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Councils face finding fresh cash to restore tip sites and quarries

SCOTLAND'S councils could have to secure and set aside tens of millions pounds extra each year to restore rubbish dumps and quarries, in addition to cash they are having to find to restore opencast mines.

WASTE LAND: Councils have made big cuts in use of landfill sites but the Green Party fears their legacy could continue to haunt us. Picture: Colin Mearns
WASTE LAND: Councils have made big cuts in use of landfill sites but the Green Party fears their legacy could continue to haunt us. Picture: Colin Mearns

The Green Party prompted an investigation by Scotland's Auditor General Caroline Gardner into who should pay for environmental care amid concerns private firms were leaving the taxpayer to collect the bill for restoring abandoned mines.

The Auditor General now says local authorities could also have to factor into their accounts the cost of bringing landfill sites and quarries back to their natural state.

Across Scotland councils are facing a £200 million shortfall in the funds they need to restore landscapes scarred by 32 opencast mines in central Scotland.

The problem has arisen after the collapse of mining companies and a lack of cash in the environmental bonds they took out to guarantee restoration work.

The landfill and quarry plan however would encompass a wider range of environmental projects and affect all of Scotland's councils.

Patrick Harvie MSP, co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party, said the taxpayer should not be left to pay the balance after private firms collect the profits but then fail to clean up.

He said: "The crisis over coal-mine ­restoration does raise questions about the cost to the taxpayer of other environmental scars such as landfills and quarries.

"Many landfill sites are full and councils are in the process of restoring them.

"They must face ongoing costs relating to maintenance and monitoring for pollution, and it is right that local communities know how much this is costing them.

"The rising rate of landfill tax has helped steer councils away from burying rubbish and towards recycling and reducing at source.

"But the costs of our landfill legacy must be made clear given the coal-mines experience and the continuing financial pressure on councils to cut local services."

The Glasgow MSP said he believes Audit Scotland has "an essential role to play to independently establish what has gone wrong with the finances of restoration and help identify a successful model for the future".

He added: "Restoration bonds are not unique to opencast coal.

"Other developments such as mineral workings and unconventional gas extraction use them to pay for end-of-life restoration and monitoring costs and I therefore suggest any investigation is not limited to opencast coal."

Scottish Coal's collapse last year led to the call by Mr Harvie for intervention which the Auditor General said could result in local authorities being compelled to include in their annual accounts details of cash set aside by mining firms for restoring former opencast sites.

Ms Gardner said: "I am aware of the opencast issue and also that the decommissioning and end-of-life restoration costs apply to other assets such as landfill sites and quarries."

She has launched the probe to find out how these issues "are being accounted for and built into financial plans".

Ms Gardner said restoration shortfalls had been recognised as a substantial issue. She said: "We have asked ­auditors to undertake some initial fact-finding on the extent of the potential issues for the public sector."

The senior civil servant said checks on such environmental costs "could, for example, feature as part of the next year's annual audit in individual councils or as part of our future programme of national performance audits".

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Restoration shortfalls have been recognised as a substantial issue in some areas and we are absolutely conscious of the potential cost to the taxpayer ...

"The Auditor General's work on this issue is very much at an early stage and the proposals suggested are not Scottish Government policy."

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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