ONE of Scotland's wealthiest landowners has launched a restoration project which, it is claimed, signals a major step forward for the troubled Scots coal mine industry.

The Duke of Buccleuch, the UK's largest private landowner, and Fergus Ewing, Scottish Government Minister for Energy, launched a clear-up scheme at the Glenmuckloch mine in Dumfries and Galloway that will lead to green energy projects.

Buccleuch Estates has been working with energy firms, planned contractor Hargreaves Services and Dumfries and Galloway Council to design and plan a scheme that will address the restoration works left unfinished when the previous mining operator went into liquidation last year.

It comes as concerns over a £73 million bill to clean up old coal mines in Scotland were exacerbated by a Court of Session ruling on the future of open-cast mine sites which effectively relieved Scottish Coal's liquidators of responsibility for some former sites, prompting environmentalists to call for a public inquiry.

Buccleuch Estates bought the land at Glenmuckloch back after the collapse of coal firm ATH Resources and set up a new subsidiary company, Glenmuckloch Restoration Limited.

Richard, the Duke of Buccleuch said: "This important project is a positive step forward not only for the local community and Buccleuch Estates but also for the Scottish coal industry and the wider energy sector. It creates a range of exciting opportunities for generations to come.

"We believed a solution had to be found that could inject some strength into the coal industry as well as open up potential for many more energy projects to help the whole sector move forward."

Buccleuch Estates is looking to develop an energy park which it is claimed would deliver extensive benefits for the southern Scotland community.

Working with other local landowners, a range of complementary renewable energy technologies would be established both for local consumption and export.

The project is a result of collaboration between Buccleuch Estates, Hargreaves, the Scottish Government, Dumfries and Galloway Council and the Scottish Mines Restoration Trust.

Mr Ewing "applauded the leadership that Buccleuch Estates has taken on this project". He added: "The potential to explore further renewable energy projects and technologies is very exciting."

The project launched yesterday and expected to begin by the end of the summer will create around 60 jobs during the restoration phase. and include a small extension in the eastern end of the site to help deliver innovative restoration.

Hargreaves has also been in talks to buy some of Scottish Coal's mines after its collapse in April.

Professor Russel Griggs, chairman, Scottish Mines Restoration Trust, said it could be benchmark, adding: "This project to restore the Glenmuckloch open cast mining site represents a positive step forward for the local community and the coal industry in Scotland."

Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: "The launch of this project should not distract ministers from the urgent need to address the huge threat facing Scotland's mining communities following the Court of Session's ruling.

"The case for a public inquiry into the whole issue is overwhelming, and I have written to Fergus Ewing on this point."