Westminster targets Scottish coal industry with higher transport charges

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By a Newsnet reporter

The SNP has criticised Westminster’s Department for Transport (DfT) for refusing to intervene over an increase in freight charges which is threatening the survival of the coal industry in Scotland.

The UK Office of Rail Regulation has proposed an additional charge on coal being used for electricity generation from 2016 of £4.04 a tonne which is expected to increase the cost of transporting coal from Scotland to power stations in England by up to 40 per cent.

The SNP condemnation comes after a Ministerial Statement on Thursday providing an update on the Scottish Coal Taskforce which highlighted Scottish Government plans to make £1m available to the industry through the Scottish Government’s Employability Fund administered by Skills Development Scotland, as well as plans to establish the independent Scottish Mines Restorations Trust which will help facilitate the restoration of old open cast coal mines across Scotland.

SNP MSP  for Clydesdale, Aileen Campbell, has written to the UK Department of Transport to condemn the Office of Rail Regulation’s proposal for an additional charge.

Ms Campbell said:

“The future of the Scottish Coal industry has been put in serious danger by the DfT and the ORR’s negligence. It makes no sense to add an extra burden on an industry already struggling – yet again we see the damage being done to Scotland by Westminster policies.

“These freight charges could put Scottish miners out of work and lead to higher levels of imported coal.

“I will do everything I can to help save as many jobs as possible, but for this to happen it is vital the UK government review its position and start taking action to prevent higher rail freight charges being imposed on the Scottish coal industry.

“Clydesdale has been hit hard by the collapse of Scottish Coal. The focus of the taskforce is on saving jobs, placing the sector on a better footing and restoring opencast sites and ensuring there is positive local engagement with affected communities.

“We are at a crucial juncture and Westminster must listen and ensure the opencast sector in Scotland is not unfairly penalised.”

SNP MSP Adam Ingram, who represents Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley in East Ayrshire, one of the largest affected authorities added:

“The Scottish coal industry remains a significant contributor to our economy through surface mining activities. It supports around 3,000 direct, full-time jobs and 4,500 indirect jobs in the Scottish supply chain, and generates approximately £450 million per year in economic value for Scotland.

“The ORR’s introduction of increased track access charges on a distance basis for coal freight will have disastrous consequences for the viability of the Scottish coal industry and the prospects for the future development of clean coal electricity generation in Scotland.

“Little consideration has been given to Scottish circumstances. For example, the price of coal from English ports and mines to power stations in England might rise by £1 per tonne, but the equivalent rise from Scottish sources could be £4 per tonne.”

Meanwhile the Scottish Greens have urged the Energy Minister to make sure that the communities most affected by decades of opencast coal mining in Scotland are represented on the new Scottish Mines Restoration Trust, which has been set up following the collapse of Scottish Coal.

The Greens want to see the minutes of the independent trust made public, to give maximum transparency to a murky industry with a history of inaction and abandoned, unrestored sites.

Patrick Harvie, Green MSP said:

“Yet again, communities across central Scotland face the prospect of the coal industry walking away from its historic liabilities and a new player cherry picking the sites with coal left in them. The new Restoration Trust must not become the vehicle that allows the coal barons to delay restoration of opencast sites for another decade.

“The Trust must include the broad range of community voices that live with opencast coal literally on their doorstep. Those communities should settle for nothing less than full transparency from all the players currently carving up an industry with a terrible record of meeting its environmental and social responsibilities.”