With a take-over bid for the UK’s largest coal mining company, the finance behind soon-to-be applied for Hunterston coal-fired power station and control of Scotland’s coal ports, Peel is consolidating its position as a major financier of new coal.
Hunterston application imminent
The Scottish Government Energy Consents Unit has received formal notice from Ayrshire Power that it intends to submit a planning application to the Scottish Government on Monday 15th March. This application has been long-anticipated with an number of significant happenings recently highlighting this massive new development on Scotland’s west coast. Communities Opposed to New Coal at Hunterston (CONCH) launched a strong and determined community-based campaign against the new proposals, including submitting a legal challenge to the National Planning Framework (NPF) that enshrines this power station as a national infrastructure priority. In October last year the Danish energy company DONG pulled out of its 50% stake in Ayrshire Power and Hunterston Coal-Fired Power Station, leaving the feasibility of this project in doubt, and Peel as the sole financier.
This application falls under The Electricity Act, rather than the Planning Act, meaning that there are no formal requirements for public consultation prior to submission of the application, as opposed to the now compulsory three months under the Planning Act.
“Consultation” with local communities has so far been limited to four exhibitions held last October, which was before DONG withdrew from the partnership with Peel and prior to November’s announcements from Westminster regarding the requirements on carbon capture for new coal fired power stations were known. Because of this, the plans which will be submitted will undoubtedly be different to those which were described at the public exhibitions. An obvious consequence should be for Ayrshire Power to carry out further public consultations ahead of the formal application, but no such requirements have been made of them. In addition, Ayrshire Power’s website has not been updated since October, leaving local communities with no means of being updated on the current plans.
What the Scottish Government has succeeded in doing is to cut local communities and North Ayrshire council out of the equation by leaving the decision in the hands of ministers, and ministers who are tripping over each other to extol the virtues of clean coal and new coal-fired power stations – a further example of how changes to the planning system are disenfranchising communities more and more.
Forth Ports take-over
The Peel Group-lead consortium are expected to increase their take-over bid for their rival the Edinburgh-based Forth Ports as a £612 million offer on Wednesday was turned down. Peel Holdings, which is run by Tom Allison and billionaire property tycoon John Whittaker, owns Glasgow-based Clydeport, which handles around 7.5 million tonnes a year from operations at Hunterston, Glasgow, Greenock and Ardrossan, and a number of other water-based interests, including The Mersey Docks and Harbour Company and The Manchester Ship Canal Company.
It also hopes to take advantage of Forth’s shrunken property values in this ports-to-property take-over, which will see the consolidation of Peel’s dominance in British ports and the further gentrification of waterfronts such as Edinburgh’s Leith Docks and Granton harbour areas, Forth’s main property interest, which have already proved controversial in their attempts to squeeze low income residents out of these areas.
With ownership over Clydeport and Forth Ports, this take-over will leave Peel with control of all of Scotland’s coal import facilities, on top of the new coal-fired power station proposed next to the UK’s biggest coal port, Hunterston.
UK Coal merger
As well as the deal being cut for Forth Ports, it is speculated that Peel, which is UK Coal’s major shareholder owning 28% of the group, has rejected an approach for its stake in the group because Peel itself is working on a take-over offer. UK Coal says that the performance of its deep mines is of “significant concern” and that it is assessing a merger approach to mitigate the effects of the impacts of its deep mines on the company’s finances. UK Coal is the UK’s largest coal mining company with four deep mines and four open cast sites all in England, and has recently received approval for a fifth open cast mine in Fife that was strongly opposed by local communities.
And if all this coal wasn’t bad enough…
With control over Scotland’s coal imports, a new power station on the way and as the major shareholder in UK Coal, could Peel’s environmental credentials get any worse? Yes actually. The Peel group is a massive massive company also owning four airports, numerous ports and harbours, electricity networks, the Trafford shopping centre in Manchester, six hotels, MediaCityUK (soon to be the new home of the BBC), 450MW worth of onshore wind projects and plans for tidal and biomass plants.