Midlothian Matters - It’s time to move on from coal

An opencast mine in Ayrshire
An opencast mine in Ayrshire

In February 2013, Scottish Coal lodged an application for a new opencast coal mine at Cauldhall Moor near Rosewell, writes Malcolm Spaven, Stop Cauldhall Opencast.

This was their most ambitious project in years – ten million tonnes of coal from a site the size of a thousand football pitches. But two months later they went bust.

Hargreaves snapped up the best Scottish Coal assets, including Cauldhall, for the give-away price of £8.4 million. Hargreaves was surprised when Midlothian Planning Committee approved the application in November 2013. They knew Scottish Coal had not properly assessed the quality and recoverability of the coal and that the project was, at best, hugely expensive, at worst not technically feasible.

To implement the project, Hargreaves had to conclude a legal agreement with the council, setting out the financial guarantee for restoring the site. But since they knew the mine plan was not feasible, they did nothing to progress the agreement, preferring to let it languish in the system while their shareholders enjoyed the benefit of ten million tonnes of coal on the balance sheet.

Then the coal market started to unwind. Coal prices hit all-time lows; the government introduced a carbon tax making coal-fired electricity more expensive; and coal power stations started closing – five of the ten left in the UK will close this year. Hargreaves expects to extract less coal in Scotland this year than was produced in one month in 2012.

All the while, people whose livelihoods on the land at Cauldhall were threatened, and those who would be affected by the noise, dust, pollution and HGV traffic were left in limbo, not knowing whether the project would go ahead.

Two weeks ago Hargreaves announced that it was reducing its Scottish operations to one site in Ayrshire. So now is the time for Midlothian Council to get Hargreaves to withdraw the application, so that we can move on to more sustainable activities.

Midlothian has a proud history of coal production, and rightly so. But coal is the fuel of the past. It’s time for Midlothian to look forward, to play its part in developing clean energy, reducing emissions and protecting the land.

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