RSPB Scotland is this week calling for the creation of a new, independent body to ensure that the open cast coal industry in Scotland is properly regulated in future, after the insolvency of two major open cast operators in 2013 left a legacy of extensive damage across Central and Southern Scotland.
The collapse of both Scottish Coal and ATH Resources last year left over 30 unrestored sites and a funding shortfall of over £200 million needed to restore environmental damage and make sites safe for the public. This included large-scale damage to a protected wildlife site home to rare breeding birds.
In response, the Scottish Government has put forward a number of proposals for better regulation, including a proposal for a new ‘Independent Compliance Unit’ to support Local Authorities in monitoring open cast coal mines and ensuring they stick to the terms of their planning permissions.
A key issue with previous regulation of the industry was a lack of regular checks on sites and operators to detect where plans were going off course. The new proposed body could also play a role in regulating other types of development that have long-term environmental impacts, such as landfill sites or wind farms.
Aedan Smith, Head of Planning and Development at RSPB Scotland, said:
“A new independent compliance body, with the right expertise and resources, could be key to ensuring that the open cast coal industry is properly regulated in future and actually pays its clean up costs for the damage it does to the environment. An over-sympathy for the industry to date in Scotland has led to a culture of light touch regulation, with Local Authorities getting too close for comfort to industry operators.
“A cautious approach to further extraction of coal in Scotland must be adopted, particularly in sensitive areas that are difficult to restore, like peatlands. There is only a limited, short-term role for coal in a sustainable Scotland, so it is essential that areas with a lot of coaling are supported to transition towards a low carbon economy. It is not acceptable for Government policy to be to ‘just keep digging’.”