RSPB Scotland has condemned a Court of Session ruling which has cleared Scottish Coal and Aardvark of their legal duties to control pollution from opencast mines and restore the land after mining.
Since the coal companies went into administration, the former sites have been left as open voids, massively scarring the landscape, which includes an internationally important wildlife site.
The Court’s decision means that liquidators KPMG have avoided the transfer of responsibilities that should have been passed to them, leaving the wildlife and communities in Scotland’s coalfield areas severely disadvantaged.
Despite this, applications for new opencast mines are even now being considered, including one at an environmentally sensitive peatland site in East Ayrshire.
With lessons still to be learned from the current planning failure, RSPB Scotland believes this is not the time to allow further damage to proceed.
The nature charity has called for a Public Inquiry into the failure of the regulatory system and wants new consents halted until this happens.
Anne McCall, RSPB Scotland Regional Director for South and West Scotland says: ‘This is a dreadful decision for Scotland’s environment and communities. It is unthinkable that private companies can cause such damage and then walk away when finances get tight. We simply cannot wipe the slate clean when such a terrible legacy has been left by Scottish Coal and Aardvark.
‘The Local Planning Authorities had a duty to ensure that bonds and legal agreements were in place to guarantee this could never happen. Their failure to do this has not only created a significant environmental problem but also raises very serious concerns about the risks involved in consenting further decisions for opencasting or other developments.
‘Questions now need to be asked about how European obligations to restore this designated wildlife site will be met – if necessary, the Scottish Government or other regulatory authorities will need to intervene to ensure this happens.’
This response from RSPB highlights an issue of widespread concern – and that is the need for planning consent for industrial operations with any environmental or landscape impact to be granted only when a bond is lodged to the realistic value of necessary decommissioning and restoration of the affected site.
The second requirement, as imperative as the first, is that such bonds must be called in by the local authority concerned upon:
- cessation of operations at the site;
- or the retiral from the site of the business concerned.
Scotland – and Argyll – is littered with the physical and visual impacts and the detritus of consented industrial operations abandoned when they were no longer profitable or when the company had run into trouble.
Local authorities have a serious duty to the people whose interests they serve and whose taxes pay for them to do the work, to make restitution in such cases a cast-iron certainty.