A planning system that builds public trust must ensure that the information given to consultees is the basis on which the development operates. Any other way and credibility of the system will quickly crumble.
This case study focuses on Douglas Valley in South Lanarkshire which has four operating open-cast coal mines plus two undergoing restoration. The latest, Mainshill open-cast coal and fireclay mine, was granted planning permission in February 2009.
Douglas has a long history of major developments including 20 years of coal mining and there are many issues. In this case we have concentrated on one recent example in relation to the Mainshill mine planning process.
The Mainshill planning application and environmental impact assessment (EIA) repeatedly stated that coal trucks would not be travelling through Douglas village itself. Rather the traffic would go east to the Ravenstruther rail terminal.
The traffic impact and air quality assessments in the EIA were completed on this information. The responses to the consultation (from the public and statutory consultees like NHS, SNH and community council) on the EIA and planning application were prepared on this basis. And the planning committee granted permission for the development on this information.
“There will be no HGV traffic travelling through Douglas, and the routing of HGVs will not be through any sensitive residential areas” Mainshill environmental statement, p173.
However, since the opening of the mine this has not been the case. The operating company Scottish Coal has routed a significant number of coal trucks to the Killoch railhead, 27 miles west of Mainshill and through the village of Douglas. A 2011 traffic survey conducted by Coal Action Scotland found over 130 Scottish Coal HGVs passed through Douglas and Glespin in one day.
Mainshill opencast was granted permission contrary to the adopted ‘minerals development plan’. Because of this the council were required to notify the DPEA/Scottish Ministers. When this happens (under the new system) the DPEA must decide if they will determine the application themselves or to leave it up to the local authority. The DPEA decided leave the determination up to South Lanarkshire, in part because they were happy with the council’s consideration of the EIA and the assurance that trucks would not be routed through Douglas or other settlements.
“Council reports that no haulage traffic will pass directly through any communities or settlements” DEPA assessment report NA/SLS/059.
Douglas Community Council have complained to the local authority that the development was granted on the basis that no traffic would be routed through the village, which is in practice not the case. Normally situations like these are minimised through the use of ‘conditions’ that give permission for developments under certain constraints. However in this case the community council have been told that the only way to restrict traffic is through a legal agreement and not through the planning system.
The planning system appears unable to create a condition to ensure Scottish Coal transport the coal along the routes described in the planning application and EIA.
Had the current haulage routes been described in the planning application and modelled in the traffic impact and air quality assessments, different conclusions on the impact on residents in Douglas may have arisen and consultees who raised no objections may have decided to object. And had the impact on local communities been clear in the application this may have required the DPEA to decide the application themselves by public local inquiry providing important external scrutiny.
It is clear that trust in the planning system will be eroded when the information on which an application was assessed turn out not to be the case during operation.
In Douglas Valley, many residents have no faith or trust in the planning system after many years of feeling powerless to influence planning decisions and feeling that the coal mining industry will always be accommodated before local people.
The situation must change to rebuild trust in the system. Douglas residents recognise the need for coal mining but they want to participate in a honest system where major developments operate on the basis on which they were granted.
View Open Cast Coal and Mineral Excavation, Douglas Valley in a larger map