As was reported last month, South Lanarkshire Council approved Scottish Coal’s application to mine 4 million tonnes of coal from Glentaggart East in the Douglas Valley. Once again, the Council has excelled itself in using the planning system to give the developer, in this case Scottish Coal, what it wants. Despite hundreds of objections to it (and not a single letter of support) and too many contradictions to planning policy to list from the international to national and local levels, the application was rushed through the planning process once again. This isn’t exactly a shocking revelation, but the desperation is telling.
A formal complaint has been submitted to South Lanarkshire Council over their handling of the application, detailing five instances where the Council failed in its duties. Of course, the application goes to the head of the department, who is Colin McDowall, one of the subjects of the complaint, seeing as he’s the person who signed off the Officer’s Report recommending approval to the planning committee. To cut a tedious story short, the Council and Minerals Planning Officer Donald Wilkins (also case officer for the Glentaggart East application) did everything they could to make sure that no one found out when the decision on the application was going to be made (maybe they were worried about a repeat of what happened when the Happendon Wood decision was made?), from telling fibs on the phone to ignoring emails and failing to make information available online. Again, no great revelation, but it marks a new low in the collusion between South Lanarkshire Council and Scottish Coal.
Now the application resides with the Scottish Ministers, who have a month or so to either clear it back to the council, or call the application in, whereby they then become the planning authority for determining the application. When it comes to opencast coal and Scottish Ministers, the decisions only go one way, and that is in the favor of the mining companies. They’ve also done everything they can to leave these kinds of decisions to the local authority, absolving them of any responsibility for poor planning, unless of course the decision is the wrong one! So SNP – are you going to honor your commitments to communities and reducing carbon emissions, or are you going to pander to the needs of big business? No prizes for the answer to that question.
These issues with the planning system aren’t exclusive to the Douglas Valley, but pretty much everywhere and certainly they’re endemic within South Lanarkshire Council. This includes further down the Clyde at Overburns. In a rare comment on opencast mining and planning, Aileen Campbell MSP for Clydesdale speaking in the Scottish Parliament debate on a report from the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee on rural housing said:
“I was interested to read that the committee believes that there is something of an inherent conservatism, and often a presumption against development on the part of rural planning authorities. That might come as a surprise to residents of Douglas in South Lanarkshire, who face the development of a new opencast quarry in their area, and to the residents of Biggar, Lamington and the surrounding area, who are trying to stop plans for a sand-and-gravel quarry at Overburns farm on the banks of the Clyde.
“There is scepticism about the number of jobs that such developments will generate, and there is genuine concern about the impact not just on the environment and the landscape, but on health, the roads and other infrastructure in the area. If too many such developments put people off the idea of moving to the countryside, or make rural areas less attractive places to live, then all the good work that is being done to improve housing supply will come to very little.”
“The Council ran roughshod over local opinion in granting permission to the Mainshill development. As I made clear in my speech in parliament, it must not be allowed to get away with that again at Overburns.” Unfortunately though, they’ve done it again with Glentaggart East – but will they get away with it?