Things just keep on getting worse for Scotland’s two big opencast operators – Scottish Coal have been forced to close their Blair Farm site in Fife (occupied for two weeks by Coal Action Scotland in 2010) because of their poor financial position, and ATH Resources’ share price fell 50% despite £15 million of its debt being bought by a venture capital fund. Its share price is now 1% of what it was at the start of the year. Surely the end is in sight now for communities who have had to put up with opencast on their doorstep for so many years.
A major concern to communities, however, is all the big holes in the ground that the operators will inevitably leave behind, such as the huge steep-sided “water feature” pictured above, at Scottish Coal’s Powharnel site in Ayrshire. In fact, going bust to avoid restoring sites is a well used trick of opencast operators. Once coaling has finished at a site, there’s no profit to be made from putting it all back together, so why bother? Operators are legally required to hold restoration bonds with banks to make sure there’s always funds available for this, but many doubt whether the bonds would even cover the diesel required to move the massive mounds of overburden accumulated at some sites. With the UK fast running out of landfill space, these big holes in the ground start looking more attractive to other “developers”.
People living near Scottish Coal’s Blair Farm site, after opposing the mine in the first place, could now be left with a big mess and the possibility of Scottish Coal breaking their restoration promises – a common occurrence in Lanarkshire for example, where local communities have fought for years to get the Dalquhandy site restored after it finished coaling more than 10 years ago. Similarly, the rate of progress with restoration at the Glantaggart site is so slow that more liaison meetings are being sought. The restoration manager at Glentaggart has reportedly said that Scottish Coal won’t spare him the machines and workforce to get the job done.
The workforce is another issue of course – so much for well-paid, secure job-creation. Scottish Coal didn’t put in their planning application that when the going got tough all the workers would lose their jobs.
MSP Bill Walker said about the Blair Farm site: “I was against the site going ahead when I was a councillor but it got planning permission. We’ve had all the problems with the loss of a local resource, the mud on the roads, the heavy traffic and now work’s stopped altogether. It’s not an acceptable state of affairs.”
Along similar lines, a letter to Fife Council from Cowstrandburn and Kinnedar Park Residents Association states: “The first concern, as you can imagine, is simply that Scottish Coal, given its now widely publicised severe economic difficulties, will simply walk away from the site, leaving behind a deep hole and an unwanted man-made hill.”
For more on the ATH story see here http://www.heraldscotland.com/business/company-news/ath-shares-dive-50-as-debt-deal-is-struck.19462972
For more on the Mothballing of Blaire Farm see here http://www.dunfermlinepress.com/news/roundup/articles/2012/11/20/439998-mothballed-mine-sparks-concern-among-villagers/