Uproar as £475m opencast mine wins planning battle

Opponents of the mine make their voices heard at Midlothian Council's HQ. Pictrure: Jon Savage
Opponents of the mine make their voices heard at Midlothian Council's HQ. Pictrure: Jon Savage
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PROTESTERS battling a huge opencast mining bid in Midlothian have vowed to fight on after the lucrative project was given the green light by planning chiefs.

The colossal pit – to be sited at Cauldhall Moor, two kilo-metres south of Rosewell – is calculated to produce ten million tonnes of coal, create around 345 jobs, and produce a return of around £475 million over its lifespan.

However, critics say councillors were dazzled by the prospect of generating jobs and ignored planning guidelines and a high-profile campaign to reject the bid.

Opponents also insisted the mine would swallow up farmland, create huge disturbance and force a family to be evicted and their house bulldozed.

Hargreaves Surface Mining, the firm behind the opencast bid, has pledged to contribute to a community trust fund to bankroll local projects and pay a levy on every tonne of coal produced by the mine.

It is thought the fund could swell to £2.75m over the life of the mine – expected to be around ten years. A further £1.7m will also be available through a special second Coal Authority levy.

The firm has also agreed to restore excavated land once operations have ceased and reinstate the nearby Shewington Surface Mine, which was left incomplete following the liquidation of Scottish Coal.

Today, Peter Gillatt, managing director of Hargreaves Production, said gaining planning approval for the mine was “extremely positive news for the people of Midlothian and the Scottish coal industry”.

The controversial application sparked a wave of opposition, including a 500-signature petition, while the council received around 300 letters.

Malcolm Spaven, who spearheaded the Stop Cauldhall Opencast Campaign, said he was “hugely disappointed” with the decision to wave through the mine – approved by nine votes to five – and claimed council officials “were like cheerleaders” for the project.

He said: “It felt like they were all in hock with Hargreaves because they accepted all their arguments and in their summary of their own report they didn’t even refer to the opposition arguments, which I thought was an absolute travesty.”

He added: “There are deep flaws in the planning process because a number of councillors clearly and explicitly voted for this opencast mine proposal on the promise of jobs.

“But jobs are not a material planning consideration and we are legally required not to consider possible employment when they vote on the application.”

Councillor Owen Thompson,chairman of the planning committee, said: “This will be a phased development, with each area mined and restored before the company moves on to the next area as the project progresses and that gives us some peace of mind over the future restoration of the site.”