As expected, Scottish Coal submitted their application for a new open cast coal mine at Airfield Farm, Cousland, in Midlothian last week. This comes despite huge pressure from communities and campaigners on the company and Scottish Ministers over the health impacts of open cast mining and the environmental impacts of both mining and buring coal.
The campaign against this new mine is already well under way – recently-formed Communities Against Airfield Open Cast (CAAOC) has called a public meeting for Thursday 10th September, 7pm in Cousland Village Hall, and have been mobilising against this new project.
The group formed with a public meeting held in Cousland in June last that attracted 120 people who were virtually unanimous in their opposition to the open cast coal mine, on the grounds that it would impact on wildlife, the environment, air quality, noise and the landscape. Residents have been building against this mine since.
The plan is to mine 2 million tonnes in the 154 hectare site at Airfield Farm, over a five year period. Scottish Coal and Scottish Power hope that this mine will play an integral part in the £700 million deal for 10 million tonnes of coal over a 5 year period signed last year to supply Scotland’s two coal-fired power stations, Cockenzie and Longannet. Scottish Coal have already said it will increase production significantly to fulfill the contract, and this, along with more mines in Fife and South Lanarkshire is the realisation of it.
In the consultation meeting mentioned above, Scottish Coal were very reluctant to comment on the sulphur levels in the coal. Inevitably this is because most of the coal is earmarked for combustion at Cockenzie. Scottish Power have opted out of fitting flue-gas desulpurisation technology to the power station, making it the dirtiest in Europe, and meaning that the coal burnt at this power station releases illegal quantities of sulphur into the atmosphere. Currently, low-sulphur coal from Russia is burnt at Cockenzie, but with increasing amounts of high-sulphur coal from Midlothian, it can be expected that Scottish Power will breach EU regulations further at this power station. No wonder Scottish Coal want to keep sulphur levels quiet.
An open and democratic process?
A comment from a resident pointed out that there is also a public consultation advertised for major developments at the southern end of the A68 bypass within 1km of Cousland, plus a planning application for a waste recycling centre to the north of the village a similar distance away, put in in the same week as the open cast and to top it off all during the school holidays (a convenient time for projects such as this). The community feels under siege. As with the A68 Dalkeith Bypass a few years ago, Midlothian Council consistently makes objecting to planning applications as hard as possible.
In addition, Airfield Farm isn’t currently defined as being suitable for open cast mining in the Midlothian Council Local Plan, immediately presuming against granting consent. The site is designated as an Area of Great Landscape Value by the local authority, and is adjacent to a number of listed wildlife sites, highlighting local environmental impacts. But will these influence the final decision of the Midlothain Council planning department? Recent examples with Mainshill in South Lanarkshire would suggest not.
As is the case with so many rural communities impacted by the mining industry such as the Douglas Valley and communities in East Ayrshire, if this application is accepted Cousland will be subjected to a disproportionate level of industrialisation. The proposed open cast mine along with other developments would have a seriously detrimental effect on the quality of life in the village which has been blighted by a large number of developments over the past 25 years. Again, this is something that Scottish Planning Policy 16, fought for by communities affected by open cast, is supposed to protect against.
A recent study on the impacts of open cast coal mining on community health by the Camp for Climate Action and Douglas residents has highlighted the disastrous impacts that mining in the Douglas Valley, South Lanarkshire has had on Douglas residents. Will a full health impact study be conducted on the areas around Cousland? Unlikely. But hopefully this report can help to raise the issue of how Scottish Coal and councils sacrifice the health of people near-by for the profits of open cast coal. Residents have already raised serious concerns about possible health effects for those suffering from asthma and other respiratory conditions because of dust and air quality around the mine.
Socttish Coal claim that 50 new jobs will be created, but the “new jobs” argument is wearing thin on impacted communities. With the expected closure of nearby Rosewell Open Cast after its extension has been mined, chances are that the workforce and machinery will merely be moved over to Cousland.
The impacts will be numerous from this project – less than 400m from the site boundary is the Hadfast Valley SSSI, one of the most important bird breeding sites in the Lothians. The site is also part of an Area of Great Landscape Value and includes a number of listed wildlife sites. Then there’s the 126 HGV journeys a day from the mine to Cockenzie power station, buring thousands of litres of diesel a week and making roads more dangerous. And finally, another 2 million tonnes of coal mined, is another roughly 4 million tonnes of CO2 released into the atmosphere, not counting the huge emissions from the mining process.
Given the above, the recent Scottish Climate Change Bill and Scottish Planning Policy 16 on Open Cast Coal, this project should be laughed out of the planning office.
CAAOC Helpers meeting – Thursday 20th August – 7pm, Cousland Village Hall
Villagers are invited to come along to help out with the campaign
Scottish Coal Airfield Open Cast Display – Tuesday 1st September – 2pm-7pm, Cousland Village Hall – View the actual planning application with changes from previous exhibition, representatives from Scottish Coal there to answer questions.
Airfield Opencast Public Meeting – Thursday 10th September – 7pm in Cousland Village Hall
– Update from meeting with Planning Officers regarding the planning process.
– Discussion as to the impact of the application & any changes noted.
– Get consensus of opinion from public & elected representatives will be invited.
– Discuss next steps & opportunity to gather comments / objections
– Information on whom / where to send your comments on this application. (handouts will be available)
Please note – All letters / comments must be submitted to the Planning Department at Midlothian Council within 14 days of this meeting.