Mine could produce 20,000oz of gold and 80,000oz of silver a year.
Scotland is now a step closer to opening its first commercial gold and silver mine.
The opening of the mine at Cononish near the village of Tyndrum has been welcomed both locally and nationally in Scotland, with support from the Scottish Tourism Forum and leading economic development organisation, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry.
The mine is expected to produce close to 20,000 ounces of gold and 80,000 ounces of silver per year, of which 5,000 ounces of gold will be extracted as unrefined gold bars and identifiable as Scottish gold.
Chris Sangster, the director and chief executive of Australian-owned company Scotgold Resources, which is working on the site, has been pleased with the response to the mine’s development to date. He said: “We are delighted to be in a position to be lodging this planning application and are exceptionally pleased with the overwhelming support we have received locally and nationally. Our project will assist in delivering considerable economic investment potential.”
The plan for the mine has been in the pipeline for more than 15 years. Planning permission was first granted in 1996 but faced a planning rejection last year on predominantly aesthetic grounds. The project moved a step closer in the third week of July, however, as the Planning Application for development by Scotgold was submitted to Loch Lomand and the Trossachs National Park Authority.
The rural location of the mine sits close to two national parks – the Argyll Forest Park and the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park – and is surrounded by a number of smaller lochs, and concerns for the impact on the environment have been raised.
Sangster explained: “A lot of time and effort has been taken to address the environmental concerns raised by the Park Authority and we will hopefully be able to progress the project successfully through planning.”
Vivien Johnston, founder of ethical jewellery brand Fifi Bijoux, which is based in Scotland, contacted Sangster more than two years ago regarding the environmental impact of the mine. After finding out more about the processes Scotgold are going to use, she has taken on a consultancy role for the company and now works closely with Sangster on the project.
“I am excited about the gold,” said Johnston. “Its traceability is positive and it is an accessible ethical choice, especially for jewellers working in Scotland. I’ve spoken to jewellers about it and the feedback about a potential Scottish gold product has been really positive. Some are a little ambivalent about the Scottish element specifically for their brand but are more interested in the ethical aspect. Jewellers are pleased that they will be able to offer it in their stores.”
Johnston has spoken with many independent jewellery retailers in Scotland, as well as some larger Scottish companies, and some are considering working with and potentially distributing the gold.
The next step however is the re-submitted planning permission, which both Sangster and Johnston are feeling confident about.“There was previous permission years ago but this had expired,” Johnston explained. “Since then the nearby national parks had moved their borders [when the parks increased in size]. The planning rejection last time was a narrow miss.”
The project has the potential to create more than 50 full-time jobs for the local community, which currently relies on the seasonal tourist trade. Scotgold said that if the mine does open the majority of the 52 jobs on offer will be filled by locally available skilled persons. Further employment opportunities will also be raised through the companies working with Scotgold and the mine, through construction, logistics and general working operations.
The geological make up of the area around the planned mine site is rich and its location is on a major tourist route heading west towards Oban and north towards Fort William.
Scotgold has been undertaking studies around the Cononish site for the past three years. Further drilling has taken place and ecological surveys have been carried out to update the information gathered at the time of the original planning permission received in 1996.
Scotgold believes the project will boost local tourist numbers and spend in the area, and beyond the value of the gold and silver mined at Cononish, it is estimated that as much as £80m in additional economic activity could be generated in Scotland through the wider supply chain as a result of the establishment of the mine.
“This will enhance tourism spend and employment opportunities, and develop a jewellery manufacturing industry based on true Scottish gold,” said Iain Herbert, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Forum.