SCOTLAND is set for a gold rush after controversial plans to open the country’s first commercial gold mine of modern times in one of the most picturesque stretches of the Loch Lomond National Park were approved.
The mine is expected to produce 20,000 ounces of gold and 80,000 ounces of silver each year and it has been estimated that it could generate up to £80 million in economic activity in Scotland through the wider supply chain as well as creating 52 jobs.
The board of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park first threw out an application by Scotgold Resources 14 months ago to begin developing the Cononish gold mine, near Tyndrum, because of conservation concerns.
But yesterday the board members unanimously gave the green light to the multi- million-pound project, ruling that the opportunities for new jobs and economic growth in a sparsely populated area of Highland Perthshire outweighed concerns about the environment.
The decision to approve the ten-year mine development was taken following a lengthy special meeting of the board in nearby Crianlarich.
Linda McKay, the convener of the national park board, said after the meeting: “Without question this has been the largest and most complicated planning application we have ever had to consider.
“As guardians of some of the most stunning scenery in Scotland, it would have been easy to refuse the second application if we were considering the short-term impact on the landscape, but this national park plans for long-term conservation management and that includes having the vision to see beyond the temporary life of the gold mine.
“We also have to take into consideration the support from the local community council who back the proposals.”
Ms McKay added: “This legally binding agreement means the glen will regain its quiet, remote character following closure of the mine and the landscape will be improved from its current state.
Chris Sangster, chief executive of Scotgold, said: “This represents the culmination of three years’ detailed work towards planning a mining development which meets the exacting environmental standards required by the National Park Authority.
“The Cononish project provides a significant commercial opportunity in the interests of all stakeholders, in particular the local community, which has been a keen supporter for a development that promises increased local employment and economic activity.”
But Bill McDermott, the chairman of the Scottish Campaign for National Parks, said he was “deeply disappointed” at the decision. He said: “We saw it as an issue of principle and a kind of line in the sand because we don’t think Scottish national parks have got their act together in terms of sustainable development. The strongest part of sustainable development must be environmental and we just don’t think you can put an industrial process like that into a national park. It is just not acceptable to the conservation value of the area.”
Gold was last successfully mined in Scotland more than 500 years ago. Development of the original Cononish gold mine was begun in the early 1990s but the mine was never commercially operational and finally abandoned in 1997.
Scotgold acquired the Cononish Gold and Silver Project in 2007.
The board has attached almost 50 conditions to the approval. They include extraction and blasting limits, a traffic management and waste management scheme and financial guarantees for restoration if the mine is abandoned.
Scotgold had recently received the support of a number of national tourism and business groups, including CBI Scotland.