A PROPOSAL to extend tax breaks to opencast sites awaiting restoration has won cross-party support from two local politicians.

MPs are set to discuss the matter on January 7 after Sandra Osborne requested a debate in Parliament. Ms Osborne will ask the UK Government to consider Hargreaves’ proposal for extending an existing exemption from Carbon Price Support (CPS) to cover coal associated with the restoration of opencast sites abandoned after the collapse of previous operators.

The Durham-based opencast operator presented a proposal to the Scottish Government’s Coal Taskforce last week arguing the case to extend the CPS Exemption from coal slurry to include coals derived from schemes which are supporting opencast coal restoration projects and which deal specifically with legacy restoration sites.

Hargreaves are set to seek approval from the Treasury to remove the coal, without being taxed around £40 per tonne, which it claims could deliver a number of benefits.

Labour MP Ms Osborne said: “It is early days, but I am pleased to have secured this debate in Westminster at the beginning of January to explore with the Government the feasibility of this proposal and get a reaction from the Minister down on the record.

“I am really pleased that there has been a generally positive initial response to this idea with cross-party support. I remain concerned that the perpetrators of this disaster have walked away scot free and I was also very disappointed to be informed that the UK Government will not come up with funds from their own resources to help, in spite of relentless lobbying. Their excuse is that this is a devolved matter. This is true, but that is no impediment to them coming up with a contribution.” She added: “I hope that this debate, along with meetings with Ministers involving the company, the council, local MPs and MSPs can reach the kind of comprehensive solution that the people of East Ayrshire deserve. This could be the breakthrough we have been looking for.” Local SNP MSP Adam Ingram said: “It provides a solution to the problem that we have been left with. Obviously local people would want those responsible for the environmental damage to face the consequences.” He added: “I am looking for a commitment from all parties, including the Scottish Government. It would give us some comfort that this mess we have been left with will be dealt with.

“If there were any alternatives I’d be happy to consider it but at this point I feel that this is the best resolution to have been presented.” Hargreaves claim the extension would provide a mechanism that would enable restoration of all abandoned coal sites in Scotland.

Due to the high costs of recovering coal from these sites, delivering full restoration for these projects would not be viable without the exemption, the company says.

Hargreaves contend that the benefit of delivering a full solution to all the outstanding restoration issues in Scotland presents a far greater environmental and safety win than the continuing reclamation of coal slurry ponds.

Iain Cockburn, Group Finance Director of Hargreaves Services, commented: “This measure will incentivise the industry to focus a significant proportion of its efforts on restorations projects.

“Fully resolving the dereliction left by ATH and SRG will help rebuild confidence in responsible operators and in doing so will build a stronger bridge to the longer term future of the industry. Although the legacy problems are not the fault or responsibility of current operators, properly clearing the restoration backlog can only make it easier for the industry to gain more widespread support for future new Greenfield sites.

“Whilst members of the anti-coal lobby will continue to lobby against new developments, no one can reasonably argue against finding a solution for restoration in the short term. Everyone should now be looking for a quick and practical solution to the current problems.

“The biggest upside would be in bringing about huge environmental improvements at a time when funds to do this are not available elsewhere.” Peter Gillatt, Managing Director of Hargreaves Surface Mining Limited, added: “There would be no increases in overall coal burn if the exemption was granted, as coal from legacy sites would simply replace imports.

“Based on our calculations, with the exemption, a volume of less than one million tonnes per annum of exempt coal (less than two per cent of the annual UK coal burn), would allow all the old legacy sites to be fully restored with full provision for aftercare.” If implemented, Hargreaves claim the scheme would create or protect up to 1000 direct jobs and approximately 500 indirect jobs over a five year period.