The tide has certainly turned against opencast coal mining in the UK. Since 2010 the number of active coal mines is down from 31 to just 9 with more expected to stop selling coal soon.1
The only new opencast coal mine expected to be started this year, Field House in County Durham is in troubled waters. The Hargreaves mine is having problems in securing the necessary bonding. This is the process by which money, like an insurance premium, is put in place to pay for restoration should the company liquidate or there be other problems at the site.
“[D]elays have occurred regarding the process of establishing the Bond arrangements for the site with our Group banking syndicate. We cannot be confident that the Bond requirements of the S106 Agreement can be completed in time to allow all soil stripping before the weather breaks” said Hargreaves.2
The company said that no work will start before March/ April and even then only if other criteria have been met. Local residents are hoping that this means that the greenfield site will never be mined.
Hargreaves has closed most of its Scottish mines, sites they bought after Scottish Coal folded, saying this is due to “continuing coal price weakness and low levels of coal demand arising from weak gas prices and an accelerated programme of UK coal generation plant closures.”3
In October 2016 Hargreaves withdrew its application to mine coal at Cauldhall Moor near Rosewell despite the application having been approved in 2013.4 Residents from Pittington and West Rainton are angry that the Field House site was ever approved, given that market conditions for British coal have been worsening in recent years.
Communities facing opencast coal mines on their doorsteps are often very concerned about how the area will look once mining has ended. Hargreaves’ inability to secure a bond shows that lessons have been learnt since Scottish Coal walked away from its restoration commitments when the company folded.
Fife Council has recently been successful in recovering £3.1 million from Royal and Sun Alliance Insurance PLC. It is the insurance company which held the bond for the restoration of Blair House, a former opencast coal mine.
Blair House had been owned by UK Coal and then Scottish Coal. Both companies have now liquidated.
“Royal and Sun Alliance refused to hand over the money, arguing that the exact terms of the bond meant they only had to pay out in certain circumstances. The company stated that the circumstances surrounding the closure of Blair House meant that the bond didn’t apply.”5
Hopefully this will mean that Fife council will now have the necessary funding to restore the site as per the original planning application. Although the area will never return to its former glory, sensitive restoration can be a step towards righting the harm this mines has caused the people and ecosystems in the area.
Earlier this week Theresa May reconfirmed that the UK will stop burning coal by 2025.6
1Coal Authority Production and Manpower Returns for the 3 month period January 2010 to March 2010 and April 2017 to June 2017
2Facebook. Stopwr: Stop the Opencast in Pittington and West Rainton 14/09/17
3 Ford, C. (27/04/16) North East major employer speeds up withdrawal from ailing coal sector http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/business/business-news/north-east-major-employer-speeds-11247915 viewed 18/05/16
4Mid Lothian Advertiser (26/10/16) Delight as opencast mine plans for Midlothian are withdrawn
5Dumferline Press (01/09/17) Fife Council wins £3.1m legal battle over abandoned mine at Oakley