A PLAN for a massive new ­opencast coal mine near Edinburgh looks likely to get the green light this week, despite fierce opposition from environmental groups and outrage from local residents.

The mine at Cauldhall near Penicuik is the first to be proposed since Scotland's two major coal companies went bust, leaving dozens of old opencast mines across the country without enough money to clean them up as had been promised.

Opponents say the new mine should be rejected until there are clear assurances landscape restoration will be funded. Its proponent, however, says there will be legally-binding restoration guarantees in place before work starts.

Midlothian Council planning officials are recommending approval at a meeting tomorrow for a bid by the coal company, Hargreaves, to extract 10 million tonnes of coal over the next 13 years at Cauldhall. Most of the 500-hectare site is owned by the Earl of Rosebery.

"It is unthinkable another mine could be consented before we even know what went catastrophically wrong in the regulation of existing sites," said Aedán Smith, head of planning at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Scotland. "When you are in a hole, you should stop digging."

A recent report from East Ayrshire Council, where many derelict mines are concentrated, estimated that it was short of £130 million needed to restore them. There are likely to be shortfalls in other opencast mining areas across the central belt.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust was "far from convinced the proposed action to restore habitat after the mine closes will actually happen". It pointed out the mine would remove more than 500,000 cubic metres of ancient peat, which may release 50,000 tonnes of carbon.

Local resident Malcolm Spaven was "outraged" planners were recommending the go-ahead. "There are major unresolved questions that Hargreaves have refused to address and Midlothian Council refused to ask," he said.

"History will repeat itself and Hargreaves will walk away when they've made a quick buck just like Scottish Coal did, leaving everyone else to clear up the mess."

The accusation was denied by the company. "Hargreaves is wholly committed to the future of the surface mining industry in Scotland and to the delivery of legally binding restoration guarantees on all new sites before work commences," said its planning director, Steve McQuarrie.

"Hargreaves is a substantial listed company with skilled people that is committed to delivering a vital indigenous resource to the UK power generation industry and to meeting our environmental responsibilities."

Cauldhall will employ 230 people and create more jobs in the supply chain, he said.