25 January 2012
Mainshill mining round the clock? - Gazette
Mainshill mining round the clock? - Gazette
Additional hours...have been requested for Mainshill operations
THERE is a spirit of sad resignation rather than sheer anger in the Douglas Valley this week as Scottish Coal asked to be released from ALL limits on the time it can operate its controversial Mainshill opencast mine each day.
Because of the mine's close proximity to the Lady Home Hospital and the village of Douglas, an eight hours a day limit was agreed when the company was given the go-ahead to mine there over two years ago by South Lanarkshire Council and the Scottish Government.
However, the Gazette received a tip-off that the Mainshill workforce were to be asked by Scottish Coal bosses to co-operate with their plans to expand the working day by a third, from eight to twelve hours daily.
But it transpired that Scottish Coal is, in fact, seeking council approval to work the mine 24 hours a day, albeit for a limited period, tripling the existing working hours limit.
That meeting at the mine did take place and workers were reportedly told the company needed the temporary expansion in hours to meet orders, Scottish Coal's other opencast mines in the area being hit by flooding after the recent stormy weather.
An insider said that the workforce was told that working the extra time would be purely voluntary and the eight hour day would be resumed after April 5. There appeared to be no strong disagreement from the workforce to the proposal who were also told that South Lanarkshire Council had yet to give them the green light to go ahead with the change.
A South Lanarkshire Council spokeswoman confirmed it had received a request for expanded hours and was still considering it. The Scottish Coal proposals didn't, she stated, breach any existing planning permission conditions but the council had asked for - and got - information from the company on possible extra disturbance to patients and local residents.
The Gazette asked for confirmation or denial of the tip off that the expansion was for a 12 hours working day.
The reply we were given was: "Scottish Coal has submitted a request to the council to extend the on-site hours of working at Mainshill surface coal mine on a temporary basis, until April 2012.
"This request is in line with the terms of the condition attached to the existing planning consent which covers the site's hours of operation.
"Although this change does not require the submission of a planning application, we have requested, and received, a Noise Assessment, which was prepared following discussions with Scottish Coal.
"The Planning Service will now fully consider this, and other relevant issues, before coming to a decision."
It was only later that Scottish Coal itself revealed to the Gazette that its request to the council was for a 24-hour, not 12-hour, working day.
Initial reaction to the news from those who had opposed the Mainshill development was hardly one of surprise and shock.
A Douglas Community Council member who wished to be unnamed said it would consider the matter fully at its next meeting but added that the news didn't come as a surprise to him, claiming that a similar situation had arisen before at the nearby Poneil opencast.
He thought that the eight-hour "limit' had already been seen by the company and council as a flexible one in any case as lorries appeared to be arriving at and leaving the site for twelve hours a day already, from around 7am to 7pm.
The only silver lining he could see to the expansion of work was that the 1.7 million tons of coal Scottish Coal was planning to extract over a four-year period might be extracted quicker than planned and operations cease there earlier than expected.
Scottish Coal might be keen to finish with Mainshill and concentrate on the planned Glentaggart East expansion nearby, he speculated.
Ross Jones, of the Coal Action Scotland pressure group which supported the well publicised occupation of Mainshill Wood, was also unsurprised by the news.
A spokesman for the company told the Gazette: "Scottish Coal has submitted a request to the council to carry out operations on the Mainshill opencast mine on a 24-hour basis on weekdays for a temporary period until the first week in April.
"The request to extend operations on this site is aimed at compensating for some temporarily restricted operations on two other mining sites."
By Ron Harris
South Lanarkshire Council bend over backwards as Mainshill goes 24 hours - Coal Action Scotland