Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Loch Fitty in Fife to be drained and mined for coal

Loch Fitty
Image caption Sepa has given permission for Loch Fitty to be drained and an opencast mine built in its place

Scotland's environmental regulator has approved plans for a Fife loch to be drained so it can be mined for coal.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has granted a licence for Scottish Coal Company Limited's (SCCL) project to drain Loch Fitty.

The company will excavate an opencast mine on the site before restoring it to a "higher standard" than it is currently in.

The local community council said it was extremely disappointed by the decision.

Sepa said the plan offered the best opportunity to improve the loch.

SCCL first approached the regulator about the plans in 2009. Since then discussions have been ongoing about draining the loch, with the application only submitted in 2011.

'Poor status'

The licence was awarded after Scottish ministers decided not to "call in" the application.

Currently, Loch Fitty is classed as having a "poor ecological status", largely due to excess levels of phosphorus.

SCCL plans are predicted to leave the loch's status at "good". Monitoring and inspections will be conducted by Sepa while the work is carried out.

Colin Anderson, Sepa's area manager, said: "Sepa is Scotland's environment watchdog and we have a responsibility under the Water Framework Directive to ensure that where lochs are in poor condition, like Loch Fitty, they are improved as soon as possible.

"When all the positive and negative aspects of the proposal are taken into account, Sepa is of the opinion that, on balance, this proposal will result in a better water environment longer term and that the proposal is therefore consentable.

"Sepa carefully considered every aspect of the proposal when determining SCCL's application for a licence and specialist advice was sought from officers throughout."

Some negatives

Forbes Stewart, chair of the Kingseat community council, said Sepa should have commissioned an independent report into the application.

He said Scottish Coal had been operating at an opencast mine in the area for 14 years and this latest development would see it continue for another eight years at least.

"How long does one community have to put up with the loss of beauty spots and all the other disadvantages which come with having Scottish Coal operating in the area?," he said.

Mr Stewart said Sepa had failed in its responsibility as a government body to consult with the local community and listen to its views.

"We are worried for any small village which would expect Sepa to take their views into account," he said.

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