Fife Council has paid out a record £175,000 to the UK’s third largest mining company, after it rejected the application for Muir Dean open cast site near Crossgates in 2006, a decision later overturned by Scottish Ministers. Meanwhile, ATH has been fined £10,000 in Ayrshire for illegally building a road on one of Scotland’s most protected environments, and £40,000 in Dumfries and Galloway for pouring sludge into the River Nith.
What this shows is the massive disconnect between the penalties expected of big business if they break environmental law, and the consequences on councils if they dare to represent their constituents and say no to big business. The pay-out is supposedly for the “blunder” by the council in coming to its decision to reject the application. Supposedly, planning policy was not followed, meaning the decision was a “mistake” that cost ATH a lot of money.
But there was huge community opposition to Muir Dean – very very few of the people living around it and therefore affected by it, wanted the development to go ahead. Surely that must be what is taken into consideration when coming to planning decisions? Instead, policy must be followed. But that policy is devised by planners, politicians and business, who all conspire to impose unpopular but highly profitable developments on communities. So now we’re in a situation where no level of community opposition is sufficient to get planning applications refused. What do communities have to do to have a say over what happens to them?
Alistair Black, Chief Executive of ATH Resources, said: “It was something that the company did not relish having to do, but given the decision by the reporter it is quite clear that the councillors based their decision on unreasonable grounds. We felt compelled to seek compensation for the costs incurred, as these sorts of things are very costly for the business. It also shows that importance of council members listening to the recommendations of the council planning officers.”
Why are the recommendations of planning officers, whether in Fife, South Lanarkshire or Midlothian, consistently the opposite of the recommendations of communities. The current planning system in Scotland is a complete failure, and is resulting in mining companies making record profits (contributed to by tax payers money as this case in Fife) and communities having their health, environment and participation in the decision-making processes taken away from them.
For more information on this and the fines imposed on ATH Resources, click here.