Surveys show the demand for sand and gravel is outstripping new capacity
Maintaining a steady and adequate supply of minerals will become increasingly difficult in the long-term, says MPA
February 21st 2017
The Mineral Products Association (MPA) and the CBI Minerals Group have launched a consultation on proposals for a UK Minerals Strategy, designed to meet the objectives of the Government’s Industrial Strategy and the National Infrastructure Delivery Plan. The MPA says that over 5 billion tonnes of minerals will be required over the next 25 years to meet these objectives, and supplying such a demand will need careful planning and management. The consultation is seeking the views of key stakeholders such as local planning authorities, regulatory bodies and environmental organisations, as well as those involved in the extraction industry. The key priorities for the strategy include: ensuring an adequate and steady supply of UK minerals to meet demand; encouraging trade and the export of UK minerals; reducing supply risks from global insecurity; safeguarding both mineral resources and crucial transport infrastructure; and mitigating the impacts of extraction, processing and transportation.
Sand and gravel: The long-term problem of supply and demand
In recent years the MPA has published an Annual Mineral Planning Survey, based on data for the whole of the UK and provided in confidence by MPA members. Its fourth survey, published twelve months ago, covers the period to the end of 2014. The survey shows an increase in the demand for aggregates, but highlights a recurring problem of declining reserves. The MPA said: “Unless action is taken on updating and extending the coverage of mineral plans and speeding up the planning process, the construction industry will face increasing supply challenges, particularly local sand and gravel.” The data shows that sales of sand, gravel and crushed rock increased in 2014 in comparison with previous years, “reflecting growth in overall construction and economic activity.” However, the data also shows that “sand and gravel is being severely under-replenished as reserves are used twice as fast as new capacity is being permitted.”
The fifth survey, published in December 2016, covers the period to the end of 2015. The survey also highlights the problem of long-term supply. On the one hand, the data shows that the consents for sand and gravel reserves in 2015 exceeded annual sales for the first time in ten years. But the ten-year average shows that the demand for sand and gravel “continues to consistently outstrip new reserves being permitted” with a replenishment rate of 61%. In the case of crushed rock, “while the 10-year average replenishment rate remains above 100%, the new reserves permitted in 2015 were less than the annual sales for the third consecutive year.”
BDS report shows quarry closures outnumber new outlets in 2015
BDS Marketing Research publishes an annual report on the estimated outputs of all the 800 pits, quarries and marine wharves currently operating in the UK. Its latest report, published last November, also highlights the problem of supply. The report says that 38 pits and quarries opened in 2015 as aggregates companies responded to higher volumes. Markets increased by 4% in 2015 and the report forecasts stronger growth over the next few years, though this is dependent on major infrastructure projects and EU uncertainty. The report’s author Andy Sales said: “The industry has been successful in opening new quarries or re-opening existing sites that shut during the recession. However, aggregates companies have also closed 47 quarries over the same period. Most of these were the result of reserves being exhausted. This is an increasing issue for the industry.” 
Planning: From site identification to production can take 10 to 15 years
The MPA locates the source of the replenishment problem in the planning process. Reporting on the fourth survey, the MPA says it takes three years on average to secure permission for both sand and gravel and crushed rock reserves, whilst the entire process from site identification to production can take up to 15 years. Commenting on the fifth survey, Mark Russell, the MPA’s Director of Planning and Mineral Resources, said 10–15 years are typically required to bring a new aggregate extraction site into operation – “from identifying and securing a site, through to getting it into a local plan, securing a planning permission through the development plan system, and finally getting the permission implemented.” Whilst the 2015 data shows an increase in the number of planning applications for sand and gravel extraction, the data also shows that sand and gravel determinations in 2015 took 14 months longer than applications determined in 2014. The data also shows that “the time to issue consents post-committee determination has increased, which may reflect decreasing local planning authority resources and/or increasing information requirements and complexity.”
Nigel Jackson, the MPA’s CEO, expressed the hope that both government and planning authorities will take note of the messages coming from these surveys “and give more commitment to speeding up both the plan-making system and the processing of planning applications, otherwise maintaining a steady and adequate supply will become increasingly difficult over the longer term.” He said that investing in the skills required by planning authorities to handle aggregates and quarrying issues is vital. “We think that better use could be made of the talent that is already in place by sharing specialist officers between authorities to create centres of mineral planning excellence,” he said. He also expressed the belief that urgent attention should be given to “improving the interface between planning and the key permitting functions of the Environment Agency and Natural England, which should be far more integrated.”
Mark Russell commented: “The industry generally works well with local mineral planning authorities, but they need to be properly resourced so they have enough capacity and expertise to deliver their functions in a timely and effective manner.” As regards local plans, the MPA points out that, at the beginning of November 2016, only 78 out of 122 (63.9%) local planning authorities in England had adopted a Core Strategy and Local Plan, while 18 out of 25 (74%) local authorities in Wales had adopted a Local Development Plan.
Minerals and the UK economy: Raising awareness
The MPA published a report at its annual conference last June titled ‘The Mineral Products Industry at a Glance’. The report shows that, in terms of volume, “the mineral products industry is the largest industry in the UK, with 1 million tonnes of aggregates, asphalt, cement, concrete and other mineral products supplied every day.” The MPA says that most of these products are used in the UK construction industry and help to improve the country’s housing stock, transport networks, utilities, commercial and industrial buildings, schools and hospitals. Forecasts based on current construction projects suggest that the demand for mineral products is likely to rise by 11–16% by 2019, whilst recycled and secondary materials now account for 28% of the UK aggregates market, “putting the UK at the forefront of the circular economy.”
The MPA says that the mineral products industry is the largest element in the construction supply chain and a major supplier of key materials to many other industries. “A healthy domestic mineral products industry is essential for the UK economy,” it says. Commenting on the report, Nigel Jackson said: “Current government policy on infrastructure and housing is dependent on these products, and this report provides a wealth of detail about products that everyone in the UK uses but too few are aware of. Hopefully this annual update will help raise awareness of our sector’s contribution to the UK economy.”
The Institute of Quarrying organised a National Minerals Week last October, with the aim of raising awareness of the importance of minerals among the wider public. Sarah Fry, the Institute’s Business Development and Communications Manager, explained: “Minerals are all around us in our everyday lives. Without them life would be very different. They’re used in mobile phones, computers, cars, aircraft, bicycles, roads, buildings, bridges; in fact they touch people’s lives in ways that most people will be totally unaware of. We’ve launched National Minerals Week to help draw public attention to the contribution the industry makes to our built and natural environment.”
Meeting demand: A strategy for the future
Returning to the consultation, Nigel Jackson said the mineral extraction industry has been developing proposals for a UK Minerals Strategy for some years: “Thinking has evolved as a result of a series of industry-led ‘Living with Minerals’ conferences over many years, organised by the CBI Minerals Group… The primary focus of this work has been on ensuring that expected UK demand for minerals is met for the next generation. We are well aware that this is an ambitious task and the industry cannot ensure that objectives are achieved without engagement and understanding from all stakeholders. The industry is seeking feedback and responses to ensure that the future UK Minerals Strategy considers all relevant issues to make it credible and effective.”
The UK Minerals Strategy consultation is open until April 1st 2017. For further details, see the MPA press release.
 As summarised by Agg Net, the BDS report identifies Tarmac as the largest quarrying company. BDS estimates that Tarmac’s share is around 25% of the aggregates market. The top five companies are Tarmac, Aggregate Industries, CEMEX, Hanson, and Breedon. BDS estimate that these companies have nearly 70% of the total aggregates market.
Photograph: Pool at Middleton Lakes RSPB Nature Reserve, near Drayton Bassett, Staffordshire © Copyright Graham Taylor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. Hanson UK won the prestigious Cooper-Heyman Cup at the 2015 MPA Awards for restoring the former gravel pits at Middleton Hall Quarry. Part of the land was bought by the RSPB in 2007 and is now an RSPB nature reserve.