2015 – What a Year
January 12, 2016
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2015 was busy year for the Coal Action Network (CAN), community groups and others working against coal mining, power stations and coal infrastructure. We wanted to give a brief round up of what has happened and what we are looking forward to in 2016.

The situation for coal mining in the UK changed dramatically this year with the last three deep mines of significant size closing. Thoresby and Hatfield closed in the summer and Kellingley closed in December 2015. These mines had accounted for a third of the UK’s production of coal in June 2015.

The closing of Kellingley creates a difficult time for the miners and their families who worked in the pit, and we feel for them. With Kellingley’s ending, UK Coal, one of the Coal Action Networks’ main targets since 2008 is gone. It has liquidated like Scottish Coal and ATH resources before it. As one of the major opencast operators, we are pleased to see UK Coal crumble completely but appreciate that for the mining communities this is a big, unwelcome change. Low international coal prices and pressure from communities through the planning system made UK Coal’s opencast operations unviable.

At the end of the last decade opencast coal mining production was largest in Scotland. Now there is more coal mined in Wales than Scotland. The problems with restoring abandoned sites in Scotland and Wales is still a big issue for communities where there is insufficient funds held for this.

In the last year the Coal Action Network has written a report, Ditch Coal, out next week, on the UK’s role in the global coal industry focussing on the human stories of those living in the shadow of coal extraction for UK electricity. Prior to Kellingley closing the UK provided about a third of the coal burnt in UK power stations, almost all of the rest came from Russia, Colombia and the USA where conditions surrounding mines are unacceptable. In Russia and Colombia communities are forcibly displaced from their land and in all three countries localised ecological destruction is widespread. Keep an eye out on our website for news of the report’s launch.

CAN’s main campaign area is fighting opencast mines. In February 2015 local campaigners received excellent news that Great Oak opencast plans would be withdrawn. An amazing victory for those who fought to stop a mine over the site where 78 men and boys died in a colliery disaster. Sadly in June 2015 the Bradley site, near Dipton County Durham was approved, after two appeals and a high court judgement. Similarly Shortwood Farm was given final planning consent in June without the decision being called into the Communities Secretary. No work has started on either site as far as CAN knows.

In June and August Caerphilly Councillors met and decided that they did not think that a six million tonne mine, Nant Llesg, adjacent to monstrous Ffos-y-Fran was a good idea. The application was refused. It was amazingly well fought by local and national activists. Miller Argent have just said they will launch an appeal which the community will fight. You can contribute to that effort.

In the autumn 50 international groups from 23 countries signed a solidarity letter against the Field House application in County Durham and the application to opencast at Hilltop, Derbyshire. CAN had an article about this international solidarity in the Ecologist magazine. In September Provectus withdrew their application to mine at Hilltop due to a technicality and were expected to re-apply straight away. So far no new application has been submitted. September also saw the three week appeal by Hargreaves over the Field House site. The community spoke passionately of the area and the damage the mine would cause. The decision has just been announced and sadly the application was approved and the community are discussing what can be done.

Good news in South Yorkshire where Cowley Residents Action Group managed to fight off the RecyCoal coal washing facility. Although this application was approved in 2013 and the trees on the site felled no coal was ever extracted and the company said in September 2015 that it would not work the site. It blamed the low international coal price for this. Local people are pleased to win eventually having continued to campaign against the proposal after planning permission was granted.

The end of the year sees several sites with planning permission granted where work has not started. Again the low international coal price is the most likely reason. Companies such as Hargreaves and Banks seem to think that approved un-worked sites help investors to believe that the coal industry is about to turn a corner. Un-worked sites include: Cauldhall, Midlothian; Ferneybeds, Northumberland; George Farm, Derbyshire; Glentaggart East, South Lanarkshire; Bradley, and Shortwood Farm.

Right at the end of the year Lynemouth, a very small power station in Northumberland stopped burning coal as the government has been given permission by the EU to subsidise its use of biomass. It is great to have one less coal power station, sadly there are plenty of issues surrounding biomass. For information see www.biofuelwatch.org.uk

As we go into 2016 there are 12 coal fired power stations in the UK. Longannet, Eggborough and Ferrybridge are all due to close in March. There are still nine others which need to be closed in order to end the suffering of residents living close to coal infrastructure in this country as well as in Russia, Colombia and the USA where 95% of our imported coal comes from.

The government has said it will launch a consultation this year into whether it will close the existing coal power stations by 2025. This is too long for communities in the front line. Government also announced that it would remove its support for the carbon capture and storage (CCS) commercialisation competition which was likely to have supported plans for the White Rose project a new coal power station next to Drax, along with the gas CCS project at Peterhead. As CCS increases the quantity of coal required to produce the same amount of electricity, this a good thing for those of us fighting opencast mining. CAN had an article published in ROAR Mag on the UK’s energy policy in December.

There are nine coal power stations with no closure plan. Of these, Aberthaw is emitting more air pollution from nitrogen dioxide than any other. We need to take action to close these plants. The Industrial Emissions Directive requires power stations to reduce their air pollution or close within a certain number of operating hours from January 2016. Let’s work together and end the devastation caused by the extraction of coal for these plants.

In 2016 Coal Action Network will be continuing to support communities fighting opencast applications and beginning to look at launching campaigns against some of the power stations. The government thinks that we can wait until 2025 before we ditch coal. We think that ten years is too long for communities living in the shadow of mining operations and so we want to target individual power stations to end the continual rounds of planning applications.

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  1. Diolch yn fawr (thank you very much) on behalf of the NO Opencast at Varteg Hill Community Group for keeping us up to date with the UK situation and for the support you offer local groups in our ongoing campaigns .