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As Coal Use Declines Why Make It Easier to Dig It Out

Steve Leary | 02.11.2012 08:15 | Climate Chaos | Energy Crisis | Social Struggles | Birmingham | Sheffield

The Loose Anti Opencast Network is calling on the Government to align Planning Policy with Energy Policy after discovering that it is the Government's intention to phase out the use of coal for power generation purposes, leading to a 75% decline in the use of coal for such a purpose over the next 10 years. At the same time, through provisions in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill it is possibly making it easier to dig the coal out!



PR 2012 – 11 2/11/12

Figures which have been produced for the Whittonstall Action Group by The Department of Energy and Climate Change suggest that the demand for coal for power generation purposes is set to decline by over 75% in the next ten years.

At the same time, those campaigning against the 14 current and possible new opencast planning applications in England, fear that the Government’s proposals in the new Growth and Infrastructure Bill will increase the chance that more applications for new opencast sites will be successful, as proposals in the Bill, it is believed, will make it more difficult to mount successful campaigns against new opencast mines.

Over the next 10 years, 2011 – 2021, the use of coal for power generation purposes is due to decline from 40.57m tonnes to 9.63m tonnes in 2021, a drop of 76% (see Appendix 1). Three main factors lie behind these figures.

• Six UK power stations have close or are being closed by 2016 because they are too polluting (Ironbridge, Tilbury, Didcot, Ferrybridge, Kingsnorth and Cockenzie).

• Recent announcements by the Government on the use of subsidies make it clear that, as part of a policy to decarbonise the process of power generation, the Government

“....confirmed our primary focus for biomass electricity in the shorter term towards removing coal from the current UK power generation mix” (1)

• As a consequence, a new rush out of coal for power generation purposes has started, with Tilbury already converted and part of Drax, Eggborough and possibly Lynmouth following suit.

The Coal Industry, through CoalPro, their producer’s association, hopes that for the foreseeable future, despite this decline in the demand for coal, the industry will be able to maintain a total of approximately 36 working surface mines across the UK. (2) As each mine has an average life of about 4 years, the industry needs to gain 9 new permissions per annum to maintain output.

Measures contained in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, especially Section 21, could make this more likely if passed, as it would give the Secretary of State the power to designate such opencast planning applications as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects, removing the decision making process from Local Government, speeding up the planning process which carries inherent risks of bad decisions being made and increasing the expense of mounting objections at what would then be a Public Inquiry. (3)

That this is a possibility has already been pointed out by Geoffrey Lean in the Telegraph, where he wrote in his recent article “Planning, the broken promises” that quarries could come under this definition and opencast mining is quarrying by another name. (4)

The Loose Anti Opencast Network (LAON), whose latest October review of the stage at which 22 current and possible opencast planning applications across the UK have reached, is published today (see October 2012 Review of Opencast Sites @ ).

LAON has already provided evidence to the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government on why it believes guidance surrounding the granting of planning permissions for such developments in England should be made tougher rather than weaker (5). It will now be urging that local groups in the Network to lobby their own MP’s and start a letter writing campaign to Minister for Planning asking that because there is evidence about a decline in demand for coal that, in this reform, coal be treated as a special case and is not included in any official statement that it is a mineral of national importance. In addition, they will be asking the Government to bring English Planning Policy for coal into line with Scottish and Welsh planning policy and amend the National Planning Policy Framework to include a 500m Separation Zone between where people live and an opencast site.

Steve Leary, the Co-ordinator for the Network said

We are asking the Government to take this opportunity, as this Bill makes its way through Parliament, to align planning policy with energy policy. It is a contradiction in Government policy to say that on the one hand that the drive to decarbonise the electricity sector means ending the role of coal in the power mix and on the other hand, make it a priority to enable planning applications for new opencast mines to be treated as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project.

In the meantime, we hope all individuals and organisations who oppose new opencast mine applications will use this evidence as part of a proof that planning authorities should not treat coal in the future as a mineral of national importance when making planning decisions about new surface mines.

The Loose Anti Opencast Network is grateful for the work that a member of the Whittonstall Action Group has done in finding who to contact about these figures and forwarding these figures to LAOPN. The Whittonstall Action Group is opposing the planning application made by UK Coal plc to mine 2.2m tonnes of coal on the Hoodsclose site in Northumberland.

1) ‘Biomass, Electricity and Combined Heat and Power Plants’ (Consultation Document), Department of Energy and Climate Change, September, 2012, p 15, para 1.7 @

2) See statement made by Derek Brewer, Director General CoalPro in this article “ UK Miners hit by cheap coal, dear diesel despite demand jump” Reuters, 30/10/12 @ idUKBRE89T16S20121030

3) For all Parliamentary information on the Growth and Infrastructure Bill follow this link to the Bill’s web page @

4) “Planning, the broken promises”, Geoffrey Lean, The Telegraph, 19/10/12 @ the- broken-promises.html

5) “Communities and Local Government Committee, Written Evidence for the Planning Housing and Growth Inquiry, PMH 40 The Loose Anti Opencast Network , 17/10/12, Parliamentary Publications @ mloc/writev/plan/contents.htm

About LAON

The Loose Anti-Opencast Network (LAON) has been in existence since 2009. It functions as a medium through which to oppose open cast mine applications. At present LAON links individuals and groups in N Ireland (Just Say No to Lignite), Scotland (Coal Action Scotland), Wales (Green Valleys Alliance, The Merthyr Tydfil Anti Opencast Campaign), England, (Coal Action Network), Northumberland, (Whittonstall Action Group, Halton Lea Gate Residents)) Co Durham (Pont Valley Network), Leeds, Sheffield (Cowley Residents Action Group), Kirklees, (Skelmansthorpe Action Group) Nottinghamshire (Shortwood Farm Opencast Opposition), Derbyshire (West Hallum Environment Group, Smalley Action Group and Hilltop Action Group) , Leicestershire (Minorca Opencast Protest Group) and Walsall (Alumwell Action Group).

Contacting LAON

Steve Leary LAON’Ss Co-ordinator, at

You can now follow LAON on Twitter @

Year Tonnage (mt) Year Tonnage (mt)
2011 40.57 2021 9.63
2012 57.81 2022 9.24
2013 54.17 2023 8.15
2014 45.95 2024 7.35
2015 42.50 2025 5.36
2016 28.41 2026 4.06
2017 26.62 2027 2.36
2018 21.82 2028 1.65
2019 18.96 2029 1.38
2020 13.32 2030 1.36

Figures compiled by David Wilson at the DECC, October 2012

Steve Leary
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