The Leader of Fife Council, Alex Rowley, has this week said there are many unanswered questions around the operation and future development of opencast sites in Fife where the current owners have gone into receivership.
His comments come on the back of an announcement that Durham-based mining company Hargreaves have preferred bidder status to take over Scottish Coals six working open-cast mines including St Ninians at Kelty in Fife. Hargreaves has already bought the debt of mining company ATH which operated the site Muir Dean near Crossgates in Fife.
Mr Rowley has written to Council officials raising many concerns over the way that sites have been managed and the level of risk that is associated with current sites. The Council leader has also cast doubt over the likelihood of an extension at Muir Dean in Crossgates and the development of Loch Fitty near Kingseat both of which have full planning permission but await planning consent which is linked to a legal agreement being put in place.
Mr Rowley spoke to the Press following a visit to the Muir Dean site in Crossgates. He said; “I have been given assurances by legal and planning officials in the council that Fife is in a better position than most given that we have bonds in place on both sites. I do have doubts however about the level of restoration costs and whether the bonds in place will be sufficient for full restoration of the sites to a standard that we should expect. I am therefore asking for more detail on the sites and what needs to be done to put them back into a proper state.
The Council leader is also calling for a more joined up approach with all the key stakeholders coming together. He said that the Muir Dean site near Crossgates posed some serious ‘risks’ and that this had to be evaluated ‘sooner rather than later’. Speaking specifically on the Muir Dean site Mr Rowley said; “Whilst I am not an expert, this site comprising some 5 to 600 acres has been mined and to date there is no evidence of any restoration works having taken place. Most sites have a plan in place for progressive restoration and I am asking what was in place at this mine. It is also very worrying that the Fordell Day Level which acts as a drainage system serving old underground mine workings is discharging onto the Muir Dean site at a ferocious rate and is being pumped and treated 24/7 with no indication of a proper solution being anywhere near to being implemented. Given the seriousness of this and the level of pollution and the fact that the initial site has been coaled and indeed a further extension has also been coaled you have to ask why no restoration and why no action to date on the Fordell Day Level. I am certainly of the view that no further consent should be given until these issues are addressed.
On the question of Loch Fitty being drained and coaled Mr Rowley is adamant that no consent should be given until the St Ninians site is addressed and ‘adequate insurance’ is in place. He said; “The proposal to drain Loch Fitty is a major and complex project that will come with many many risks and the council therefore must make sure that those risks are evaluated and that all the costs of putting the site back into a proper condition are included in a multi-million pound insurance bond. Given what we now know about the difficulties within the industry and the fragile nature of these companies we must be vigilant and absolutely thorough in our approach to any new workings”.
Mr Rowley said that SEPA and the Coal Authority are key stakeholders in the Fife sites and need to be at the table when discussion the specific issues and risks with the current Fife sites.
Photo shows Alex Rowley viewing the Fordell Day Level and the mine near Crossgates.
From Wikipedia on the Fordell Day Level
Close to the Castle, the Fordell Day Level surfaces. This is a mine “river”, connecting the foot of numerous former coal mines, from as far afield as Cowdenbeath, and draining the pits. It is now one of Scotland’s worst pollution issues, issuing iron-polluted water into the nearby watercourse. Ongoing open-cast mining being carried out by ATH Resources promises to solve this issue as part of their reparations. A Planning Application is currently being considered by Fife Council for the first extension to the Muir Dean mine, in an area south of the current mine, towards Vantage Farm.