Beneath the sea
The uncharted territories of the seabed are rich in valuable minerals. But does the effort required to get at them outweigh the benefits of deep sea mining?
14 JAN 2019
The UK’s first minerals strategy sets out how to meet demand for the next 25 years sustainably and offers exciting opportunities for land and resources professionals.
Minerals and mineral products are essential to the development of the built environment, our infrastructure and our quality of life. The first UK Minerals Strategy was launched in July and is designed to meet the demand for minerals for the next 25 years. The strategy was prepared by the CBI Minerals Group and Mineral Products Association and has been endorsed by the government, NGOs and professional bodies, including RICS and the Royal Town Planning Institute.
More than 210m tonnes of minerals are extracted in the UK each year, with the annual turnover of extraction estimated to be £15bn. Minerals represent the largest materials flow in the UK economy, at about 1m tonnes per day.
When looked at as a wider sector, the annual gross value added by mineral extraction, products, manufacture and first-use markets is more than £235bn – which means that 16 per cent of total the UK economy is attributable to minerals, and that it supports 4.3m jobs along the supply chain.
16% of the total UK economy is attributable to minerals
4.3m jobs are supported through the minerals supply chain
Annual turnover of extraction in the UK is £15bn
The largest tonnages extracted and supplied are construction aggregates such as limestone, granite, sand and gravel, and industrial minerals such as silica sand, clays and gypsum, providing the main constituents for critical materials such as asphalt, cement, concrete, bricks, mortar, glass, plaster and ceramics. However, the UK has a broad and valuable portfolio of mineral resources, which are also used in applications as diverse as chemicals manufacture, pharmaceutical products, hi-tech engineering, agriculture and production of paper and steel.
The extraction of coal in the UK has declined, although it remains strategically important for energy generation and other industrial uses, but the UK has seen the development of new mines for polyhalite, tungsten and barytes plus proposals to reopen tin and gold mines. Minerals and mineral products touch every aspect of our lives and our economy could not function without them, so it is essential that all stakeholders make the link between minerals and quality of life and do not simply assume that demand will be satisfied.
The strategy reveals that, over the next 25 years, 5bn tonnes of mainly construction and industrial minerals will need to be identified and permitted from indigenous sources. To achieve this in a sustainable manner, government and relevant stakeholders have been urged to:
The strategy is based on three pillars – economic, environmental and social – all of them areas where chartered surveyors are actively engaged and essential to meet the strategy’s objectives.
The economic pillar is based on the principles of demand, supply and investment, with the strategy calling for both a strong national minerals and mineral products policy and statement of need. This call was answered to a degree by the publication of a revised National Planning Policy Framework in July, which, after extensive lobbying from the minerals sector, retains high-level mineral planning policies.
At paragraph 203, for instance, it states that ‘it is essential that there is a sufficient supply of minerals to provide the infrastructure, buildings, energy and goods that the country needs. Since minerals are a finite natural resource, and can only be worked where they are found, best use needs to be made of them to secure their long-term conservation’. This is supported by statements at paragraphs 207 and 208 that require mineralsplanning authorities to plan for a ‘steady and adequate supply of’aggregates and industrial minerals respectively.
There is considerable benefit in this framework sitting alongside the government’s overarching policies for increased housing supply and major infrastructure projects. The strategy also urges the government to ensure that there is a supporting regulatory, operating and trading environment for investment, trade and export of UK minerals and mineral products that will also reduce any risk from insecurity of international supply.
The strategy encourages mineral planning authorities and the marine regulators to ensure that sufficient sites are allocated and consents or marine licences granted, so a steady and adequate supply can be maintained to meet demand forecasts, while also ensuring that re-use and recycling is maximised. The industry will be responsible for identifying and promoting sites and submitting a sufficient number of planning applications.
Land-use planning is prominent in the strategy’s second, environmental pillar, which relies on government to ensure the mineral planning system is properly resourced and does not duplicate other regulation. With an effective system in place, the onus is then on the industry to avoid and mitigate the impacts of extraction, processing and transportation and continue to ensure environmental net gains through responsible site management and high-quality restoration.
The third, social pillar includes important aims to maintain the sector’s level of education, skills and employment, with a strong emphasis on health and safety, and to encourage research and innovation, as well as new initiatives to improve public understanding, engagement and appreciation of the need for minerals.
The strategy presents a range of interesting opportunities for existing chartered surveyors and new entrants to help identify and secure land and resources, promote sites through the planning process and help restore sites following excavation and enabling beneficial uses afterwards. The strategy highlights the importance of minerals to the national economy, and that they are critical to the development and maintenance of the built environment and our infrastructure. This in turn shows the wider importance of minerals and mineral products to the work of most RICS professionals and the need for mineral specialists, plus additional RICS training and recruitment into the sector.
In endorsing the strategy, RICS has said: "Given the UK’s needs for housing, infrastructure and economic growth over the next 30 years, it is imperative that there is a greater appreciation of the value of minerals and the most effective ways, to plan, extract and use them in the best interests of society."
This article was first published in RICS Land Journal (Jan/Feb 2019).