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Major review of the law on the safety of Wales’ 2,000 coal tips ‘well overdue’

06 Jul 2021 4 minutes Read
Coal tip above Duffryn in the Afan valley. © Copyright Jeremy Bolwell (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Anthony Lewis, local democracy reporter

A major review of the law on the safety of Wales’ approximately 2,000 coal tips is “well overdue,” according to Rhondda Cynon Taf councillors.

Their comments came as proposals from the Law Commission for a new coal tip safety regime in Wales went before the council’s overview and scrutiny committee on Monday, July 5.

Following the storms in February 2020, a number of landslides occurred across Wales including Tylorstown tip, where more than 30,000 cubic metres of the hillside slid into the river valley.

In order to improve outdated laws and manage the range of risks associated with coal tips, the Law Commission has launched a consultation on their proposals.

Amongst their proposals is the establishment of a “supervisory authority” with responsibility for the safety of all disused coal tips.

The authority would:

  • Compile and maintain a register of all disused tips in Wales
  • Arrange for inspections of tips and the creation of tip management plans
  • Register tips as high risk when required (in relation to tip slides and/or other risks) which would bring into play an enhanced safety regime with increased involvement of the supervisory authority to minimise dangerous hazards occurring.

Across the whole of Wales there are approximately 2,000 disused coal tips which present a number of risks such as instability and coal tip slides, flooding, spontaneous combustion, and pollution which can have a detrimental impact on the surrounding environment, the committee report said.

‘Overhauled’

In RCT, disused tips are regulated by the Mines and Quarries (Tips) Act 1969. Some tips owned by Rhondda Cynon Taf Council (formerly under the ownership of Mid Glamorgan County Council), some are privately owned and others are under the control of the Coal Authority or Natural Resources Wales (NRW).

Tips in Rhondda Cynon Taf Council are categorised on a risk-based approach from A to D, with D being the highest risk.

The committee report said: “The proposals look to improve how coal tips are regulated and maintained under a new regulatory framework which would promote consistency across the country and more importantly avoid risk and danger through an enhanced safety regime.

“The regime would develop a coal tips register, compiled and maintained by the supervisory authority and ensure regular inspections of coal tips.”

Representatives of the Law Commission for England and Wales were in attendance at the meeting.

Councillor Pauline Jarman asked if these proposals would be primary legislation that is UK wide or secondary legislation that adds to the current 1969 legislation.

She said: “There is no doubt there is a desperate need for the mining legacy to be overhauled and reviewed.”

Cllr Jarman asked if the brief will look at liability or will this remain a matter for the Welsh and UK governments.

Nicholas Paines QC, the law commissioner, said the project is being conducted at the request of Welsh Government so it would involve primary legislation in the Senedd as it falls within devolved competence.

He said the commission has no jurisdiction to make recommendations on releasing public funds.

Roger Waters, the council’s director of front-line services told the committee that all tips are inspected regularly and in accordance with risk.
The council has had £1m from Welsh Government towards tip maintenance in the previous financial year and has put forward proposals for more funding.

There has been £2.6m spent on phase two and three of the works at the Tylorstown pit with most spend set to take place next year to deal with the material that is still on the hillside.

The aftermath of the Tylorstown landslide which happened during Storm Dennis

Combustion

Councillor Gareth Hughes said: “It is clear that the legislation needs updating and isn’t fit for purpose.”

He said he welcomes the review and new legislation adding that “the UK Government should put its hand in its pocket.”

He said Wales and RCT are disproportionately affected by this.

Cllr Jarman asked if the mining legacy will be considered in relation to other safety risks around coal tips such as spontaneous combustion.

Mr Paines QC said they do consider spontaneous combustion and they are asking whether the remit of any new authority should be extended to cover other tip hazards such as spontaneous combustion.

The deadline for responses to the consultation is September 10 and those responses will contribute to the recommendations for the Welsh Government and publication of a final report in early 2022.

The committee agreed to draw up its official responses at its next meeting.

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