TOMORROW afternoon, Midlothian Council planning committee meets to decide whether to approve an application for a ten million tonne opencast coal mine at Cauldhall Moor, near Rosewell.
It’s a massive project – the size of a thousand football pitches – with excavations going on 24 hours a day and a 44-tonne coal lorry trundling along the A6094 and the Edinburgh City Bypass every three minutes, 12 hours a day for ten years.
The mine would swallow up farmland and generate noise, dust and vibration for the people living next to it. A family would be evicted and their house bulldozed.
The council’s planners accept that the proposal would go against the approved development plan but are nevertheless recommending that councillors approve it.
Midlothian’s planners say the coal is needed to feed Longannet power station and that Longannet has a future beyond 2024.
But this is nonsense. The Department for Energy and Climate Change predicts that coal-fired electricity generation will drop from 153 TWh in 2012 to 39 TWh in 2020 – a drop of 75 per cent.
The Scottish Government says Longannet will either close or be on quarter-time by 2020.
Meanwhile, EU emissions laws make Longannet and other coal-fired power stations less and less able to burn the high-sulphur coal that lies under Cauldhall Moor and elsewhere in Scotland.
So the market for opencast coal is in inevitable decline and any jobs that might be created in opencast mining will not be secure.
On the other side of the country, vast swathes of East Ayrshire and Lanarkshire are moonscapes left behind by coal companies that went bust or managed to wriggle out of their liabilities for site restoration. A new company, Hargreaves, has cherry-picked the best sites and is now trying to scale down the consented restoration plans at those sites. The story is depressingly familiar. UK opencast production can’t compete with cheap imported coal unless it reneges on its restoration commitments, leaving massive water-filled holes in the ground for taxpayers to clear up.
Midlothian has a proud coal-mining history. But we have made a successful transition away from the coal-dominated economy of the 1970s and coal mining now forms no part of the council’s economic development strategy.
Rather than prop up a dirty and declining industry and lay ourselves open to the Cauldhall site being abandoned halfway through the project, we should be investing heavily in insulation and other energy-saving measures and in the transition to an economy that doesn’t rely on massive carbon emissions to generate electricity.
• Malcolm Spaven is from the Stop Cauldhall Opencast Campaign