Despite huge local opposition and the contravention of numerous planning policies, Scottish Ministers have decided not to call in the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency’s (SEPA) decision to grant Scottish Coal a license to drain 170ha Loch Fitty, in Fife.
In what has now become a typical story in Scotland, government bodies and local authorities trip over each other to grant opencast operators new sites and extensions to existing ones. After Fife Council was forced to pay a heavy fine for rejecting an ATH Resources mine a few years ago, they have approved every single application since then, no matter how ridiculous the plans. SEPA, the body responsible for protecting Scotland’s natural environment, had the power to put a stop to the latest extension to Scottish Coal’s St Ninnians opencast by refusing to grant them a license to drain the Loch, a local beauty spot.
It is claimed that the Loch is in a poor ecological state, because of years of pollution from the neighboring opencast mine, and opencasting is therefore justified as it will mean the Loch being restored to a better standard than it is currently in. This is scant compensation for a community that has lived next to this mine for 14 years now and has seen the countryside around them swallowed up by the mine. As communities across Scotland who have lived next to Scottish Coal mines know, site restoration is usually a broken promise, with numerous extensions that weren’t declared in the original plans, and little or no effort made to put sites back together again.
The Scottish Herald reported that Sepa’s experts initially warned the plan would have a negative impact on people and the water environment. However, internal emails show that their initial advice was revised to make it more favourable to the development, at the request of senior managers. This has yet to be fully explained by SEPA.
Kingseat Community Council has been opposing the latest extension to St Ninnians and fighting to save the Loch. They say that the battle isn’t over yet, and are considering lodging an appeal with the European Commission following Scottish Ministers decision not to call the application in.
Community Council Chairman Forbes Stuart said: “I don’t think we’re surprised by this, but we’re disappointed. Sepa as a body is meant to represent communities, but we felt they never really consulted with us at all.”
A petition opposing the drainage of the loch gathered 400 signatures.