Councillors approve restoration of former colliery near Twechar by the slimmest margin

East Dunbartonshire Council HQ 'Kirkintilloch'20 01 18'KG
East Dunbartonshire Council HQ 'Kirkintilloch'20 01 18'KG

Councillors have approved the restoration of a former colliery near Twechar by the slimmest margin possible.

At its meeting on Tuesday, January 14, East Dunbartonshire Council’s planning board spent more than an hour discussing CEMEX UK’s plans to restore the former Gartshore Colliery, a long-term project involving the quarrying of two million tonnes of the hard rock dolemite and landfill from the 210,000 square meter hectare site – the size of 21 international rugby pitches.

These proposals proved controversial as councillors weighed up the potential long-term  benefit to residents and wildlife in having the site restored against many years of heavy industrial activity, including rock blasting and the movement of hundreds of heavy vehicles. Residents of Twechar have been particularly vocal about this and several attended the meeting.

The plans involve 46 HGVs arriving and leaving the site each day, however the existing access to the site onto the B8048 would be altered to prevent them from entering Twechar.

The councillors who opposed the proposals – including the three whose ward includes Twechar, namely Labour’s Stewart McDonald, John Jamieson of the SNP and Liberal Democrat Susan Murray – were concerned about the enforcement of truck movements, especially as these vehicles would belong to various contractors rather than CEMEX themselves, despite assurances that infractions would be punished by denying future access to the site or potentially all CEMEX  locations in the UK.

Water treatment lagoons would also be built to to treat surface water run-off and ground water, which should mitigate flooding issues near the site.

In the end seven councillors voted to grant planning permission subject to conditions and seven voted to refuse, so the application was granted because of convener Rosie O’Neil’s casting vote.

As convener Councillor O’Neil had proposed the application be granted subject to the established conditions, with the additions of additional legal wording emphasising certain conditions on traffic enforcement and a requirement for reports to be submitted to the council every three months.

She was seconded by council co-leader Vaughan Moody who described the current site as a “moonscape”, adding that it had been such since mining ceased over 60 years ago.

Councillor Moody said he accepted the reassurances of the council’s legal team that the planning conditions gave the council sufficient oversight to prevent problems with trucks and other heavy vehicles, and also welcomed the improvements to water flow at the site, which should reduce flooding. The project would also create seven jobs.

He added: “After 14 to 16 years this site will be a lake and wetland which will be available to local people.

Councillor Moody added that it was currently easy to spot the border between North Lanarkshire and East Dunbartonshire due to the amount of new construction happening in the former, and that this redevelopment would help preserve greenspace boundaries.

Kirsty Ross chairs Twechar Tenants and Residents Association and Twechar Community Action, two groups which have been fighting against the plans.

She said: “Obviously we are extremely disappointed by the decision as we agree with what was said about there being no real way to enforce the planning conditions. Councillors McDonald, Murray and Jamieson all spoke on our behalf. The next step is an appeal at national level.

Kirsty added that Twechar is already experiencing problems with lorries passing through the village, as is evidenced by damage to the roundabout at the Waterside end of the village.

“There are a lot of narrow footpaths in Main Street, which can be a problem for people with mobility issues or young children. Add lorries driving down the road and it can be very scary,” she added.

The residents are planning to approach the Scottish Government to lodge an appeal.

In all, the council received 49 letters concerning the application, 41 of which were objections.

The concerns raised related to HGVs, risk of flooding near the entrance, noise and air pollution, the site’s proximity to nature reserve and the Antonine Wall, limited job creation and  impact on greenbelt and biodiversity.