Key Findings of consultation on opencast coal restoration: Effective Regulation
- Although there is support for reinforcement of policy within SPP, greater emphasis tended to be placed on the provision of guidance and technical advice which was widely supported.
- It was evident that financial arrangements to guarantee future restoration of opencast coal sites was a key issue for many respondents, although there were considerable variations between respondents on how that might be best achieved.
- There was considerable support for the view that monitoring of sites during working held the key to preventing or minimising emerging issues and was central to ensuring compliance with the terms of the planning permission so preventing or dealing with issues that might otherwise lead to future restoration problems arising.
- There was some support for some changes to information requirements for planning applications particularly from planning authorities but generally opposed by the industry.
- There was clear division of opinion particularly between the industry and planning authorities and public bodies on the form of information to be made publicly available for compliance monitoring.
- There were common concerns that there is a significant shortage of relevant staff skills available to planning authorities in the discharge of their responsibilities in relation to the restoration of sites.
- A number of respondents questioned the whole basis for further coal extraction in Scotland, and for others there was no real distinction between the issues of legacy sites and future regulation of restoration. The consultation explicitly excluded issues associated with legacy sites.
Summary of findings from public consultation
Consultation on Opencast Coal Restoration: Effective Regulation
This report summarises the results of a consultation carried out by Scottish Government between 5 December 2013 and 27 February 2014. A consultation paper was published and views sought.
This consultation was undertaken to seek views on how best to secure effective site restoration at opencast coal mines in the future following issues that have arisen as a result of the liquidation of two of Scotland's largest coal producers. The consultation covered a wide range of relevant technical and financial issues including governance, securing better monitoring and compliance, financial arrangements options, information requirements and the respective roles of stakeholders.
The consultation resulted in the submission of 45 responses plus a campaign resulting in 85 submissions.
Findings on Key Issues
1. The consultation confirmed that the current roles and responsibilities between national and local government in relation to opencast coal extraction and site restoration were supported by other stakeholders.
2. Although over 50% of respondents suggested that SPP was not fit for purpose, few questioned the policy principles of national policy. Particular emphasis was placed on the wording of policies in order to remove any ambiguity or debate from issues of site restoration which are integral to the granting of planning permission for extraction.
3. While there was little disagreement over the need to underpin site restoration with appropriate financial arrangements there were a wide variety of views over the respective potential sources of such guarantees. This issue has taken on particular significance in the wake of the liquidation of two large coal producers and potential consequences for the future availability of funding guarantees from commercial markets.
4. Recognising that some degree of variation to the approved working of a site is common as coaling progresses and with potential restoration cost implications, monitoring for compliance and re-evaluation of the financial guarantees is essential throughout the working life of sites. With a serious skills shortage within planning authorities to undertake such work, a number of options for the future require further consideration.
5. There were significant differences in opinion between planning authorities and the industry regarding the public availability of information for effective monitoring purposes.
6. There was strong support for the use of community liaison committees.
- Given the recent issues regarding the restoration of sites in the wake of the liquidation of two main coal producers, there is very considerable support for change to ensure that such situations do not arise again in the future. Inevitably there is considerable variation in opinion on how that is best achieved.
SPP and PAN 64
- A need to consider the terms used in the SPP as they relate to opencast coal (and other minerals) with a requirement to consider these views further in relation to an updated PAN 64 and/or Supplementary Guidance produced to assist PAs as part of the skills agenda.
- There was split opinion on the best way to deal with Financial Guarantees but support all round for the identification and implementation of the means of securing guarantees to protect the interests of PAs, the industry and the communities. There is a need for further discussion on this matter with all relevant stakeholders.
- There is a need to benchmark against other PAs in Scotland and the UK to establish best practice; and for the revised policy position (see above) to provide guidance on the most appropriate and consistent ways of resourcing PAs to ensure proper compliance monitoring. The roles and responsibilities of any ICU including legal resource within it also need to be defined as part of the debate on creating a model for overseeing the opencast coal industry in the future.
Mine Progress Plans; Site Surveys; Core Drilling Data
- The use of Mine Progress Plans ( MPPs) and submission of site survey information is regarded as appropriate as part of the planning application process and given overwhelming support. There is a need to define the form, role and content in the interests of consistency.
- This could provide estimates of the amount of workable coal reserves and assist in the calculation of appropriate financial guarantees. This would also allow the PA through the Compliance Assessor to monitor the financial arrangements and allow for a phased increase/decrease of the guarantee.
The Role of Central and Local Government (including an ICU)
- The roles of central and local government as defined above as proposed have been made clear. The establishment of an Independent Compliance Unit ( ICU) has been given support and with their roles and responsibilities properly defined and the body appropriately resourced this is regarded as a valuable asset to assist PAs in the future. This would include the incorporation of a legal resource.
- The PAs autonomy needs to be preserved to allow them to determine planning applications but this will be done so this will be based on a better informed process assisted by the ICU and all other proposals arising out of the Consultation.
Community Liaison Committees ( CLCs)
- There is a need to have the establishment of CLCs embedded in an agreement; for the meetings to be timetabled for the duration of the site operations; to be attended by appropriate personnel; and the meetings to be run to avoid a "talking shop". There was an offer for the coal industry to attend the CLCs with 100% in favour but the Council should control the meetings and the debate.
- An appropriate schedule of training (including financial aspects) should be introduced to assist PA staff in their understanding of opencast coal and Mineral developments. This would sit alongside the proposals for revised policy guidance; MPPs and staff resources bolstered by Compliance Assessors and the establishment of an ICU to provide assistance and expert guidance.
Email: Graham Marchbank