Loose Anti Opencast Network (LAON) press release, 15 March 2013
Big question marks now hang over the British Coal Industry and whether it will be able to play out the role prescribed for it in the short to medium term.
That role was to provide the country with an assured source of energy whilst the energy sector adjusted to a low carbon future that promised cleaner air to breathe. Its role as a source of energy was to decline. In the meantime, our energy security depended on the remaining deep mines and a succession of surface mines, producing 16m to 20m tonnes of coal per annum. That is why great emphasis is placed on the need for this coal in UK planning policy in England, Wales and Scotland.
However, recent events have kicked the table legs away from under this policy. Deep mines have been either been closed , as at Daw Mill  (c 1.6 -1.8m tonnes of thermal coal per annum) or mothballed, as at Maltby (1.0m tonnes, 700,000 tonnes of which was used at Drax Power Station) and Aberpergwym , which produced 400,000 tonnes mainly for the Aberthaw Power Station in South Wales. That meant a total of loss of 2.7 to 3.1m tonnes of domestic deep mine thermal coal production from Wales and England.
In addition, we have Scottish Coal, purely a surface mine producer,  announcing further cut backs in coal production levels, having already mothballed its Blair House site in Fife last year. Before that, it was producing 3.5m tonnes of coal, but now intends to further scale back production at these sites, St Ninians in Fife, Dalfad and Dunston Hill in East Ayreshire and Mainshill in Sth Lanarkshire to the point that these could be mothballed as well. The firm is now making 300 of its 758 workforce redundant. Two sites are expected to remain in production and the development of new sites is postponed. No figures exist about the loss of production this will entail, but it will be considerable.
On the sidelines of this debacle, we have ATH Resources, the UK’s third biggest miner, normally producing around 1.5m tonnes. Its future is far from certain as it has gone into administration, but may be rescued by Hargreaves Services.
The worst case scenario, if we add all this potential loss of production  of coal for power station purposes, is that over the next 12 months, thermal coal production in the UK could fall by about 7m to 8m tonnes, or by about 50%.
Yesterday, questions were put in the House of Commons to DECC’s energy team over the state of the coal industry, mainly as a consequence of the fire at Daw Mill and the announcement of its subsequent closure. No mention was made of the other problems facing the industry. The Energy Minister, John Hayes, in answer to a question from Tom Greatrex MP, which suggested that there needed to be a short to medium strategy for the coal industry agreed with the proposal. He said: “That is a good point. There is a good argument for making a clear statement about how we see coal developing in the short to medium term.”
The Loose Anti Opencast Network will be writing to the Minister to ask if it can be consulted over the development of any statement on how the coal industry is to develop in the short to medium term. As we make clear, through publishing reviews of planning application for new opencast sites (the latest of which, covering Scotland was published yesterday and can be downloaded from this web page: http://www.indymediascotland.org/node/32965) LAON has an interest in representing the views of those living in the vicinity of existing and proposed opencast mine sites. As our recent documents monitoring new developments make clear, there are currently 32 sites in the planning pipeline, in addition to those that have gained approval or are already being worked.
Steve Leary, speaking for the Loose Anti Opencast Network said:
“There is a crisis affecting the UK Coal Industry. We believe its causes are deep rooted and not easily amenable to quick fix solutions. Our fear is that, in response to this crisis, the Governments of England, Scotland and Wales will seek a quick fix solution and promote opencast or surface mining as a means by which coal production can be increased to make up for the loss of production especially from the deep mines. For England, the Government, through Clause 24 of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, may already be showing its intention to make it easier to gain planning permission for large new opencast mines. In Scotland, their Government ignores its own guidance on having a 500m buffer zone between opencast sites and where people live, whilst in Wales, the Welsh Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development is “minded” to accept a recommendation that approval be given to the Varteg Opencast mine, even though, in doing so, he will be ignoring the Welsh 500m Buffer Zone policy.
“We are afraid that this crisis will mean more new opencast sites, encroaching ever closer on where people live across the UK. We will be seeking assurances from the Energy Minister, if and when we get to meet him, that any review of the Government’s policy towards coal will not further sacrifice the quality of life people enjoy for the benefit of others. That is why we are calling for a more open strategy to discuss the future of coal mining in the UK.”
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 and works with groups where local people feel that such a development is inappropriate.
Steve Leary, LAON’S  Co-ordinator, at infoatlaon@yahoo.com
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