Millions of tonnes of coal are projected to be extracted from an opencast mine in a move which opponents claim will devastate communities.
Plans by Hargreaves Services to open a surface coal mine on Cauldwell Moor near Rosewell have moved a step closer after Midlothian Council planning officers recommended it be approved.
The firm, which owns the bulk of the Scottish mining industry, insists the development would create 230 full- time mining jobs and nearly 400 supply chain posts. But campaigners say the mine will have a devastating impact on communities and would offer an uncertain future for those employed there.
Many residents fear an unacceptable level of dust and noise – and there are also claims the mine would see at least one lorry every three minutes travel along a rural road connecting Howgate and Bonnyrigg.
Malcolm Spaven, of Stop Cauldhall Opencast, said: “Hargreaves have never been specific about where this coal will be going. What they are doing here is creating a land bank, coal doesn’t have much of a future left and they want to get the most of the last few years of the industry.
“The jobs sound attractive, but the demand for coal is declining and they don’t have any contracts for the sale of the coal from Cauldhall – chances are this is going to be a stop-start project which could be mothballed with people being laid off in a year.”
The firm aims to mine up to 10 million tonnes of coal over a ten-year period. Howgate resident Jane Tallents, 55, said: “If it goes ahead, this will have a devastating impact.
“People driving to work are going to be confronted with huge trucks every three minutes – many families have either been bought out or they are vulnerable tenants.”
If the plans are approved, recruitment could start as early as next year, with the firm pledging to employ as many local people as possible.
Hargreaves managing director Peter Gillatt said: “Mining is an industry with a proud past in Midlothian, where almost every family has mining connections, but we are determined to ensure that it is an industry with a future as well.
“At a time when our traditional industries are facing enormous challenges we have worked hard to be in a position to help deliver 230 new full-time jobs in Midlothian.
“Our plans will enable the first significant new mining jobs in Midlothian for many, many years. We are confident that the concerns from some local people can be overcome, just as was achieved at the former Shewington Surface Mine nearby, where there were very few complaints over the eight years of operation.
“We are also committed to working in partnership with Midlothian Council to maximise the skilled local jobs, with recognised qualifications.”
Before going into liquidation, original applicant Scottish Coal also faced opposition. The council’s planning committee will decide on Tuesday.