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9. Aggregates and other minerals

Who does what?

o. Minerals dredging in territorial waters and on the sea-bed can only be carried out with the consent of the owner of the mineral rights.

o. Nationally the Crown Estate owns some 55% of the foreshore and virtually all the sea bed nationally. It is therefore responsible for licensing most sea-bed extraction and issues licences both for prospecting and production.

o. Under current procedures, production licences are only given by the Crown Estate when there has been a favourable 'Government View'.

o. The Government View is a non-statutory process co-ordinated by the Department of the Environment or the Welsh Office. New statutory procedures will be introduced in the future empowering the Secretaries of State for the Environment and Wales to authorise dredging regardless of ownership.

o. Consultees include MAFF, other Government departments, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, local authorities, agencies including English Nature, the Countryside Council for Wales, the Environment Agency and others including for example the RSPB.

o. Proposals are also advertised by the Crown Commissioners in local newspapers giving the general public an opportunity to comment.

o. Local authorities, acting as Mineral Planning Authorities (MPAs), control onshore mineral working and landing facilities for dredged minerals via the Town Country Planning legislation and consult the relevant organisations and individuals. In some special cases MPAs [e.g. Bristol] control off-shore dredging. MPAs also prepare Minerals Local Plans or Unitary Development Plans setting out policies for land-based mineral activity.

o. The Department of Trade and Industry operates the licensing system which controls oil and gas exploration and production. This licensing system is similar to the Government View procedure outlined above, and includes consultation with local authorities and others.

Stated Government aims


The estuary bed is an important source of natural resources, especially aggregates (sand) and other minerals (e.g. waste coal from historic washings off Sully Island), both of which are obtained by dredging. Mineral extraction is licensed at eight sites within the estuary.

Other mineral activities may occur in future (e.g. oil and gas exploration), though there are no current proposals in the estuary.

There are several areas of on-shore mineral working for example the working of estuarine alluvium brick clay at Crooks Marsh, limestone at Rhoose and secondary materials such as slag at Cardiff Foreshore and power station ash at Aberthaw. There are no known instances of removal of minerals from beaches in the estuary.

The estuary is a major communications artery, enabling marine access to the world from the heart of Britain and it is this which led historically to the development of the great Severnside ports. South Wales in particular benefitted from this world-wide access to export coal and the estuary is still used for transporting minerals. For example, there are movements of coal to and from South Wales ports and increased aggregates imports & exports are envisaged in Mineral Plan Guidance Note number 6 (MPG6) (see below).

Marine dredged aggregates make a significant contribution to the economy of the region. For the bulk of the region, marine dredged aggregates provide the sole source of fine aggregates. For example, 80% of the sand used for construction in South Wales comes from the estuary. In 1993, 1.6 million tonnes was landed in South Wales ports, and a further 0.7 million tonnes was landed in English ports. Construction of the Cardiff Bay Barrage led to a substantial, though temporary, increase in dredging in 1995.

The licensing system which controls minerals dredging is to be reformed by the Government. It is intended that the system will become statutory, and will be administered by the Department of the Environment/Welsh Office, rather than the mineral owner (usually the Crown Estate).

Government policy

Government policy is set out in a series of guidance notes and circulars, of which the most important are "MPG 6 : Guidelines for Aggregates Provision in England", and "Planning Guidance (Wales) : Planning Policy." These aim to ensure an adequate and steady supply of material to the construction industry, at national, regional and local level, at the best balance of social, environmental and economic cost, through full consideration of all resources and the principles of sustainable development. MPG 6 also supports the use of marine aggregates as a means of reducing the pressure on land of agricultural or environmental value and states that marine aggregates will continue to contribute to maintaining supplies of aggregates for the construction industry.

MPG 6 was updated for England in 1994 and advises in relation to dredging that "there is a presumption against extraction unless the environmental and coastal impact issues are satisfactorily addressed." The equivalent guidance for Wales has not yet been updated and the original (1988) version of MPG 6 still applies. In contrast, this advises that "dredging should be encouraged wherever this is possible without unacceptable damage to sea fisheries and the marine environment." Minerals dredging is not dealt with in "Planning Guidance (Wales) : Planning Policy" though guidance on minerals planning policy is expected shortly. It will be interesting to see whether the current divergence in policy is satisfactorily resolved.


Through the Department of the Environment, the Government funds and organises research into various mineral, geological and related topics. This includes research aimed at better understanding of the effects of mineral operations as well as research to identify new sources of minerals and substitutes. Of particular relevance here is the recently commenced "Bristol Channel Marine Aggregates: Resources and Constraints Study" which will investigate the nature and distribution of marine resources, and the environmental constraints on working them. It has three aims:

The study will take two and half years (completion April 1999) and will be divided into three phases comprising data collation, modelling and preparation of a draft report.

In addition, an appraisal of the land-based sand and gravel resources in South Wales was undertaken by Liverpool University in 1992. This examined potential land-based resources of sand and gravel throughout South and Mid Wales, but concluded that the most promising potential lay in two areas relatively distant from the Severn Estuary, which could in any event prove to be subject to severe planning constraints.

The minerals dredging industry is also committed to supporting research, by providing finance, its own research data and advice to research projects.



Many issues in this report are related to one another. Issues raised in this chapter have particular links with those in chapters 3, 7, 8, 13, 14 and 15.


A1 Meeting society's need for aggregates

Society uses aggregates in a wide variety of projects to support economic growth and to maintain the standard of living. Roads, housing, schools, hospitals, sea defences and beach replenishment, and commercial and industrial buildings all depend to varying degrees on the supply of such minerals. It is important therefore that an adequate supply of minerals is available for society's needs. However this need should be balanced against the need to protect the environment.

The demand for aggregates has traditionally been met from natural sources such as marine dredged sand or quarried rock, but in some cases secondary sources such as recycled materials, or industrial or construction and demolition waste can be substituted. Demand for aggregates can be reduced by promoting efficient use of materials, minimising wastage and avoiding the use of higher grade materials where lower ones will suffice. The use of secondary aggregates and recycled materials can reduce the demand for primary aggregates. In keeping with its commitment to sustainable development, the Government encourages these forms of demand management, supports practical measures to promote greater efficiency of use and is committed to increasing significantly the level of use of secondary materials.

The balance between marine and land-based primary sources is more difficult to influence. Most dredging provides sand to meet South Wales' needs, and there are few suitable land-based alternative sources.

Who is involved: Mineral planning authorities, DoE/WO, Crown Estates, minerals industry, construction industry.

What is happening:
Government issues guidance and MPAs prepare plans for their areas. These incorporate strategies to ensure an adequate and steady supply of minerals. The Government has commissioned research into the sources, use and impact of aggregates (both primary and secondary), for example the "Bristol Channel Marine Aggregates: Resources and Constraints Study". The Government has also introduced the Landfill Tax, one aim of which is to encourage recycling.

A2 Economic impact

At present it is more economically and practically attractive to use natural sources of aggregates than to use secondary materials. Economically, supplies of natural materials are perceived to be abundant and access to markets is good with landing facilities and quarries near most urban centres. Practically there are problems associated with secondary aggregates such as limited local availability, varying consistency, environmental problems and the technical difficulties associated with ensuring materials meet British Standards. The government is attempting to shift the economic and practical advantage of natural minerals, for example by introducing the Landfill Tax on 1st October 1996 (which may encourage greater use of secondary materials) and by reducing policy support for the use of marine sand and gravel.

Who is involved: Government, mineral planning authorities, Minerals industry.

What is happening: The Government has commissioned various research projects including a study to identify a system for collecting statistics in order to be able to monitor the use of recycled and secondary materials as aggregates.

Some suggestions: Consideration could be given to the following:
1. Funding more research into the use of secondary aggregates.
2. Encouraging the establishment of more materials recovery facilities.
3. Using ever tougher fiscal measures (e.g. tax incentives / disincentives).
4. Developing national specifications to cover the use of secondary aggregates in cases where specific performance is critical.
5. Encouraging exploration of more distant offshore deposits.


A3 Minerals dredging and relationships with coastal erosion, sediment transport, and beach replenishment

The coast is continually changing as a result of the natural environment and changes occur as the result of coast and port developments including coastal protection schemes. However there is popular belief that marine sand and gravel extraction might lead to increased coastal erosion due to changes in sediment transport patterns and reductions in beach replenishment. This would have implications for coastal defence, nature conservation and amenity beaches. The Government's Mineral Planning Guidance note 6 in England states that proposals to dredge must have full regard to the potential effects on the coastline and that there will be a presumption against extraction unless the coastal impact issue is satisfactorily resolved. The connection between dredging and coastal erosion has not been proved and research in licensed areas has found that extraction does not affect sediment movement and therefore the coastline. However the cumulative effects of dredging needs investigating and the results of the Bristol Channel Study should aid this.

Who is involved: Government, mineral planning authorities, minerals industry, Countryside Council for Wales, Countryside Commission, English Nature, Environment Agency.

What is happening: The Government has commissioned a special study, 'Bristol Channel Marine Aggregates Resources and Constraints Research Study' which will amongst other things investigate whether marine aggregate dredging has an impact on the coastline.

A4 Effects of minerals dredging on fisheries and wildlife

Minerals dredging can affect a range of plants and animals such as seabed communities, shellfish, fisheries and birdlife. Fish movements may be altered by an increase in turbidity, suspended solids, availability of shellfish, or noise resulting from dredging. More mobile fish species are likely to move away from areas of disturbance unless the local food supply is enhanced due to the re-suspension of organic material. Fish habitats can be lost through effects on fish feeding, shelter and spawning. Allied to this, monitoring is difficult to achieve, it is expensive, and there is a lack of base-line data against which one can measure possible effects. Effects on the fish populations will in turn affect commercial and recreational fishing and related bird populations. This has implications for nature conservation in the Severn Estuary. However given the limited extent of dredging in the estuary impacts are likely to be minimal.

Who is involved: Department of the Environment, Welsh Office, Crown Estate Commissioners, MAFF, English Nature, Countryside Council for Wales, dredging companies.

What is happening: The Government has commissioned a special study ' Bristol Channel Marine Aggregates Resources and Constraints Research Study,' which amongst other things will look at the effects of dredging on wildlife. Fish stocks are also monitored by MAFF.

A5 Effects of minerals dredging on marine archaeology

Minerals dredging could have direct and indirect effects on marine archaeological material. Direct effects can include physical damage caused by the dredging machinery, whilst indirect impact can result from destabilisation of environments which help preserve the archaeological remains.

Who is involved: Minerals industry, Joint Nautical Archaeological Policy Committee

What is happening: Dredging companies follow a draft code of practice produced by the Joint Nautical Archaeological Policy Committee which aims to preserve archaeological remains.

A6 Visual impact of onshore mineral working

Shoreline quarries and sand workings can both deny access to the coastline and damage the visual attraction of the coastline. For example, coastal quarrying at Rhoose Point has already caused erosion of the coastal footpath, and could threaten the integrity of the cliffs at Wales' most southerly point.

Who is involved: Government, mineral planning authorities, minerals industry, Countryside Commission, Countryside Council for Wales.

What is happening: The Government has given mineral planning authorities powers to review old mineral planning permission conditions including the imposition of restoration schemes.

Some suggestions: Mineral planning authorities continue the review procedure and seek the early restoration of shoreline quarries.


A7 Local accountability of minerals dredging control

Concern has been expressed over the accountability of dredging control. The Crown Estate is both landowner and regulator which leads to a potential conflict of interests. In addition the procedure is perceived by some as not accountable to local public interests, being administered by the Department of Environment or Welsh Office.

Who is involved: Government, mineral planning authorities, minerals industry.

What is happening: Production licences are granted by the Crown Estate through the Government View procedure outlined above. The Government intends reforming the procedure when parliamentary time allows, though this will still leave control out of direct local influence; in some areas (e.g. Bristol) such control will become more remote than now.

A8 Regulation of marine minerals dredging

The majority of marine aggregate extraction is regulated by the Crown Estate which issues licences and ensures compliance with those licences. However, conflicting concerns have been expressed about the system. On the one hand, there is concern that; the system of regulation does not include sufficient public participation, that controls are not sufficiently stringent and that they are different from those of land based resources. On the other hand the marine minerals extraction industry has expressed concern that it suffers from more regulation than other industries and that the system is too slow and bureaucratic.

Who is involved: Mineral planning authorities, Department of the Environment/Welsh Office, Crown Estates, minerals industry.

What is happening: The Government intends reforming the licensing procedure to provide a statutory system administered by the Department of the Environment/Welsh Office.


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Created: 10/28/99 Updated: 10/28/99