Earth First! Winter Moot

Defending the Douglas Valley

Hambach Forest Ocupation

South Lanarkshire COALcil

Mainshill Zine

Coal in Scotland

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We’re running out of metaphors – bending over backwards, like puppets on a string, lapdogs – it seems that everything coal-related that happens in the Douglas Valley involves South Lanarkshire Council going out of their way to accommodate Scottish Coal. It doesn’t matter whether its ignoring planning guidance, refusing to enforce conditions, or just plain re-writing the script, there is nothing the Council won’t do to let Scottish Coal get their way. You would be forgiven for asking what the point in a planning process is at all. This time, Scottish Coal are extending working hours at Mainshill so that it becomes a 24 hour site.

Strict working hours were a condition of planning approval for Mainshill Opencast Site – the fact that its so close to people’s homes, villages and a hospital meant that unlike at Broken Cross and Glentaggart (which apparently weren’t that close to people’s homes), work would stop by 10pm and only start again at 6am. This was to limit the impacts of noise and air pollution on the local community, and was clearly stated in Scottish Coal’s planning application, South Lanarkshire Council’s assessment report and accompanying planning conditions, and Scottish Minister’s assessment report. Everyone said it – the site won’t run for 24 hours, as otherwise the impacts on local communities would be unacceptable. In fact, this was also the case with haulage routes, and the promise that coal trucks wouldn’t come through the villages of Douglas and Glespin. That’s changed now too.

According to South Lanarkshire Council:

“Scottish Coal has submitted a request to the council to extend the on-site hours of working at Mainshill surface coal mine on a temporary basis, until April 2012. This request is in line with the terms of the condition attached to the existing planning consent which covers the site’s hours of operation. …this change does not require the submission of a planning application.”

But what are the terms of the conditions attached to the existing planning consent? They’re these:

That the site shall at all times be worked in accordance with the operational programme of works as set out in the Planning and Environmental Statements accompanying the planning application, unless otherwise directed by these conditions or by the prior written approval of the Council as Planning Authority.

With the exception of water management the site shall not operate outwith the hours stated below without the prior written approval of the Council as Planning Authority, and during these hours the site shall be adequately manned and supervised.

Weekdays (Monday – Friday) 0600hrs to 2200hrs

Saturdays 0700hrs to 1300hrs

That if due to unforeseeable circumstances, it becomes necessary or expedient following commencement of works to materially amend the provisions contained within the approved documents or conditions, the developer shall submit for the consideration of the authority, an amended application and statement of intent: the developer shall adhere to the approved plans until such time as an amended application is approved by the Planning Authority.

Now we’re no planning whizzes, but those conditions seem to indicate pretty clearly that Scottish Coal’s request does contradict existing planning conditions, and that these changes do require a new planning application.

What about their reasons for extending the working hours? Scottish Coal say its because of problems with flooding at other sites and that they need to increase production to meet contractual requirements. But the request was submitted soon after the bad weather hit, and the new noise assessment given to the Council had already been undertaken before that. Either Scottish Coal have some very good forecasters, who predicted that bad weather would cause problems everywhere except at Mainshill, and so did a noise assessment early so that the extension to working hours could be asked for, or the reasons they gave for it were a load of rubbish.

Scottish Coal want Mainshill to run 24 hours until April. Coincidentally, they also say they’ll be starting work at Glentaggart East in April, which will also operate as a 24 hour site. Just maybe, Scottish Coal want Mainshill to run for 24 hours so that they can move in to Glentaggart East on time, all set up for the next 10 years. Let’s look at that planning condition again:

That if due to unforeseeable circumstances, it becomes necessary or expedient following commencement of works to materially amend the provisions contained within the approved documents or conditions, the developer shall submit for the consideration of the authority, an amended application and statement of intent: the developer shall adhere to the approved plans until such time as an amended application is approved by the Planning Authority.

Of course! Bad weather is an “unforseen circumstance” (although as we established they have some very good forecasters) but “hurrying up so that you can get to the next place without losing any money from lowering production” probably doesn’t count as an unforseen circumstance. How cheeky.

Once again Scottish Coal and South Lanarkshire Council are working hand in glove against the interests of the area’s communities and local environment.

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