RESTORATION work at an opencast site near Muirkirk is underway after the council awarded the contract for work.

East Ayrshire Council (EAC) appointed Banks Mining as the contractor to carry out the restoration work at Ponesk.

The Hamilton-based firm was appointed by the council and the Scottish Mines Restoration Trust (SMRT) to carry out the work at the surface mine near the village.

The Ponesk site, along with the adjacent Spireslack surface mine, was abandoned when former operators Scottish Coal went into administration in early 2013.

The Banks Mining team started work in early July, and is expected to be on site for around 22 months.

The restoration project has been designed to maximise opportunities for the future use of the site, and will see the creation of a new landscape across the site which is in keeping with the local area by reshaping Ponesk's steep sided mounds, sharp gradients and wide terraces.

A number of new footpaths and tracks will be created to provide improved public access to the site, along with a range of wildlife habitats, while the restoration design also incorporates a series of measures to address the risk of offsite pollution from existing water bodies.

Restoration work on the nearby Spireslack site will follow once the Ponesk project has been completed.

Professor Russel Griggs, chairman of SMRT, said: “To support the restoration of opencast mines that have been abandoned as a result of operators going into administration and liquidation, our objective has been to engage with the stakeholders involved in the restoration process and work with them to find solutions to the challenges and opportunities the sites of coal mines can bring.

“We have met this key objective for Ponesk by bringing together all relevant groups – along with Banks, which has a fine track record of delivering previous restoration projects – to implement a pragmatic and innovative approach to restoring the site.

“We have recently completed a successful restoration on Dunstonhill and these projects demonstrate what can be achieved when community groups, landowners, the private sector and Government work together.”

Michael Keane, Head of Planning at EAC, added: “This appointment is good news for the area and the local community. Banks Mining has a proven record of delivering restoration projects across the country and East Ayrshire Council is delighted to be working with them to progress with the restoration of the Ponesk opencast site.

"With the work already underway at Netherton and Dunstonhill, and soon to start at Skares, it is good to see real progress being made on the restoration of the opencast sites across East Ayrshire."

Jim Donnelly, operations director at Banks Mining, says: "Issues surrounding the restoration of abandoned surface mine sites across Scotland have been high on the news agenda, especially in the areas where these sites are located.

"As someone who grew up in this part of Ayrshire, it saddens me to see the way large swathes of the county have been left in this situation, and the work we're now undertaking at Ponesk will begin the process of returning this land to the local community.

"Banks Mining has successfully restored every single one of the 110 mines we've finished working over the last four decades, and our technical expertise, the quality of the design solution we developed for Ponesk and the cost-effective way in which we can put it into place will enable us to successfully deliver the positive outcomes that local people, the Scottish Mines Restoration Trust and East Ayrshire Council are all looking for."