Ministers reject call for opencast mining inquiry

Open cast mining Scottish Coal and Aardvark, which collapsed recently, operated opencast mines in East Ayrshire

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The Scottish government has rejected calls for a public inquiry to be held into the opencast industry.

The Scottish Opencast Communities Alliance (Soca) called for the inquiry in an open letter to Energy Minister Fergus Ewing.

It also urged a halt to all new mining development where sites await clear-up.

It followed the collapse of two major coal mining firms and concerns the taxpayer may have to pay out more than £60m to clear up old mines.

The Scottish government said there was no need for a public inquiry on restoration of sites as "all the relevant parties" were already working on the issue.

Taxpayers' bill

Last month, it emerged that taxpayers could be left with a bill for as much as £62m for restoring opencast mines in East Ayrshire.

A council report following the collapse of Scottish Coal and Aardvark (TMC) stated there was not enough money set aside to pay for remedial work.

The value of bonds put in place to pay for the clear-up was far less than the projected cost of the work.

Soca was formed last month and includes community organisations in East Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire, North Lanarkshire, West Lothian, Midlothian and Fife.

Its aim is to address issues faced by communities living near opencast coal mines and to provide communities with a voice in the decision-making processes.

'Massive failings'

In an open letter to Mr Ewing, Soca said: "We believe that the current state of the opencast mining industry in Scotland, the massive failings of the UK's two largest opencast operators, the failings of local authorities in their monitoring and enforcement of opencast sites and the failure of Scottish Planning Policy to protect communities and the environment from opencast developments warrant a full investigation into the factors that have resulted in the current situation.

"With the seeming inevitability of millions of pounds worth of restoration costs falling on the public purse, the large number of derelict and dangerous scars on the landscape and the loss of hundreds of jobs, operations should not continue without a full understanding of the causes.

"Further still, we must consider the vast carbon emissions associated with opencast coal, particularly at a time when Scotland's emissions should be falling."

The open letter was also signed by Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie MSP, Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie MSP and Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland.

'Positive action'

Responding to the call, the Scottish government said it shared the concerns of local communities around the responsible restoration of open cast coal sites and had taken "positive action" following recent mining job losses by setting up the cross-party Scottish Coal Industry Taskforce to address issues facing the the industry.

A spokesman said: "All councils with coaling activities are present on the taskforce and we are working together to ensure the optimum outcome for all concerned both for sustained employment and for restoration.

"There is no need for a public inquiry on restoration.

"Restoration of open cast sites is a long-standing issue in many council areas and a combination of the work of the taskforce, as well as the restoration bonds working group and the Scottish Mines Restoration Trust (SMRT) now set up as an independent body, already brings together all the relevant parties including local communities, councils, unions, land owners, Sepa, coal operators and other stakeholders required to tackle the issue of restoration."

He added: "Once underway, the restoration of open cast sites will have positive environmental impacts and will create and sustain hundreds of jobs across Scotland."

The taskforce is due to discuss the issue of restoration in detail at its the next meeting on 1 July.

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