Plans for a surface mining project in central Fife have been shelved after councillors refused consent.
Members of the central area planning committee rejected Hall Construction Services’ bid to extract almost 800,000 tonnes of coal from the Wellsgreen site to the south of the Standing Stane Road following the failure to conclude a legal agreement to have the site suitably restored once the four-year operation was complete.
The developer, which has already exhausted coal at the nearby Randolph, Earlseat and Mackie’s Mill sites between Kirkcaldy and Leven, had turned its attention to Wellsgreen – which lies to the north of East Wemyss – and said its blueprint would support 50 jobs.
However, while planning consent was granted several years ago subject to a section 75 legal agreement, council planners confirmed no deal had yet been signed and that they were now seeking to draw a line under the episode.
Case officer Martin McGroarty told councillors the situation since planning permission was given has “changed dramatically in a number of ways”, pointing to the collapse of the coal market as negotiations over the legal agreement between the council and the developer took place.
“Basically the raison d’etre for the site itself disappeared overnight,” Mr McGroarty told the committee.
“Most of the coal-fired power stations are closed or are being closed.
“There are nine coal-fired stations still operating in Britain and only four of those have no plans to close very shortly, so that gives you an idea of the difficulty in the market.
“The company would have liked to have seen the section 75 agreement concluded, in case at some point in the future the coal market would have an upturn, but our concern is that the environmental information provided at the time is now way out of date.”
Mr McGroarty added the legal agreement would also have secured a financial bond to carry out restoration and aftercare work should the operator be unable to do so for any reason.
That was of huge significance as Fife Council has had bitter experience at sites in the past on that very issue, with Mr McGroarty noting the local authority had experienced “varying degrees of success” in securing bond monies at sites such as Muirdean, St Ninians and Blairhall.
The Wellsgreen plan would have resulted in coal from the south of the A915 moved over the road by conveyor belt then transported through the old Earlseat mine and on using the former Kirkcaldy to Leven rail link.
Due to the expected poor quality of the coal, it would have been blended with imported coal to create a better fuel for electricity generation.
After hearing Mr McGroarty’s comments, councillors refused
planning consent, although they
said there remains scope for future applications.
“The coal is not going anywhere so this could be revisited by this applicant or AN Other,” said Graham Ritchie, councillor for Leven, Kennoway and Largo.