Coal Action Scotland plans to stop the latest proposed mine in the area at Glentaggart East.
Coal is more than just carbon. Buried within our relationship to it, is the social injustice and environmental devastation represented by globalised, industrialised capitalism. The methods of extraction have changed over time, but the reasons for coal mining have remained constant; the accumulation of wealth, by the few, at the expense of everyone and everything else.
Coal Action Scotland aims to challenge the use of coal as a resource from its point of extraction to site of combustion; to undermine the economic and political systems which are driving our entire planet into collapse, whilst making the rich richer and the poor even poorer. campaign has focussed primarily in the Douglas Valley, South Lanarkshire, a region with a long and complex relationship with coal mining. At one time, coal provided a significant source of employment for local communities but with the adoption of opencast methods of extraction (the use of heavy machines to remove layers of rock and soil from above the coal seam – creating an open pit) jobs became scarce and the communities were abandoned economically and politically.
The communities of the Douglas Valley are now some of the most deprived in Scotland. Coal is still mined in the valley but it provides few local jobs, causes negative health impacts and is destroying large areas of remaining natural beauty and important ecological habitats. Scottish Coal have been operating opencast coal mines in South Lanarkshire for over 20 years and in that time have made many millions of pounds for their investors and the aristocratic landowner, Lord Home. Their most recent mine application to be approved by the planners at South Lanarkshire Council is at a site called Glentaggart East. This 500 hectare area, downwind of the town of Douglas, is covered by peat bog and is next to two Sites of Special Scientific Interest. It is also within 2 miles of 2 primary schools. The application has been rushed through by the council and will increase the concurrent mining activity in the region by a further 12 years impacting significantly on the health and well being of the Douglas Valley communities.
This is where our campaign must focus and just some of the many reasons why we must succeed. Our strategy for stopping this mine will involve many different concurrent tactics to maintain multiple access points to our campaign, generate and sustain a base of support for effective action to challenge the mine at all stages of its construction. Most of our projects this year will focus primarily around stopping this mine. We have established an office/base in the community from which we are assisting with a legal challenge against the new mine and the haulage route for coal trucks, working on a community garden project and maintaining our presence in a number of local organisations and anti-opencast groups. We have also completed a successful info-tour around the UK, a week long action camp called “Take Back the Land” and we now have a renewed capacity for taking non-violent direct actions through contacts made and skills shared.
Scottish Coal are now at their weakest point. Through directly confronting their operations in the area and building a resilient and powerful community we hope to stop the practice of opencast coal mining in South Lanarkshire and make other companies wary of trying to pick up where Scottish Coal leave off.
Coal Action Scotland Update March 2014
Coal Action Scotland has been campaigning against the coal industry in Scotland for over five years – most of what we do involves working in communities struggling against opencast coal mines and taking direct action against coal infrastructure. We are the only group in Scotland that works directly to support communities facing the prospect of or living next to opencast mines. In the last few years we’ve had a number of victories, as well as seeing the UK’s largest opencast operators – Scottish Coal and ATH Resources – go from profitable and dramatically expanding companies to financial ruin and liquidation, with the total collapse of the industry in Scotland.
Coal finally became a national issue in Scotland with the collapse of the industry in April 2013 costing 700 jobs and the revelations that operators had been getting away with not restoring sites. There are now more than 20 unrestored or abandoned sites across the central belt, and at least a £200 million shortfall in meeting clean-up costs. We had been shouting about this very issue for years, and were consequently the only organisation with accurate and up-to-date information on the scale of the problem. With the issues facing communities being in common throughout the central belt, we helped to establish SOCA, the Scottish Communities Opencast Alliance, which has provided a strong platform for communities to share resources and information, and to come together on a national level to have their voices heard and push for a moratorium on new mines. SOCA has picked up widespread support amongst communities, but also amongst larger NGOs, the Scottish Green Party and Scottish Lib Dems – this level of support for opencast communities hasn’t existed before.
More recently, Durham-based Hargreaves Services have taken on the rights to some Scottish Coal and ATH Resources sites and are doing what they can to profit further from the blight that has been caused to Scotland’s landscapes. They have, however, faced serious opposition and so far have only resumed operations at 3 sites. It is expected that the lack of money in coal and the strength of opposition will mean that they won’t take on new sites, and will simply mine what coal is immediately available to them and then leave.
Coal Action Scotland’s efforts have focussed on supporting community opposition, primarily through facilitating the creation of SOCA and through participation in Stop Cauldhall Opencast in Midlothian, as well as in the continued development of the Glespin Community Garden, a community growing project amongst council housing in South Lanarkshire and surrounded by abandoned opencast sites. We’ve also been working hard to see that new South Lanarkshire mine Glentaggart East doesn’t ever go ahead, with a legal challenge and direct action campaign, and have been spreading further awareness of the issues through talks, workshops and media work. Currently, we are building the “opencast moratorium now!” campaign with SOCA and community groups, and supporting legal challenges to prevent a new mine in Midlothian, and the dumping of raw sewage sludge in abandoned opencast sites in South Lanarkshire.
Whilst the industry has been dealt what looks to be a fatal blow with the collapse of the two largest operators, we’re fighting hard to make sure that new mining companies aren’t allowed to pick up the pieces, and that communities finally receive some justice through the full restoration of opencast sites, according to the wishes of communities. We’re also trying to make sure that those responsible for the years of malpractice and institutionalised support for the industry at the expense of communities and the environment are held to account.