Darnconner is a former opencast mining area in East Ayrshire. The 30ha site has lain vacant and derelict since the rapid contraction of the coal mining industry in the 1980s and 1990s, and the excavation site is now occupied by a large body of water.
Darnconner is located within 5km of the settlements of Cumnock, Auchinleck and Catrine. The decline of heavy industry has contributed towards structural economic decline of these areas, with local communities blighted by high unemployment, poor educational attainment and poor health and wellbeing.
Darnconner lies west of the Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands Special Protection Area. The Ayrshire and Arran Woodland Strategy seeks to promote this area as a priority for landscape renewal through appropriate woodland planting. Similarly, the East Ayrshire Council Local Development Plan encourages the sensitive expansion of forestry in the area, particularly where this incorporates wider public benefits
In 1996, outline planning consent was granted for the establishment of a commercial landfill on the former excavation site. However, this consent was never taken forward and applications to renew it were refused.
It was found that there was a significant disparity between the expectations of the developers and those of the local communities as to the level of public benefit a restored site should provide.
East Ayrshire Woodlands initiated a consultation and design exercise with the aim of producing a broad restoration plan that was acceptable to the local community, planning authority, landowners and developers. Two site meetings and a drop in public consultation event were held to gain a greater insight into community expectations for the Darnconner site. Separate discussions were also held with the Development Control Officer, neighbouring landowners and householders to ensure that any concerns were addressed.
As a result of the public consultation exercise, broad agreement was reached on a Restoration Masterplan for the Darnconner site. The new designs retained the main water body and recommended an increased level of earthworks so as to reduce the impact of abandoned soil within the site.
The Restoration Masterplan included plans for the creation of new wetland, woodland and hedgerow habitats. It also recommended upgrades to the core path network to facilitate access for pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders, and to improve links to the wider countryside.
To address community concerns and gain public support for the project, a number of habitat and infrastructure works were completed. Stock fencing was erected to define the site boundary, improve public safety in relation to the water body and protect potential habitat development areas from uncontrolled grazing. Warning signs and lifebuoys were put up to further improve public safety and limited tree planting and gapping of hedges was undertaken to improve the aesthetic of the area.
The habitat and infrastructure development works engaged unemployed people from the local area. They gained vocational land-based sector skills and valuable work experience that enhanced their employment potential. Following the completion of these works, over 15 individuals were offered further employment with a ground maintenance company. This was a direct result of the strong match between the employer's requirements and the skills and experience gained during the project.
This project highlights the need for effective communication between key stakeholders. Support from the CSGN Development Fund facilitated this communication as it enabled direct engagement with both the developer and the local community. Without this support, the development of the vacant and derelict site would have been delayed as there was considerable disparity between the expectations of the local community and the proposals for the site put forward by the developer.
Following the public consultation exercise, an amended planning application was submitted to the planning authority. This application is currently under consideration.
|2010||CSGN Development Fund||11,868|