinforce the point that the planning system that controls mineral extraction is different from other land use planning, it should be remembered that using land for mineral extraction purposes or for purposes associated with mineral extraction only grants the applicant the temporary use of land as the following guidance makes clear
“Planning for the supply of minerals...........
UK COAL plc: AN ALTERNATIVE REPORTPAGE 15