Open letter calls for coal mine moratorium and public inquiry as Energy Minister refuses to meet impacted communities1 Comment June 24th, 2013
The Scottish Opencast Communities Alliance (SOCA) has today published an open letter (posted below) to Energy Minister Fergus Ewing MSP, who last week refused to meet with the recently-formed group. The open letter calls for a full public investigation into the opencast coal industry, a moratorium on new developments, the immediate commencement of restoration work and community inclusion in decision-making. As well as SOCA, the open letter is signed by Patrick Harvie MSP, Willie Rennie MSP and Friends of the Earth Scotland.
SOCA press release:
Scottish Opencast Communities Alliance media release – for immediate use Monday 24th June 2013
Photo opportunities at mine sites with local residents are available upon request.
Open letter calls for coal mine moratorium and public inquiry as Energy Minister refuses to meet impacted communities
The newly-formed Scottish Opencast Communities Alliance (SOCA)  has today published an open letter  to Energy Minister Fergus Ewing outlining a series of demands and accusing him of deliberately ignoring communities impacted by opencast mining. The letter calls for a full public inquiry into the opencast industry, a moratorium on new developments attached to unrestored sites and the immediate commencement of restoration work to promote sustainable employment in some of Scotland’s most deprived rural communities.
Partick Harvie MSP, Co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party, Willie Rennie MSP, Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrat Party and Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland are also signatories to the open letter. The timing of the publication follows Fergus Ewing’s refusal last week to meet with SOCA members to discuss community concerns over restoration obligations, future mining operations and plans to deregulate the industry.
SOCA Chairperson Malcolm Spaven said:
“The directors of opencast companies are walking away from the devastation they’ve caused to people and the environment with millions in their pockets. Local authorities and the Scottish government have watched this happen. The proposals for Hargreaves to cherry pick sites and abandon restoration responsibilities will simply repeat the mess.
This is a major failure of public policy. We may end up with 15 or more abandoned coal sites and a bill of £100 million to the taxpayer. We’re calling on the ministers to do the right thing and order a full investigation now.”
Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie MSP said:
“Given the crisis situation it’s disappointing that the Energy Minister is refusing to meet with a group whose aim is to get the best outcome for affected communities. Scottish Greens support the idea of a public inquiry into the issue of restoration, and we’ve said that communities affected by opencast coal mining must be represented on the new Restoration Trust.”
Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Willie Rennie MSP said:
“The collapse of much of the Scottish opencast coal sector may have dumped a costly environmental legacy on neighbouring communities. We need an inquiry to establish who is responsible and why it has been allowed to happen. People deserve answers so we can understand what went wrong and so we can put that right.”
Notes to editors:
 The Scottish Opencast Communities Alliance was formed in a meeting at the Scottish Parliament hosted by Patrick Harvie MSP on the 1st May 2013. The group has membership from communities and community organisations in East Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire, North Lanarkshire, West Lothian, Midlothian and Fife. The group aims to address the issues faced by communities living near opencast coal mines and to provide communities with a voice in response to their exclusion from decision-making processes.
 SOCA’s open letter is copied below:
Monday 24th June 2013
Open Letter to Fergus Ewing MSP, Energy Minister
The opencast mining industry in Scotland: where to go from here
We, the undersigned, call on the Energy Minister to:
1. Order a full and independent public inquiry into the opencast mining industry in Scotland
2. Introduce a moratorium on new opencast coal developments including sites and site extensions approved prior to the collapse of the industry as well as current applications under consideration, until such time as the current issues around restoration have been fully addressed
3. Oversee the immediate calling-in of any restoration bonds currently held by local authorities, and the re-employment of as many former opencast workers as possible to commence restoration work
4. Ensure that communities are included in discussions on the future of opencast coal mining operations and treated as key stakeholders
We believe that the current state of the opencast mining industry in Scotland, the massive failings of the UK’s two largest opencast operators, the failings of local authorities in their monitoring and enforcement of opencast sites and the failure of Scottish Planning Policy to protect communities and the environment from opencast developments warrant a full investigation into the factors that have resulted in the current situation.
With the seeming inevitability of millions of pounds worth of restoration costs falling on the public purse, the large number of derelict and dangerous scars on the landscape and the loss of hundreds of jobs, operations should not continue without a full understanding of the causes. Further still, we must consider the vast carbon emissions associated with opencast coal, particularly at a time when Scotland’s emissions should be falling.
Until the reasons for the current situation are fully understood and those responsible for it have been held accountable, we do not believe that new opencast developments should be allowed to happen. Deregulation of the industry to allow continued operations must not be allowed, and mining companies and local authorities must not be allowed to compound the same mistakes that have been made in the past. It is not acceptable for new mining companies such as Hargreaves Services to state that they will only put funds into restoring sites once operations are profitable, or for liquidators KPMG to selectively disown portions of sites to remove liabilities from new operators, as has already happened in East Ayrshire. Until all restoration agreements are fully adhered to there should be no additional operations.
The situation that the opencast industry currently finds itself in requires that restoration bonds currently held are called in by local authorities. Whilst the money held in them is nowhere near adequate enough to oversee the restoration of the sites, and indeed some sites do not have bonds in place, this is money that could be contributing to the dual purposes of beginning restoration works and creating employment for some of the workers made redundant.
Finally, communities living next to and experiencing the negative impacts of opencast mining in Scotland have been excluded from all discussions and negotiations on the future of the industry. The people experiencing the impacts of this industry are key stakeholders and should be treated as such. It is not enough to pay lip-service to community consultation.
We urge you to accept and implement our demands.
Malcolm Spaven, Chairperson of the Scottish Opencast Communities Alliance
Patrick Harvie MSP, co-convener of the Scottish Green Party
Willie Rennie MSP, Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrat Party
Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland