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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 March, 2005, 16:14 GMT
Coal industry 'facing extinction'
Opencast mining
The industry says thousands of jobs depend on opencast mining
Scottish Coal and trades unions have warned that the country's opencast mining industry is facing extinction if current planning laws are changed.

They told MSPs that similar changes in England have decimated the industry and claimed that 2,800 jobs are under threat north of the border.

Their fears centre on proposals to introduce a "presumption against" development into Scottish legislation.

But local campaigners said the move would give them "a bit of equality".

The Scottish Parliament's communities committee heard evidence on the proposed changes to the policy on Wednesday.

We are seriously concerned about the threat to the industry in the future, because the evidence from England is pretty conclusive - it is immediate extinction
David Brewer
CoalPro

Under the existing legislation there is a presumption in favour of opencast developments.

The draft plans would reverse that so that they should only take place if the impact on local communities and the environment can be made acceptable, or if the benefits outweigh the negative impact of the process.

Scottish Coal said that the introduction of a similar law change in England had caused the industry to collapse.

Between 1997 and this year the amount of coal produced had fallen from eight million tonnes to just one million, said the company, while the numbers employed dropped from 2,600 to 260.

David Brewer, director general of the Confederation of UK Coal Producers (CoalPro), told MSPs: "Our concern is that since the 'presumption against' was introduced in England in 1999, the industry is being driven to extinction.

'Presumption against'

"In the year 2004/5 not a single tonne, not a single site will receive approval in England.

"The word decimation is much misused, but it is not misused in terms of the impact of 'presumption against' in England.

"We are seriously concerned about the threat to the industry in the future, because the evidence from England is pretty conclusive - it is immediate extinction."

With the 'presumption against' we come further up the list of considerations
Ann Coleman
Greengairs Community Council

Coal leaders say thousands of jobs in Scotland depend on opencast mining, particularly in rural parts of Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Fife.

Nicky Wilson, leader of the National Union of Mineworkers in Scotland, said most of the people working on opencast sites in South Lanarkshire and East Ayrshire lived in the local community.

"I don't think communities are usually opposed to opencast sites," he said.

"The fact the communities are there is because of local mining, albeit deep mining, many years ago. A lot of these communities have never recovered from the closure of the deep mines.

"They are the only jobs available. We would never say that the environment or communities should be badly affected by opencast, but there is a balance to be reached."

Unions have accused "not in my backyard" campaigners of scaremongering in mining communities.

Press ahead

Scottish Coal has already had to withdraw from two opencast sites near the village of Douglas in South Lanarkshire because of fierce protests.

Campaigners in Greengairs, North Lanarkshire, are also battling the industry.

Ann Coleman, a member of Greengairs Community Council, urged the executive to press ahead with its proposals.

There is no real evidence of any inward investment of any other investment coming into the areas
Lawrence Fitzpatrick
Scotland Opposing Opencast

"We have got to start from the point of view that opencast isn't a 'good neighbour' development," she told MSPs.

"A 'presumption against' would almost give us a bit of equality. With the 'presumption against' we come further up the list of considerations."

Lawrence Fitzpatrick, of Scotland Opposing Opencast, said the mines could be hindering rather than helping employment.

He said: "Where you have, over the years, opencast, there is no real evidence of any inward investment of any other investment coming into the areas."

Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said communities often felt they were being left out of the planning process.

He said a "presumption against" was a step in the right direction.


SEE ALSO:
Planning stink prompts review
13 Feb 04 |  Scotland
Excrement plan causes a stink
27 Nov 03 |  Scotland
Power station coal deal sealed
07 May 03 |  Scotland


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