Energy minister Fergus Ewing consults on Scottish coal future

Open cast mining Scottish Coal operated a number of opencast mines including Ayrshire and Fife

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The Scottish government has announced it will consult on more effective regulation of the coal industry.

The move came in the wake of the closure of one of Scotland's biggest coal-mining companies, Scottish Coal.

Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said there needed to be more effective working in the areas of compliance, site surveys and guarantees.

His pledge came as the Scottish Parliament discussed the state of the mining industry.

At Holyrood, the Liberal Democrats and Greens called for a public inquiry into the restoration of mines which they said had left local communities "environmentally bankrupt" and an immediate halt to any new developments to ensure that the industry fulfils its "legal and moral obligation" by paying the costs of restoration.

But Mr Ewing said a moratorium on new open-cast coal developments would result in the destruction of the industry and the loss of thousands of jobs.

The energy minister has been co-chairing the Scottish Open Cast Mining Taskforce, which brings together a wide range of partners from across the sector and was set up following the collapse of Scottish Coal.

The business had been running a number of opencast mines including Ayrshire, Fife and Dumfries and Galloway.

Mr Ewing said: "The Scottish Open Cast Mining Taskforce have heard lots of evidence about what works well in the field of opencast restoration - and since last October a Restoration Bonds Working Group has been examining the finer details.

"It is clear that every site is different. Compliance monitoring, enforcement and financial assurance systems are all in place, but they need to be made to work more effectively - tailored to each site.

"That is why today I am announcing that the Scottish government will shortly hold a consultation on more effective regulation.

"More effective regulation is the principal way of improving confidence in the sector and it will keep onside the insurers and banks that underwrite risks on opencast mining."

He added he would ensure that the consultation reached out to "all of those with an interest in the coalfield communities and the wider coal industry".

Green Party MSP Patrick Harvie said he was concerned ministers thought coal still had a "role to play".

'Coal in decline'

He added East Ayrshire Council had doubled its estimate of the funds needed to restore the area's mines from £62m to £133m.

Mr Harvie said: "Decades of open cast coal mining has caused serious environmental damage across Scotland. Former and current mining communities are being locked out of the debate on this crisis; they face being abandoned by an industry failing to honour its moral and legal obligations.

"The market for coal is declining and Scotland's future is clearly in renewables, so it is worrying that ministers still think coal has a role to play."

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