A few years ago, who would have imagined that East Ayrshire Council would admit completely to its wrong doings over opencast coal, and even vote to begin disciplinary processes against its own employees? Well, that’s what’s happened, with the publication of the Mackinnon report and the Council adopting its findings last week.
Mackinnon was quoted as having said: “You’re talking tens of millions of pounds. I just think they lost complete control from the very early stage. They didn’t ensure that conditions were complied with — about doing this, before you do this. When planning applications were being considered they didn’t seem to take account of restoration of adjoining sites, that would have ensured that sites were restored before you allowed further excavation to take place. And then it’s just a litany of failures thereafter.”
And the Scottish Communities Opencast Alliance’s Malcolm Spaven said: “East Ayrshire’s independent investigators have done a sterling job unearthing some disturbing practices in the Council. Ultimately, the council has been mesmerised by the prospect of jobs. This is not an East Ayrshire-only phenomenon. All opencast mining areas are struggling for employment. But in the 21st Century there is no reason why we should accept permament blighting of our landscape and environment as the price of jobs. We must ensure that other planning authorities do not make the same mistakes and the Scottish Government must put far greater effort into promoting alternative forms of economic activity in mining areas. A choice between jobs plus environmental devastation, and continued unemployment, is not a choice at all.”
Whilst this is all good news, and begins the process of holding people to account for their actions, in all likelihood employees lower in the pecking order will be scapegoated and the full extent of what went on (and continues to go on) won’t be revealed. Council officials responsible for the mess in Ayrshire and Lanarkshire now sit on coal task-forces and restoration trusts after all, and chances are that they’ll get away with what they did.
Furthermore, this is just East Ayrshire – it might have the biggest restoration shortfall, but South Lanarkshire Council, and indeed Fife and Midlothian Councils also need to commission independent investigations and take responsibility for their failings.