DEMANDS are growing for a public inquiry into failures to clean up coal mines across Scotland, after a new report revealed a potential £60 million shortfall in funds in one region alone.
A document published by East Ayrshire Council has revealed just £30m has been set aside to restore opencast mine sites to their previous natural state, with the estimated cost between £48m and £90m.
Scottish Coal collapsed earlier this year and is now in liquidation. It has been criticised for failing to fully restore nearly a dozen mines that experts believe are now liabilities, because the cost of restoring them is greater than their value.
The energy and waste group Hargreaves is the frontrunner to buy the six operational Scottish Coal mines in East Ayrshire, Fife and South Lanarkshire, but it is unclear whether a deal will also be done for another 11 sites.
Another coal company, Aardvark, which is owned by ATH Resources, entered administration in December last year, leaving five opencast mine sites.
Councils are determined that taxpayers should not have to foot the bill, and the matter could now be heading for the courts.
Hargreaves has also struck a deal to buy parts of Aardvark, and the two deals are set to save hundreds of jobs.
Environmental campaigners criticised both councils and coal companies and demanded an official inquiry amid fears the total bill could reach £100m.
However, Douglas Reid, leader of East Ayrshire Council, said: “It is vital that we work with other councils affected, to try to stop the liquidators and Hargreaves from abandoning these sites.
“We have never shirked from our responsibilities and we never will. We must never lose sight of the fact that it was the responsibility of the coal companies to clean up behind themselves and restore their land. They didn’t do this and they have reneged on their responsibilities to our communities.”
But green campaign group Coal Action Scotland said councils were also at fault for not ensuring that planning conditions on securing cash for clean-up work were met.
Oliver Munnion, spokesman, said: “The restoration bombshell has finally been dropped. In East Ayrshire alone, the shortfall could be up to £60m.
“What about South Lanarkshire, North Lanarkshire, Fife and other areas? We’re looking at a £100m bill that will be dumped on the public purse.
“The mining companies have failed in their statutory obligations, but local authorities should have been enforcing the planning rules, and in this they have failed tragically.”
After Scottish Coal folded, the Scottish Government set up a new trust to find ways of funding restoration work.
RSPB Scotland and Friends of the Earth Scotland both backed calls for a public inquiry.
Dr Richard Dixon, FoE Scotland director, said: “The numbers [from East Ayrshire Council highlighting the possible shortfall] are even worse than I had thought they would be – £60m is huge.
“We need to make the industry pay up and a public inquiry would be a good way to get into that.”