It has recently emerged that Fergus Ewing MSP, the SNP government’s Energy Minister, has been holding secret talks with Scottish Coal to find solutions to the cmpany’s financial difficulties, which currently see it in the hands of its bankers Lloyds TSB. As part of these talks the government has been consulting industry deregulation guru Professor Russel Griggs on issues of opencast restoration. Despite there being no information publicly available about these talks, and every door closed to communities in terms of their involvement in current decision-making, Ewing and Griggs will be briefing MSPs on their proposals at Holyrood on Wednesday 17th April. In order for the industry to be profitable again it must be deregulated – meaning no restoration, no community fund payments and no environmental mitigation – but will the Scottish Government sell communities out for the benefit of a failing company?
It appears that what we’re witnessing is the SNP governments desperate attempts to save a private company, one that provides little in the way of economic benefit to Scotland as a whole or locally, but has massive impacts on the countryside and rural communities. Once again local authorities and the government are chanting the jobs mantra and piling support into an organisation that only benefits the very few.
While the outcome of these secret talks will only be clear on Wednesday, we know that they hinge around the restoration of Scottish Coal’s opencast mines. Predictably however, the focus has been on future site restoration, and not on the many scars that already litter the central belt. It looks unlikely that the insurance bonds taken out by mining companies currently will ever be issued to Scotland’s operators again, as the industry is obviously economically unviable. Restoration promises are a necessity for planning approval, and are enshrined in planning consents and legal agreements. So, to allow future opencast operations, another system for ensuring site restoration is needed.
Almost all of Scottish Coal’s opencast sites are woefully behind in their restoration, with some being completely unrestored more than 10 years after operations finished, and some such as Chalmerston in East Ayrshire being 14 years behind schedule. Further still, a document compiled by Coal Action Scotland shows how current restoration bonds in place for active mines cannot possibly provide for the complete restoration of the sites. Scottish Coal’s legacy has been one of blighted communities and unrestored opencasst – if Fergus Ewing gets his way this will only continue into the future.