Midlothian opencast mine approved

Plans for the creation of a 495-hectare opencast mine in the Scottish countryside have been approved despite the loss of ancient woodland and the scheme being at odds with the area's adopted local plan.

Midlothian Council yesterday backed Hargreaves Surface Minining’s plans for Cauldhall Moor, near Penicuick – around 10 miles south of Edinburgh.

The firm expects to extract 10 million tonnes of coal from 19 seams at the site, as well as 100,000 tonnes of fireclay, over 10 years before spending a further two years restoring the site.

Recommending the scheme for approval, Midlothian Council planning officers said that although the proposals were at odds with its 2008 local plan, the document covered only part of the site.

They said the emerging Midlothian Local Development Plan had identified the site as essentially an extension of the neighbouring Shewington/Newbigging opencast site, where works ceased in 2011 and which has subsequently been restored.

Councillors were told in a report to the meeting that despite environmental considerations that would result in the loss of more than two hectares of ancient woodland and one home, the development of the site was in the national interest.

"There is a sufficiently sound basis for the variance of the application from the adopted local plan to be accepted in principle," officers said.

"The other part of the statutory development plan is the more recently approved South East Scotland Strategic Development Plan 2013, which identifies the importance of an adequate and steady supply of minerals to support sustainable economic growth.

"There is strong evidence that the development will provide substantial direct and indirect employment as well as wider benefit to the Midlothian economy", the report said.

Hargreaves said the project would create up to 230 full-time mining jobs and "hundreds of additional posts" in the local supply chain.

Peter Gillatt, managing director of Hargreaves Production said the site would make a "considerable contribution" to the nation’s energy needs for the next 10 years.

But the Stop Cauldhall Opencast action group said Midlothian’s approval was "a travesty of the planning process" that demonstrated national and local planning policy could be "torn to shreds at the whim of a planning committee".

In a statement issued after the decision, Midlothian Council said the mine was expected to provide an economic benefit of £475 million over its lifetime, and that one levy on the development would provide £2.75 million for community projects while a further £1.7 million would be generated by a second Coal Authority levy.

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