Quarrying firms' old rights threaten national parks

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Some of the most beautiful areas of England, from the rugged gritstone peaks of Derbyshire to Dartmoor's china clay terrain, are at the mercy of quarrying firms who won approval to mine them before adequate environmental controls were in place, a report will reveal today.

Some of the most beautiful areas of England, from the rugged gritstone peaks of Derbyshire to Dartmoor's china clay terrain, are at the mercy of quarrying firms who won approval to mine them before adequate environmental controls were in place, a report will reveal today.

An 18-month research project funded by the Countryside Agency shows that thousands of acres of land which appear to be protected by their location in national parks could be mined at any time by quarrying firms who were involved in a dash for mining rights in the 1940s, just before the creation of the parks.

The Council for National Parks, which has co-published the report with the Friends of the Peak District, warns that 33 "dormant" quarrying permissions are "ticking time-bombs".

These include Grassington Moor, the site of a scheduled monument within the Yorkshire Dales, and a 630-acre area around Bridford and Christow in Dartmoor's Teign Valley.

At both sites, old permissions exist to mine minerals including florspar, used in the chemical industry, and barytes, used in the manufacture of paints.

"Dormant sites could be reopened at any time up to the year 2042, with potentially disastrous consequences for landscape, archaeology and nature conservation in our finest countryside," said Rachel Reeves, the council's senior policy officer. Another 20 sites are being mined in the parks without modern environmental conditions, because of weak legislation.

Although the permissions granted to mine undeveloped sites were granted decades ago, the ongoing environmental battle at Stanton Lees, a long-abandoned site between Bakewell and Matlock in the Peak District National Park, demonstrates the potential old quarrying rights have to change the face of the landscape.

The Endcliffe and Lees Cross quarries, near the Nine Ladies stone circle, have been worked for many centuries on a small scale to provide local stone. But Stancliffe Stone has declared its interest in quarrying 3.2 million tons of much-sought-after sandstone.

Lord Edward Manners, who lives at nearby Haddon Hall, will be paid rent of about £20,000 a year plus royalties of up to £4 per ton of mined stone. He faces the wrath of scores of environmentalists whose four-year campaign of resistance constitutes the longest-running current eco-protest in England.

A court battle over the site has demonstrated the lengths to which quarrying firms will go to protect their old rights. The Peak District National Park has gone to the High Court to get the site classed as dormant, a move that would impede quarrying there, but the ruling is to be challenged by Stancliffe at the Court of Appeal. The development will inevitably disturb the serenity of the 3,500-year-old standing stones which attract 40,000 people a year.

The council's report shows that the Peak District National Park has been bolder than most national parks in using one of the few weapons at its disposal: prohibition orders, which ban quarrying at dormant sites. The orders, introduced in 1981, allow planning authorities to prohibit quarrying at sites where no substantial extraction has occurred for at least two years and where resumption of work is "unlikely".

But the burden of proof lies with the planning authorities, many of whom have been put off prohibition orders since Mid-Glamorgan's attempts to secure one resulted in a legal defeat and heavy costs.

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