– Shouted in the chamber after the final vote was cast
The most truthful statement made at the decision making hearing.
Some were angry, some were sad, some showed despair, some showed steely eyed determination that they will stop this despite the decision. No-one was surprised.
Hargreaves took over the proposal for an opencast on Cauldhall Moor in Midlothian from Scottish Coal, and even managed to keep the same man working on the project, Theo Phillips (ex-Scottish Coal and ex-South Lanarkshire Council Minerals Planning Officer before that.) It seemed like a hard sell. Most of the site was not in an area of search under the councils own local minerals plan.
But somehow, with some sweet talking and promises they managed to persuade a majority of councillors to vote in favour, despite massive opposition and it going against their own rules. They agreed to this with no change what so ever in the way that coal sites are regulated or restored. Perhaps they don’t know how lucky the were when Scottish Coal bit the dust. Few councillors in that room will know what a 10 million tonne open cast looks like. None will know what it feels like to be told you will loose your job and family home, to be turfed out by someone with three homes (at least) and be told you might be able to get a job digging up the land you used to work on as consolation.
Hargreaves were keen to stress that unlike SC they were a large company with fingers in many pies, unperturbed by market fluctuations. However, they pulled a fast one, as Hargreaves Services will not be mining Cauldhall. Hargreaves Surface Mining will, a public liability company held at arms length with it’s HQ at Broken Cross. For those of you who haven’t gone for a wander around Broken Cross let us be clear that this HQ is at best a few portacabins, and at worse a postal box for a front company that can be dropped when the books don’t float. One councillor said that “Hargreaves have done their maths” and I’m sure they have. But have those calculations had the people of Midlothian’s best interests at heart, or Hargreaves’ shareholders? When the market for coal dries up there is nothing to stop Hargreaves putting their surface mining into administration and walking away. If this happens Midlothian Council will be faced with a restoration bill in the tens of millions.
The SNP are so quick to show that there will be jobs in their independent Scotland that they’ll let a toff from London rip up a wee bit hill and glen for the profit of an English mining company, with coal possibly destined to produce power south of the border. If the Indyref is a yes next year Midlothian will be ripped up by a company based in another country, with all profits and coal leaving. That doesn’t sound much like independence. When councillors questioned the jobs issue, and tried to cast a remotely critical eye on Hargreaves vague commitment to employ local people, they were quickly told that this was not a planning consideration.
The councillors were told they couldn’t predict the future of the coal markets, and referred to coal burning stats for 2012 to show there would be a market for this coal. But Cauldhall wont be restored in 2012, it’ll enter the restoration stage at the earliest in 2024. That’s after the last UK coal power station has closed, and with it the market for coal in the UK. With no profits to be made in coal, the likelihood of Hargreaves Surface Mining staying out of administration are slim to none. When the future market for coal was questioned, again, the councillors were told this wasn’t a consideration. Frequently they were told that they could only look at the merits of this application in regards to planning. The planning officer however, was free to argue the case for it on jobs, community benefits and the continued market for coal, ignoring the facts that this application goes against planning policy. Debate was framed in a devious way devoid of critical thinking.
The councillors haven’t waited for the outcome of any investigation into what went wrong with SC. They have stormed ahead and put their complete blind faith in Hargreaves to restore, to employ local people, to reign in their hauliers and a whole host of other conditions without any change to the methods of enforcement that let SC off the hook so catastrophically.
East Ayrshire Council are facing a clean up bill of £132m. Midlothian Council dodged that bullet, as SC had no major restoration legacy in their area. Given a second chance few councils would so boldly risk that folly again. Midlothian Council had that second chance, and they screwed it up.
So what next?
This fight is far from over. It’s only really just begun. This is the first opencast to be approved since the collapse of the Scottish coal industry, and it’s still a massive risk for Hargreaves to start an operation as large as this with the economics of coal looking so shaky. With more and more people waking up to the dangers of coal, and widespread opposition to new open casts across Scotland, the politicians are looking increasingly out of touch with public feeling. As is normally the case, it will be people power that stops these companies. As we saw with Scottish Coal, there is no such thing as “too big to fail.” The time has come to make Hargreaves wish they hadn’t been so cocky.
Live in Midlothian or nearby and want to be involved in opposition to Cauldhall? Contact Stop Cauldhall Opencast to get involved: contact [at] stopopencast.org.uk