Should this be preserved as an ancient monument?

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The Independent Online
WEST LOTHIAN councillors believe it is an object of beauty - a potential tourist attraction that should be made a historic monument. Other people say it is an eyesore and should be destroyed.

But both sides agree the object of contention is a slagheap.

Towering more than 200 feet above the town of West Calder, 20 miles east of Edinburgh, the Five Sisters wasteheap or 'bing' is a remnant of the shale-oil industry which employed 10,000 people in its heyday with more than 100 pits. Oil was extracted by heating the shale rocks.

West Lothian District Council has applied to Historic Scotland for the bing to be scheduled as an ancient monument. The council plans to develop the site into a tourist centre with a country pub, craft village and horse-riding.

The centre of the bing, where waste oil has become trapped, is still gently smouldering, and wisps of steam occasionally escape to the surface.

David Jarman, the council's head of planning, said: 'The burnt shale has a lovely bright pink colour. It is not dissimilar to the volcanic cones of Iceland.

'We get quite a few American tourists who are interested because this was the world's first oil industry.'

He added that, on a clear day, Edinburgh and the Forth Bridge were visible from any of the five peaks.

Other people are less enthusiastic. They point out that the pile of black and red shale was dug from 1941 to 1962, making it the most modern bing in the country. It is also extremely atypical bing. Most date back to the 19th century and have a single pile with a flat top.

Mr Jarman admits Five Sisters brings back bad memories for many of the miners. 'For some it is associated with dirt, toil and failure,' he said.

Jim Brash, who worked as a mechanic for 20 years at the site of the Five Sisters, agrees. He described the bing as an 'eyesore'. 'Most of the people who worked there wish it would disappear, they don't want to reminded of the industry,' he said.

'I worked for low wages and was on call 24 hours a day - it was a relief to get out.

'It's ridiculous to think it could be a tourist attraction - you've got a cement works one side and black shale the other, hardly the place to have a picnic.'

(Photograph omitted)

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