LOOSE ANTI OPENCAST NETWORK press release, 13 January 2014
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and Friends of the Earth Scotland (FoE Scotland) are two of the groups who are supporting the request being made by the Loose Anti Opencast Network (LAON) to politicians at Westminster, The Scottish Parliament at Edinburgh and the Senedd in Cardiff, to make coal a ‘Special Case’ when it comes to making decisions about approving new opencast coal mines.
Recent statements by Michael Fallon MP, the UK’s Energy Minister, have confirmed the research findings being published today by LAON that coal is to disappear as part of the UK’s Energy Mix by 2030. Between now and then, as coal fired power stations are closed because they are too polluting, there will be a steady decline in the use of coal for power generation purposes. LAON’s research predicts that by 2020, the UK will be producing more coal than it can use for power generation purposes.
Steve Leary, LAON’s spokesperson and researcher said
“Most people do not realise how we produce coal today. The bulk of it, nearly 75%, comes from opencast mines with the rest coming mainly from 3 deep mines. These opencast sites are rarely popular, disfigure the landscape and can give rise to major environmental problems if it proves to be uneconomic for the operator to restore the site. As our research makes clear, the point about the restoration issue is highly topical since Scotland is experiencing what happens when opencast sites become uneconomic. The operator goes bust. This has meant, in Scotland, that 35 surface mine sites have been left derelict, some close to villages. The estimated net cost to the public purse of restoring these sites is put at £200m.
Our fear is that what Scotland is experiencing today, parts of England and Wales could experience tomorrow as the demand for coal shrinks and the decline of the coal industry continues. How long the industry remains economically viable then becomes an issue. Our concern is over what will happen in the future. We are aware that there are plans for another 26 opencast sites already in the public domain across the UK, 12 in England, 10 in Scotland and 4 in Wales and early discussions have been mooted for another 6 UK sites. If the planning system is not reformed to include a rigorous assessment about the need for coal at each of the proposed sites over the expected working lifetime of the mine, we could be left with the situation that operators find it uneconomic to continue to work any one of the proposed sites  and that sites are  left derelict as has already happened in Scotland.”
To try and prevent this from happening, LAON has written to Parliament’s Secretaries of State for Energy and Communities and Local Government and to the Scottish and Welsh Planning and Energy Ministers, asking them to urgently consider reforming their country’s planning policies so that they do include a rigorous assessment about the future need for coal when considering all current and future opencast mine applications. In addition to CPRE and FoE Scotland, the Scottish Opencast Communities Alliance and the London Mining Network have also co-signed the letter.
Steve Leary added
“All we are asking for is for a bit of joined up thinking and some common sense. As coal gets phased out of the Energy Mix as Michael Fallon has stated it will be, it should have a knock on consequence for how planning decisions are made about the need for new opencast mines to supply coal. We are asking that coal be treated as a Special Case, because unlike other minerals where a future demand is always assumed to be there, the demand for coal, we now know, is expected to decline to zero by 2030 according the UK’s Energy Minister.”
Our letter and the associated research documents can be downloaded as follows:
The letter to the politicians entitled ‘Arguments in Favour of the Need to Reform the way Planning Policies deal with new Coal Surface Mine Planning Applications’  at http://coalaction.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Final-Dear-Secretary-of-State-and-Minister.pdf.
The items of research that resulted in the recommendations suggested in the letter can also be downloaded:
‘Assessing the Need for Coal’ (21pgs) at http://coalaction.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Finak-C1-ASSESSING-THE-NEED-FOR-COAL.pdf.
‘Why Coal should be treated differently by the Planning System’ (14 pgs) at http://coalaction.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Final-WHY-IS-THE-PLANNING-SYSTEM.pdf.
The ‘2013 Review of Prospective Opencast Sites in England, Scotland and Wales’ (24pgs) at http://coalaction.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/S1-PROSPECTIVE-OPENCAST-SITES.pdf.
Any other organisation wishing to sign up and support the ‘Make Coal a Special Case’ campaign should contact Steve Leary at  infoatlaon@yahoo.com.
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 infoatlaon@yahoo.com
You can now follow LAON on twitter @ http://twitter.com/seftonchase