Opencast taskforce to discuss restoration of mines
A taskforce set up after the collapse of a major Scottish coal-mining firm has been discussing the restoration of opencast mines in Scotland.
The subject was the "main focus" of the Scottish Open Cast Mining Taskforce's third meeting.
It was held in East Ayrshire, one of the areas affected by the liquidation of Scottish Coal in April.
The latest meeting comes after concerns about restoration were raised by communities.
Last month, the Scottish government rejected a call from the Scottish Opencast Communities Alliance (Soca) for a public inquiry into the opencast industry.
Ministers argued there was no need for an inquiry into restoration of sites as "all the relevant parties" were already working on the issue.
In May, it emerged that taxpayers could be left with a bill for as much as £62m for restoring opencast mines in East Ayrshire.
A council report following the collapse of Scottish Coal and Aardvark (TMC) stated there was not enough money set aside to pay for remedial work.
The taskforce, which is chaired by Energy Minister Fergus Ewing, includes representatives of affected councils, the Coal Authority, trade unions, the Scottish government, environmental agency Sepa and the UK government.
The Scottish government said the group had agreed to work collaboratively with the Scottish and UK government, agencies, local councils, community groups, coal operators, regulators and unions.
The taskforce was told by Hargreaves, which is nearing the end of negotiation with liquidators KPMG, that its purchase of former SRG sites would create 300 jobs in the first three months and an estimated 500 jobs in 12 months.
Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said: "The focus of the work of the taskforce is to bring together expertise and tackle issues head on in a pragmatic and realistic way. We heard from a number of representatives today that it is essential that experts need to be engaged with at early stage.
"Early engagement can mean these sites might mine again in future, be restored as heritage sites or even restored to be used for farming."
He said significant developments had been made since the last meeting of the taskforce.
Ahead of the meeting, Mr Ewing said: "The Office of the Rail Regulator (ORR), who attended the last meeting of the taskforce, faced strong criticism of their proposed increase of rail freight charges.
"Since the meeting the ORR took into account the impact of the charging regime on the future of the Scottish coal industry.
"The Scottish government is also working hard to support continued mining operations and the preservation of Scottish jobs, as well as ensuring the responsible restoration of sites."
WWF Scotland director Lang Banks added: "It's good to hear some progress has been made in relation to restoring old opencast coal sites. If jobs can be created from cleaning up the damage then it will be a positive outcome.
"However, once the dust has settled, we hope ministers will take all the steps necessary to ensure the real polluter pays up. Those responsible for the mess must be held to account for the damage they've done to Scotland's environment and coalfield communities."