THE LOOSE ANTI OPENCAST NETWORK Press Release 20, 4 February 2013
Today, the Loose Anti Opencast Network publishes its monthly review of potential and actual applications for new opencast or surface mine sites across the UK. It reveals that there are plans for 47 new opencast sites, 15 in England, 7 in Wales and a staggering 25 in Scotland. The figure for Scotland has been boosted from the 7 identified in the last review to 25, because of the research conducted by Rob Edwards on new Scottish opencast applications published on his blog. (1) The full list of opencast sites for January 2013 is available on that blog.
The big irony in this is the fact that at least one opencast coal miner, UK Surface Mining, is waking up to the fact that the demand for coal for power generation purposes is going to significantly decline in the near future, with six coal fired power stations that were in  operation in 2011 closing by 2016, with 5 of the remaining fully or partly converting to biomass and only one of the remaining power stations, Fiddlers Ferry, ready to meet new emissions standards that are mandatory from 2022. (2)
In light of this evidence about the decline in demand, Simon Taylor, Director of UK Coal Surface Mining, in an interview given to the North West Evening Mail, acknowledged that the demand for coal was going to decline. However, he argued:
“Strictly speaking, probably about 30 per cent to 40 per cent of electricity comes from coal, which most people don’t realise. Eighty-percent of that is imported. Even if the Government wants to pay through legislation for greener energy and is funding finances for nuclear, by early 2020 output from coal will still be 50-60 per cent what it is now.”
He believes it is vital as much of that demand as possible is met by indigenous supplies which lie a few metres below the surface over large areas of the North-East and Yorkshire.
“Renewables only contribute nine per cent of our electricity needs. It is against the backdrop of the performance of renewables and our reliance on imported coal that UK Coal wants to push ahead with its Whittonstall investment.” (3)
In making his arguments, he hoped to persuade local people living close to the proposed Hoodsclose opencast site to back UK Surface Mining’s planning application prior to a public meeting held to discuss the application held on 17/1/13. However his arguments seem to have been rejected by local people judging from reports of the meeting. Even the local school, which was in line to benefit from the proposal by having UK Surface Mining build a £850,000 annex, has now formally objected to the scheme. (4)
We can argue over the detail in Simon Taylor’s statement, since there is other evidence that this is an overestimate. There are other figures that suggest that by 2020, the demand for coal will be, at 13.32m tonnes, only 33% of the 40.57m tonnes used in 2011, a much steeper decline than Mr Taylor suggests. (5) In addition, if by then Fiddlers Ferry is the only remaining coal fired power station left, the most coal it can burn (and this is unlikely as it would mean working at 100% efficiency for 365 days) would be 7.0m tonnes.
Steve Leary, for the Loose Anti Opencast Network, said:
“The statement from Simon Taylor is significant. For the first time, a coal operator has acknowledged that in future, the demand for coal is going to drop significantly. Hitherto, the strongest argument applicants for new opencast mines could apply to overcome local objections based on loss of amenity, was that there was a national need for the coal. To back it up, they would cite the appropriate statement from a Government White Paper or a Ministerial Statement in support of the need to mine
indigenous coal. A typical example was the recent decision made after a Public Inquiry over the Haltom Lea Gate application. (6)
“Now however, we have seen, that with this acknowledgement from Simon Taylor, in the future this will be an argument that will grow weaker in time as more and more coal fired power stations shut down or convert to burning biomass. It is the first chink in the armour of the arguments that have been used up to now to justify new opencast mines.
“What we need now is some clarification from the Government about the expected role coal is to play in the short to medium term. In addition, we would like the statement to say at what declining level of the demand for coal, the loss of amenity arguments begin to outweigh the national need arguments for coal. If coal is to decline in significance as a source of energy for power generation purposes, which is the intention at the heart of the Energy Bill, then coal’s classification in the National Planning Policy Framework as being a mineral of national importance needs to be revised as well.”
About LAON
The Loose Anti-Opencast Network (LAON) has been in existence since 2009. It functions as a medium through which to oppose open cast mine applications. At present LAON links individuals and groups in N Ireland (Just Say No to Lignite), Scotland (Coal Action Scotland), (Saline Parish Hub), Wales (Green Valleys Alliance, The Merthyr Tydfil Anti Opencast Campaign), England, (Coal Action Network), Northumberland, (Whittonstall Action Group, Halton Lea Gate Residents)) Co Durham (Pont
Valley Network) (Pittington Residents Group), Yorkshire (Leeds),  (Cowley Residents Action Group, Sheffield)), (Skelmansthorpe Action Group, Kirklees), (Stop Opencast at Sharlston, Wakefield), Nottinghamshire (Shortwood Farm Opencast Opposition), Derbyshire (West Hallum Environment Group, Smalley Action Group and Hilltop Action Group), Leicestershire (Minorca Opencast Protest Group) and Walsall (Alumwell Action Group) Staffordshire (Campaign Against Great Oak Opencast) .
Contacting LAON
Steve Leary LAON’s Co-ordinator, at infoatlaon@yahoo.com
You can now follow LAON on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/Seftonchase
References
1)   ‘Plans for massive expansion of opencast coal’ (Rob Edward’s Blog, 27/1/13) @ http://www.robedwards.com/2013/01/plans-for-massive-expansion-of-opencast-coal.html?cid=6a00d8341c091653ef017ee7f6f953970d#comment-form
2)   LAON, PR 19 2013 – A Crunch Year for Coal and the UK Coal Industry @ http://londonminingnetwork.org/2013/01/2013-a-crunch-year-for-coal-and-the-uk-coal-industry/
3)   ‘Making a case for coal mining in the countryside’ (North West Evening Mail, 23/1/13 – although this is dated 23/1/13, Val
Fairburn-Barnes of the Whittonstall Action Group assures me that it was published in paper from before the Public Meeting on the 17/1/13) @ http://www.nwemail.co.uk/whittonstall-making-the-case-for-coal-mining-in-the-countryside-1.1029497?referrerPath=home/2.3320
4)   ‘Opencast meeting last night’ (Guy Opperman MP’s blog, 18/1/13) @ http://guyopperman.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/open-cast-meeting-last-night.html
‘Villagers join forces to fight Whittonstall Opencast Plan’ (Journal, 18/1/13) @ http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news/2013/01/18/61634-32627810/?
‘Village opposes big opencast plan’ (Northern Echo, 18/1/13) @  http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/10172350.Villagers_oppose_big_opencast_plan/?ref=rss
‘Whittonstall school governors underline opposition to opencast’ (Journal, 24/1/13) @ http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news/2013/01/24/whittonstall-school-governors-underline-opposition-to-opencast-61634-32666983/
5)   Memorandum Submitted by The Loose Anti Opencast Network – Clause 21 (GIB 32) Appendix 3 @ http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmpublic/growthandinfrastructure/memo/gib32.htm
6)   ‘Appeal ruling gives green light to Halton Lea Gate opencast’ (The Journal, 9/812) @ http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news/2012/08/09/appeal-ruling-gives-green-light-to-halton-lea-gate-opencast-61634-31583881/
‘Coal  extraction approved in Northumberland and UK’ (Steelguru, 22/8/12) @ http://www.steelguru.com/raw_material_news/Coal_extraction_approved_in_Northumberland_and_UK/279796.html