COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AND RELATIONS
2013 Consultation main finding
A potential area to improve was communication between operators, local communities, regulatory bodies and other stakeholders, to help to improve public confidence in effective regulation - which has been largely lost in recent years.
Several community bodies and third sector organisations suggested information used to inform the planning application and monitoring and compliance could be made more transparent and publicly available - especially to communities close to proposals. In addition, communities indicated their views should be given more weight when taking decisions.
129. Part of this finding is also dealt with under the report's recommendations on community liaison and a more multi-lateral approach to engagement that culture-change can engender. Local authority e-planning systems now routinely upload all documents, related properties, consultation responses and reports on planning applications so there is no question of information being reserved.
130. To avoid duplication of effort but to maintain transparency for all groups, where reports to planning authorities by ecological clerks of works or site technical working groups have been monitoring progress with site restoration these activities should be reported to CLCs.
131. The determination of planning applications and how transparency can be enhanced is described under the Land Use Planning Context section of this report.
132. In order to improve transparency further and to provide a wider understanding of planning for surface coal mining to the lay reader and the place of coal in the energy mix, a draft 'flier' has been produced for local authorities to tailor to their particular local circumstances. It could describe the way coal as a mineral is planned for in their area and a covers a range of expectations on good practice arising from this report to the Task Force. It can be kept up-to-date on-line but as it stands it can be printed off as a four page A5 size leaflet. The flier is in Annex J of this report.
Planning authorities are recommended to make available a leaflet based on the flier in Annex J of this report and place it on-line during 2015.
2013 Consultation main finding
Local Authorities raised the requirement to ensure any negative impacts of operations were balanced against the need to ensure acceptable long-term impacts on the environment and residents, while making business in the area profitable.
Skills training, employability and community development, investment in connectivity and improved perception of coal mining areas are considered to be important areas for intervention and investment by Local Authorities to improve conditions for businesses.
It is generally considered that proposals to improve and clarify the regulatory system - assuming they are proportionate- could be of benefit to all parties, including businesses.
Key concerns for the coal industry are increased costs associated with planning fees, compliance arrangements and duplication of regulatory effort, if the PA and a Central Unit are both used as a separate level of regulation. In addition, restoration guarantees could threaten the viability of new sites, with associated losses in employment and supply chain, as well as potential problems for supply at power stations.
Sustaining a coal industry is also important for Scotland's economy, as part of a balanced energy policy. It is noted that if proposals are too restrictive, coal would likely be imported, and increased imports would have associated impacts on communities around terminals (such as Hunterston).
The sub-groups recognised the potential business impact of the introduction of mine monitoring fees which may have the potential to dissuade operators from investing in further surface coal mining. Likewise the restructuring of legal agreements around firm financial guarantees with landowner liability fully accounted for ought not to affect investor appetite. It should be noted that in the event of a public consultation on the matter a full Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment in association with the consultation would need to be conducted.
133. Those findings are considered throughout this report and lie at the heart of the future of the coal industry in Scotland, site management and restoration and host communities.
LESSONS FOR OTHER SECTORS AND AN OUTSTANDING WORKSTREAM
134. The sub-groups are clear that the recommendations in this report have wider applicability in established sectors such as landfill, quarries, onshore renewables and emerging sectors such as onshore unconventional oil and gas. This has also been reflected upon by Audit Scotland. East Ayrshire Council has agreed that decommissioning, restoration, aftercare and mitigation financial guarantees will be required across a range of land uses (Cabinet on 21 May 2014)  . The HOPS Energy and Resources sub-committee is engaged in such work and there is an opportunity to align that with recommendations 11 and 13 in this report amongst others.
135. The sectors likely to be implementing findings from this report include Scottish Government, the local authorities principally in the planning and environmental health portfolios (through COSLA and HOPS), but also environmental agencies SNH and SEPA. There are also important messages for the community sector and a relationship with the Coal Authority which could be developed.
136. A single approach to governance on community benefit is an outstanding workstream that the Scottish Government will pursue during 2015 in consultation with the the HOPS Energy and Resources sub-committee in the first instance prior to a potential public consultation.
That the Task Force notes:
- the value of the work conducted on surface coal mining restoration guarantee financing and the potential to draw parallels for other sectors in connection with better regulation and
- the community benefit work stream.
137. At the 16 December 2014 Task Force meeting it was agreed that a small group of sub-group members would finalise the report's recommendations. That work was conducted on 14 January 2015 and revisited at Scottish Ministers' request during April 2015 to further enhance visibility and oversight of operations in the surface coal mine sector. This report is now in its final form endorsed by Task Force members at their 28 October 2015 meeting. It will form the basis of future consultations, where appropriate, following the agreement of Scottish Ministers. Some of its recommendation are already being actioned by Scottish Government in line with a project plan, HOPS and others. Recommendations will be more fully developed into a consultation on mine monitoring fees with other actions being taken forward to achieve better regulation. Progress will be publicised on-line.
Email: Graham Marchbank