Responding to DEFRA at the MIRO Review of Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund Research Projects, Wellington Arch, London - 12th March 2008

Speech by Duncan Wardrop

Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a privilege to be able to respond on behalf of the Mineral Industry Research Organisation to DEFRA's Review of the Sustainability Fund Research Projects. MIRO and English Heritage have selected a most interesting venue for this launch and The Wellington Arch is perhaps slightly more relevant than many people might at first think.

According to Dr Ted Rose of London University - who is an authority on this subject - the Duke of Wellington was the first Commander to specifically use geology in the pursuit of warfare. His use of ground, landform and ground conditions is said to have been pivotal to the success at Waterloo. Geology literally underpins everything we do, and in respect of meeting the four basic human needs of food, water, shelter and warmth, it is always worth reminding ourselves that if something cannot be grown - it must be mined. It is no accident that there is an aggregate industry and there has been since virtually the dawn of time because we provide materials that are vital to the needs of human society.

Today might be an opportune time to remind the Chancellor that every modern industrial economy on the planet is based on minerals.

But the mining and quarrying of natural materials of course comes at an environmental price, as does everything we humans do, and the Industry and the Regulators recognised this situation some decades ago leading to significant advances in environmental responsibility in the latter decades of the twentieth century. The Aggregates Levy provided additional methods of reducing environmental impact, repaying past debts to communities, and addressing areas that were not necessarily controlled by planning regulation or voluntary practices. Whilst the Industry resisted the application of the Levy - and remains unconvinced about its justification - the ALSF scheme has been undeniably successful in certain areas.

One of those areas that we are here this evening to recognise is the value of research, the benefits of which are often thought to be somewhat nebulous by Society and some professionals alike. But one of the most important keys to minimising our environmental impact is to understand earth systems, hydrogeological systems, ecological systems, and the links or interfaces between them. In many respects remarkably little is known about these matters.

The Aggregates Levy Research work thus far - and particularly the projects managed by MIRO - I believe have generated a great deal of valuable information and at the bottom line, have been good value for money. MIRO, for instance, is a not for profit organisation and there is no commercial gain made from the actual co-ordination of research activity. A Government in my opinion has a duty to spend taxpayers' money wisely, and I am happy that in this respect the money is being spent wisely. All of the work that I have seen has been pretty good, a lot of it has been very good indeed, and some is quite simply not being done anywhere else in the world. As much as anything this is a tribute to the Project Managers and the structure of the steering groups that have worked with some very effective research bodies.

The results so far have resolved some matters and the job is done. They have illuminated others that need further work; they have raised areas to research that were perhaps not previously identified; and they have identified certain gaps like the necessity for longer timescale system-response type of study that could now be undertaken with a greater degree of financial confidence.

So what is the value of these Reviews? First and foremost the review documents here presented and the electronic versions are The Resource and in the modern electronic world are the Portal to everything. Periodic review is necessary to check the results of the financial expenditure; to minimise overlaps between similar areas of work; to perhaps terminate some areas of spend; to define the future direction; and to continue to raise awareness and dissemination of The Resource. If nobody uses this stuff, it is worthless.

The review output will also inform MIRO and the Industry response to the current DEFRA consultation on the future of the Fund and we do welcome the confirmation that the Fund is to continue. There are we believe some very positive changes in emphasis recognised in the Consultation, for instance the influence of carbon and the necessity for some longer timescale projects, but there are also some gaps and perhaps some links between project areas that might not have been recognised.

So in conclusion we are delighted that Jonathan Shaw MP has been able to come this evening and launch the ALSF Theme Reviews and we thank Simon Thurley for opening this event for English Heritage. As to the future, we believe that there should continue to be an Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund while-ever there is an Aggregates Industry itself, and it would be unjust in the extreme if this Levy were ever to be subsumed into general taxation. The monies have, by and large, been intelligently spent thus far, the current consultation justifiably flags a change in emphasis, and there will be future changes of emphasis to come. Our task as professionals is to keep an eye on where we have come from, and an eye on where we are going, and to continue to use the Fund for its proper purpose.

Thank you for your time.


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