Agreeing the number of monitoring visits
9. Planning authorities should contact surface mining site operators to discuss and agree with them the number of visits to be undertaken over a 12 month period and publicise that on the local authority website in an easily accessible and recognisable format. The following factors can be taken into account when agreeing the number of visits:
- size and type of development,
- whether its active or in-active,
- number and complexity of any planning conditions, including those related to the mining waste facilities and financial guarantees relating to restoration,
- operator has a proven track record of compliance with planning conditions and/or Eco-Management and Audit Scheme ( EMAS) or ISO14001  .
- stage of development. For example, more frequent visits to surface coal mines are likely to be needed during initial site preparation (e.g. construction of site access and wheel washing equipment, installation and commissioning of processing plant/offices), soil stripping and replacement and the creation of soil storage and screening mounds, restoration planting and the final removal of plant equipment on completion of restoration,
- sensitivity of sites in relation to local communities and environmental designations,
- any breaches of planning control observed,
- complaints received for the site which have proven to be justified.
10. When discussing how these factors relate to individual sites, planning authorities may wish to consider adopting indicative thresholds for establishing the number of visits to all sites within their area.
11. The table below sets out the Scottish Government's recommendations for the number of site visits to be undertaken based on the phase of operation at an individual site. As this listing is not exhaustive planning authorities may wish to consider setting their own guide, which could be passed to operators within their area to manage expectations.
|Category||No. of visits recommended
in a 12 month period
|Category 1: Small site with low output and good track record of being compliant with planning permission||2 - 4|
|Category 2: Completely dormant or inactive site, with no active restoration being undertaken||1|
|Category 3: Site undergoing active restoration and aftercare||4 - 8|
|Category 4: Medium or large active site||4 - 8|
|Category 5: Active site, which has not been operating in accordance with planning permission and there has been substantiated complaints or enforcement action is being considered or has been taken||8 |
12. The planning authority has ultimate responsibility for setting the number of visits. If an operator considers that they are being subjected to an excessive number of monitoring visits, their recourse would be to follow the planning authority's complaints procedures. Where the operator is unhappy with the outcome, it may ask the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to investigate.
13. When setting the number of site visits over a 12 month period, past performance by the operator should be factored in. Planning authorities however reserve the right to adjust the number of visits in a 12 month period, if serious and justifiable complaints, accidents, incidents or serious occurrences of non-compliance start to arise.
14. The number of annual site visits can be decreased or increased to take account of the outcome of previous visits. Planning authorities should consider undertaking more visits for sites where risk of non-compliance is higher. Where breaches of planning permission are identified, planning authorities should consider whether enforcement procedures may be appropriate  . While the Regulations specify a maximum of 8 chargeable site visits within a 12 month period, additional visits can be undertaken but fees will not be payable by the operator.
15. The Scottish Government expect active sites should, on average, be inspected at least 4 times in a 12 month period. However, the actual number of visits should be determined on the basis of a number of factors. The Scottish Government also expect consistently compliant sites to receive fewer monitoring visits than those sites where breaches of planning control have been a feature, including where complaints about operations have revealed breaches of planning control.
16. More than 4 visits in a year should only be needed at particularly sensitive stages of a site's development, or where the authority has concerns about compliance. Minor breaches of control at an otherwise consistently compliant site should not normally attract an increased frequency of visits in the following year.
17. It is likely an inactive site would require no more than one monitoring visit within a 12 month period, although further visits up to a maximum of 8, are at the discretion of the planning authority based on circumstances.