Scottish coal set for comeback with plan for new opencast mine in Ayrshire

Cameron Gibson, deputy site manager (left) and Drew Barber, plant mechanic at Banks Mining coal site in East Ayrshire
Cameron Gibson, deputy site manager (left) and Drew Barber, plant mechanic at Banks Mining coal site in East Ayrshire

The restoration of a former East Ayrshire surface coal mine has moved a step closer following the submission of a restoration proposal by family-owned Banks Mining.

The firm, which has an office in Hamilton, has submitted a planning proposal to East Ayrshire Council, outlining its ambitions for the site, which has remained unrestored after it was abandoned when former operators Scottish Coal went into administration in early 2013.

If approved, work at Spireslack would start upon completion of the restoration of the adjacent Ponesk surface mine, a major transformation project which is also being undertaken by Banks Mining.

That project, which is running ahead of schedule and could yet be completed by the end of this summer, has seen the mining operator receive support from of local politicians from across the political spectrum.

Jim Donnelly, operations director at Banks Mining, is delighted with the progress at Ponesk and hopeful that the firm will be given the opportunity to finally restore Spireslack.

He said: “For the local community, Spireslack is an unfortunate reminder of Scottish Coal’s legacy and they simply want to see the land return to its previous state.

“Unfortunately, a lack of funding precludes a complete restoration but, similar to Ponesk, we have designed a scheme to provide maximum improvements from the limited resource available.

“It would also allow us to offer continued employment, as we would look to deploy the team of around 15 highly skilled and experienced restoration experts that have worked hard to transform conditions at Ponesk – while drawing plaudits for their methods of working.”

The restoration project has been designed to maximise opportunities for the future use of the site, and will see the creation of a new landscape across the site which is in keeping with the local area by reshaping Spireslack’s steep sided mounds, sharp gradients and wide terraces.

Currently the UK imports over 70% of the coal used to generate electricity in the UK from Russia, Colombia, the USA and Australia.  In previous years it has been more than 80%. 

See:https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/solid-fuels-and-derived-gases-section-2-energy-trends, page 12, Table 2A Coal imports by origin.

In 2014, the net cost to the UK of these coal imports was around £1.8 billion.  In 2013 it was £2.7 billion.  

The Scottish Mines Restoration Trust (SMRT), an independent non-profit making organisation, was established to help facilitate the process of communities and other stakeholders in restoring abandoned open-cast coal sites across Scotland to bring together viable restoration plans for them.

Professor Russel Griggs OBE, Convenor, Scottish Mines Restoration Trust, said: “This development is a significant step forward in the restoration of the Spireslack site.

“Since the site was left abandoned following the collapse of Scottish Coal, we have been at the core of the restoration planning process, working with all stakeholders involved to find solutions to the challenges this site presents to the surrounding community.

“Banks Mining has a fantastic track record of delivering restoration projects – as is evidenced by its work on the Ponesk site – and the developments at Spireslack will be carried out in a way that will maximise opportunities for community use.

A family firm founded in 1976, the Banks Group employs around 360 people in the surface mining, renewable energy and property sectors.

Donnelly added: “Issues surrounding the restoration of abandoned surface mine sites across Scotland remains big news, especially in the areas where these sites are located.

“I grew up in this part of Ayrshire and am particularly proud of the work we are doing to finally return this land to the local community. 

“Banks Mining has successfully restored every single one of the 110 mines it has worked on across the last four decades.”

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