South Lanarkshire COALcil » Uncategorized » South Lanarkshire Council shuts Community out of its own liaison meeting with Scottish Coal

South Lanarkshire Council shuts Community out of its own liaison meeting with Scottish Coal

In what is becoming an all too familiar story in the Douglas Valley, South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) made a determined effort to exclude community members from the Mainshill open cast coal mine liaison meeting earlier this month. With court threats from SLC, the launch of a new anti-opencast action group and the occupation of another Scottish Coal site all since the last Mainshill liaison meeting, this one was set to be an exciting one.

Apologies for the length of this article, but you can’t do justice to the injustice of SLC-sponsored open cast in a few lines. The lengths SLC representatives have gone to over the years to defend Scottish Coal and their actions is alarming – this time round it was Roger Dick (Minerals “Enforcement” Officer), Donald Wilkins (Minerals Planning Officer) and Gordon Cameron (Headquarters Manager). The liaison meeting on the 14th December proved no different.

The meeting got off to a bad start before it had even begun. For a start, SLC had decided to reschedule the meeting from the date agreed on months ago, and only informed the Douglas Community Council of the new date and time at 10:00am on the same morning. It then turned out that Roger Dick had only publicised the meeting in obscure places, a deliberate attempt to limit attendance. As well as upset members of the Douglas Community Council being present, members of the Coalburn Community Council were there too – they had been trying to find out the details of the liaison meetings for a whole year after being shut out of them, and had to go to their MSP to be finally informed of its details. This is a common story however – it later became clear that Roger Dick has been ignoring his responsibility to inform Douglas Community Council about liaison meetings for other open cast mines too.

When questioned by the community about the change of date, Roger Dick first lied outright saying “the date wasn’t changed”, and then referred to the minutes of the previous meeting, which he’d written, saying that the meeting had been scheduled for the 14th. After community members pointed out that their notes clearly said the 7th, he quickly apologised and admitted that he’d only written the minutes after he’d decided to change the date!

Armed with a copy of the Section 75 legal agreement drawn up between SLC and Scottish Coal, the community proceeded to highlight all the times that this agreement had and is curently being broken, such as the requirement to give at least 7 days notice before liaison meetings, to inform the Chairperson of local community councils, and so on. Despite having drawn it up, the council representatives weren’t familiar with the specifics.

The number of times that Scottish Coal and South Lanarkshire Council have broken this legal agreement, designed to protect the community and relating to issues such as financial contributions to the trust fund, safety of HGVs on the roads, community liaison meetings, beggars belief. But what can the community do to hold these people to account? Well, the SLC worker responsible for enforcing this agreement is none other than Roger Dick himself, a former employee of the coal board, and no doubt in line for a job with Scottish Coal when he leaves the Council. So if even the Minerals Enforcement Officer is complicit in ignoring the legal agreement, what option does this leave the community?

With Roger’s incompetence in organising meetings exposed and dealt with, it was time to move on. As per usual, the lines were clearly drawn even in the seating arrangement of the meeting. A row of men in shirts and ties faced community members, with SLC and Scottish Coal representatives indistinguishable from one another, although this time Colin Ortlepp (Scottish Coal Planning Director – arch deceiver of communities) didn’t even grace the meeting with his presence.

A series of arguments over Mainshill followed, resulting in a small victory for the community, with Scottish Coal and SLC finally conceding to place a dust monitor at Lady Home Hospital in Douglas. Despite Scottish Coal’s own Environmental Impact Assessment highlighting the hospital as a “highly sensitive receptor” and stating that dust levels would increase because of the mining at Mainshill, SLC have failed to request a dust monitor to be placed there. Instead, there are just two dust monitors linked to Mainshill, one at Castlemains – the mansion of land-owning Tory aristocrat Lord Home, and the other at Newmains Home Farm – also the property of the Laird. I wonder whose health SLC is most concerned about? After a long argument, during which Gordon Cameron showed his expertise in matters of air circulation, claiming that “if it doesn’t go up here, then it won’t go up there”, the concession of a third dust monitor, God forbid, was won.

Another small victory was finally being given access to Scottish Coal’s monthly dust monitor data report. Due to recent pressure from the community, Scottish Coal have started measuring the smaller and more harmful particle sizes. The report consists of 35 pages of raw data, the only analysis being 24hour averages. Apparently, SLC Environmental Services scrutinise the data to make sure it complies with regulations. It is more likely that these reports are filed and forgotten about. For a start, many of the values recorded for PM1 (the smallest and most harmful particulate size) were negative – now unless Mainshill is producing anti-matter, there’s either something wrong with the analysis or the machine. Has the Council noticed this? No. Do they care? No.

Next came jobs – Steve Griffiths, new site manager at Mainshill, proudly announced that 68% of the Mainshill workforce came from a “local” ML postcode – as far as 20 miles away – and that Mainshill is “fully manned-up” at 81 employees. what happened to the other 12 jobs promised in the planning application? Steve wasn’t familiar with the specifics of the planning application. Oh, so the bit about 93 local jobs was a lie all along then, who would have thought! Finally, the community was given actual local employment statistics at Mainshill. A total of 15 workers at Mainshill live in surrounding communities, that’s 18.5% of the workforce. Does open cast create local jobs for people? Certainly not.

Throughout the meeting Roger Dick, Donald Wilkins and Gordon Cameron consistently came to the defence of Scottish Coal, answered in Steve Griffiths’s place, were defensive and highly sensitive about being called liars, and any hint that corruption was being intoned was quickly pounced upon with threats and confrontational language. The SLC representatives, and the corrupt-to-the-core institution they represent has lied, deceived and misled South Lanarkshire communities for over 15 years – no legal threat or court challenge can silence the wave of resentment against them, or opposition to their championing or corporate rule in the valley.

Although the level of incompetence, negligence and malpractice can only be laughed at for the sheer incredulity of it, it is no laughing matter. SLC, as representatives of the people, are responsible for the death of these communities. Whether it is unprecedented numbers of children with asthma, alarming incidences of rare cancer or the inevitable deaths that will occur on South Lanarkshire’s roads because of the movement of coal, SLC are doing everything possible to see that Scottish Coal get to every bit of coal in the valley, and that communities are stripped of all decision-making power and participation in the political process.

The Council has put the interests of Scottish Coal (and its own self interest) far above the interests of the community. As has been said over and over again by residents of the Douglas Valley, this makes the Council and its representatives “public enemy number one”.

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