“Q21) The other side of this is that the UK coal producers have told us it is unprofitable to sink new shafts let alone new pits yet we have a load of coal in this country. They seem now to be more concerned, from what I can see, in just exploiting the land assets rather than coal production apart from when it comes to open-cast mining where our guidelines on environmental considerations and the role of local authorities have, in recent decisions, been thrown out the window. We seem to be getting the balance wrong. We are not having further production in deep coal and yet we are having a whole lot of environmental concerns as a result of open-cast mining. Overall we are dependent on imports.” 12
By December 2007 Peel Holdings, one of the largest privately owned UK property companies had built up a 25% stake (rising later to 28%) in UK Coal,13 most likely because of the property estate, but also because Peel Holdings, with their port facilities through which they import coal and wind farm interests was already partly an energy company. Peel Holdings is owned by John Whittaker, a recluse billionaire according to The Guardian, who, in 2009, was estimated to be worth £1.3bn . 14
The concern that UK Coal plc wants to be taken seriously as a property company similar to other property companies, has given rise to a suspicion that future submitted applications for new green field sites similar to the one at Minorca, will have been chosen because of their long term development potential. Getting temporary permission to get the coal out will then only be the first stage in a much longer process which could end up with all or part of the site being further developed.
In future, groups opposing UK Coal’s plc’s plans for new opencast mines will have to explore the possibility of ensuring that the local mineral planning authority insist on a bond which would be forfeited if UK Coal plc sought to change the determination of the land before restoration of the site according to the original planning conditions had been completed. Or, alternatively, they seek a condition which would block any attempt to change the determination of the land for a fixed period after the land had been restored.
However what UK Coal plc seeks to do in two of the following case studies are to use the planning system to make permanent the use of all or part of a site for which it originally had only temporary planning permission. This attempt to change the use of land is put to causes conflict especially if UK Coal plc applies to vary the planning conditions after they start taking the coal out as is the case at Cutacre. It is this two stage process to firstly get temporary permission to extract the coal and then later get permanent permission to develop the site that is not explained by UK Coal plc either to those who have an interest in the company or to those communities affected by UK Coal’s plans for new opencast mines. It is this which makes UK Coal plc different from those property companies
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