LAON press release, 14/9/13
“How is it that an opencast coal site, which when first worked in 1955, is worked for 40 years and over 34m tonnes of coal is extracted. Then it’s left derelict, is then considered as a landfill site amongst other uses, with another 30 years of lorry movements in prospect before local residents mount a vigorous campaign which results in this plan being rejected. However, the net result is that after nearly sixty years, the 392 hectare Westfield site is, according to a report to Fife Council in 2002, “The largest area of derelict and degraded land in Fife.””
These are the questions posed in an interim report published by the Loose Anti Opencast Network (LAON) into what has happened at the Westfield Opencast Mine site near Kinglassie in Scotland. Copies of the Interim Report can be found at http://coalactionscotland.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Interim-Westfield-Report-1.pdf.
LAON believes that the answer to why this large site has been left derelict, is highly relevant to today’s debates about what to do about Scotland’s Opencast Coal Mining crisis and to debates, more generally, about Fracking. Most importantly though, local people want answers to why they have been left with such a legacy.
The interim report has been released in its incomplete state because the Scottish Parliament is to debate the state of the Scottish Opencast Coal Industry next Tuesday, and in publishing this report, LAON hopes that it can provide information that will be relevant to the debate. There are possibly 25 other abandoned opencast mine sites in Scotland, each with a story to tell. Westfield is just one of them, but, LAON believes, it is symbolic of all that can go wrong if trust is put into a regulatory system associated with assessing, approving and monitoring proposals to exploit sources of energy – the Planning System.
This is where the Westfield Story links to the current debate about Fracking and exploiting other unconventional energy resources such as Coal Bed Methane and Underground Coal Gasification. Earlier this week, in an attempt to allay fears about the environmental effects associated with Fracking, Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in a speech to the Royal Society said: “We must make sure that the rigorous regulation we are putting in place is followed to the letter, to protect the local environment.” That may be the intention – it was possibly the intention when permission was first given to exploit the rich coal seams at Westfield, which in the end produced over 34m tonnes of coal but left a devastated landscape with no real hope of any restoration as reported in a recent report to Fife Council in August, which said of the Westfield site: “Long mining history. Long-held community expectations regarding restoration – unlikely to be realised. Other uses on site – energy related.”
In its present state, Westfield, once Scotland’s most productive opencast mine, is a testament to what can go wrong if trust is put in a planning system’s ability to control the exploitation of energy resources. That is the contribution from the history of the Westfield site to today’s debates about Fracking – once planning permission is given, it is difficult to control what then happens.
As for finding out what really has happened at Westfield, for filling the gaps and answering the following questions in the conclusion to this interim report much still needs to be researched:
What obligations were entered into when planning permission was first granted? Is it true that back in 1955 local people were promised that when the site was restored, they would have an ornamental park and a lake?
Why was landfill seen as the only viable alternative for site restoration even before the site was sold to the Scottish Resources Group?
What precisely were the liabilities Scottish Coal took on when it bought the site?
LAON believes that local people need answers to these questions. Elsewhere in Scotland other local communities need answers to similar questions about all the other abandoned Scottish Opencast Sites. However, since the crisis started in April this year, the Scottish Government has failed to produce a definitive list of such sites and it has resisted calls for a Public Inquiry into what went wrong. LAON believe that, at present, if no Public Inquiry is set up, that the people around the Westfield Site and the other abandoned sites in Scotland will never get the answers to such questions. That is why we hope that Tuesday’s debate in the Scottish Parliament will result in the setting up of such a Public Inquiry.
Steve Leary, the report’s author said, “What is so striking about the history of this site is how such a celebrated opencast site in its heyday, which was visited by the Queen (see photo in reference 15 of the Report) can become such a neglected backwater today. That has to change. Local people have, for long enough suffered from a benign neglect which shows how impotent the planning system can be in trying to correct environmental damage caused by extracting an energy resource. That is the real lesson this site has for today’s generation ,as they contemplate the Government’s proposal to encourage the exploitation of new sources of energy. It could just end up with history repeating itself. In addition, it also reminds those currently campaigning against the 35 proposed opencast coal mines that are currently in the planning pipeline across the UK, about what their application, if successful, might turn into.”
INFORMATION ABOUT LAON
The Loose Anti-Opencast Network (LAON) has been in existence since 2009. It is a UK and Northern Ireland wide network of local community groups opposed to local opencast mine proposals / operations. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel 05601 767981 or 07711501215
You can now follow LAON on twitter @ http://twitter.com/seftonchase
LAON press release, 14/9/13