Apart from some rudimentary controls, there were no planning restrictions on quarrying until The Planning Act in 1932 introduced the need to apply for planning permission in respect of 'development' including quarrying. However in most cases, quarry companies were granted permission to work much or all of the land they owned, regardless of the impact that such operations might have upon neighbouring properties. These permissions were granted as Interim Development Orders (or IDOs) by the Interim Development Authority, usually an urban or rural district council.
The Town and Country Planning Act 1947 introduced further regulations so that quarry owners (active and inactive) had to define the extent and nature of their activities. At this point Somerset County Council became the Planning Authority.
The Act also brought in the concept of Development Plans to cover the whole country.
The Somerset Development Plan (early 1950s) allocated areas for future mineral working informed by the extent of existing permissions, the County Council's own research and a series of special mineral conferences organised by national government. It is these allocations, based mainly on extensive IDOs, which determine the areas for mineral working at least until 1970, and in many instances the core of working areas even today.
In the late 1960s as a part of this process the County Council embarked on what proved to be the most thorough review of any county authority into mineral working, in 1971 publishing 'Quarrying in Somerset'. This study provided input into the newly defined 'Structure and Minerals Local Plans' for Somerset and Avon.
At the very local level, many matters of contention are settled by Quarry Liaison Groups, comprising representatives of local people, the company and various government agencies.
The Structure Plan sought to concentrate future quarrying into fewer larger quarries outside the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and protected groundwater supply areas. This was done by focusing future working on the string of quarries along the northern limb of the Beacon Hill anticline from Stoke St Michael to Whatley and between Merehead to Holwell.
These areas are important for supplying southeast England, and the plan encouraged the use of rail transport for such journeys. Areas around quarries at Sandford, Callow Hill and Batts Coombe, Cheddar were also recognised in the Plan, but working there was to be very tightly restricted.
Two government appointed reports published in 1976, set out new approaches to minerals planning control in general (Stevens Committee) and the future of aggregates working (Verney Committee) in the UK. Stevens stressed the need for regular reviews of mineral permissions and in particular the old IDO consents and Verney endorsed the value of the 'Regional Aggregate Working Parties' (RAWPs) in providing an independent strategic overview and an essential link between national and local policies.
The South West RAWP established in 1976, continues to be the only regular source of detailed minerals planning data in the region.
Current government policy is to maximise the use of secondary and recycled aggregates and minimise the extraction of primary land-won aggregates such as limestone and igneous rock.
In England, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) set out regional production quotas. For the South West, these advise that the Region should provide for 453 million tonnes of rock in total over the period 2001-16. Somerset's share of this is 226 million tonnes and compared with permitted reserves of 692 million tonnes at the end of 2002.
The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 introduced a new planning system, superseding structure and local plans. This comprises Regional Spatial Strategies and a series of Local Development Documents which will include specific publications relating to Minerals and Waste Disposal.
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