By DARA BUTTERFIELD
The £330 million cost of restoring opencast coal mines in Scotland was revealed in Westminster as MPs debated a proposal to extend tax breaks to opencast sites awaiting restoration.
It was argued that because there was not enough money currently set aside for effective restoration, incentives should be given for and industry lead solution. It was suggested that this would give access to £161 million against a current estimate of less than £20 million, a value that “would provide a totally unacceptable level of restoration not worthy of the name”.
Sandra Osborne, (MP, Lab for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock), said: “We have almost 20 square kilometres of disturbed and unrestored land, which has been abandoned. Hargreaves Coal has estimated a cost in excess of £300 million for the whole of Scotland. But the bond to carry out the restoration work in East Ayrshire totals just over £28 million, and even that is not settled. Clearly, there is an enormous funding gap.
“According to the Hargreaves proposal we could see the legacy sites across the country all restored to effectively their original quality within a five year period. Providing an incentive for an industry led solution would make the difference in East Ayrshire in particular to the value of around £161 million against a value of less than £20 million at best from bond monies recovered which would provide a totally unacceptable level of restoration not worthy of the name.
“For that five years there would be guaranteed employment of a local workforce – Hargreaves estimate more than 1,000 plus indirect employees but any and and all employment opportunities are most welcome and badly needed.”
“Hargreaves is the only show in town and if there is even a chance that this could provide a solution I am willing to grab it with both hands
However there has been some vocal opposition to the idea of giving aid to the opencast industry, with the Loose Anti Opencast Network (LAON) calling opencast mining an “environmental disaster”.
Steve Leary, LAON spokesman, said: “Even after this debate has thrown some light on the scale of devastation caused by opencast mining, we still seem to be sleepwalking into making the situation worse rather than better, with plans for at least 12 more sites.
“Given the current price of coal, there needs to be an audit undertaken of all current sites plus those with planning permission but not yet worked, to ensure that there is not going to be any further shortfall in monies available to restore the sites.
“Secondly to ensure that no further environmental disasters on this scale happen again, there should be a moratorium on progressing all new opencast coal site applications until all the UK Governments are assured that the methods used to ensure that restoration bonds are adequate. That they are professionally costed and are based on a pre- payment system or an insurance bond. An agreement on the value and type of Restoration Bond should be made at the time approval is granted and not be decided on, behind closed doors, after the planning approval has been given.
There are currently 17 opencast mines in Scotland and a further site where approval has been given – but where no work has yet commenced – at Cauldhall Moor in Midlothian. There are currently two plans for new opencast sites in Scotland, one at the 191,000 tonne Greenhill site in Falkirk and one proposed at the Canonbie site in Dumfries and Galloway.